After attending the Palo Alto school board's Town Hall meeting last week on the Mandarin-immersion proposal, I had a sinking feeling that something's not quite right. The board passed out a FAQ sheet and then answered questions from the audience.
The proposal is for a new magnet school where 2 percent of elementary school children in our district would learn Mandarin Chinese. The board has given approval for a feasibility study to be conducted over the next six months, after which the board will vote again on whether to approve the new program.
One parent got up and requested that it not be referred to as a "choice" program, but instead be called a "lottery" or "luck" program, since her children had already been unlucky in two prior lotteries in the district. My stomach felt acidic when I discovered that the non-profit Palo Alto Chinese Education (PACE) is paying up to $135,000 for our district to complete the feasibility study, which includes designing the curriculum and selecting a school site.
My heartburn kicked in when it was explained that most of the district personnel working on this project had also designed the Spanish-immersion program or are teaching Mandarin in Palo Alto at the high school level. PACE is also writing a grant proposal on the district's behalf to the U.S. government (our tax dollars at work) for funds to support the program.
At this point, a parent asked the board if it thought there was conflict of interest. Good question, I thought to myself.
(published in the Palo Alto Weekly 6/7/06)