Increasing access to Mandarin

Tomorrow night Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer and I will introduce “Expanding Access to Mandarin and Other World Languages,” a resolution asking the Superintendent to begin the Program Placement process to pilot Mandarin world language programs at elementary schools that feed into middle schools with a Mandarin language program.

The idea is to build a more robust pipeline of students who continue their study of Mandarin into middle school. Currently there are just two elementary schools offering Mandarin Immersion and a three offering Cantonese pathways with some study of Mandarin; Alice Fong Yu offers K-8 dual-language immersion in Cantonese with Mandarin starting in middle school. We’d like to expand language pathway options to more students — it has never seemed quite fair that if you don’t win a seat at a language pathway in Kindergarten, you’re likely not to be able to access second language instruction until high school (some middle schools offer world language as an elective but most don’t).

The Program Placement process consists of a rigorous review of the budget, facility and community impact of new program proposals, so it’s not clear what the outcome of the process will be if the resolution passes (it will have to undergo review in the Budget and Curriculum committees before returning to the Board for a final vote probably sometime in late February). However, given real challenges in recruiting teachers with both Mandarin language skills and content knowledge–essential for dual-language immersion programs– and the ongoing popularity of language pathways in general, it seems like the right time to look at new ways to expand second language access for more of our students.


8 responses to “Increasing access to Mandarin

  1. Please keep in the mind the support students with IEPs will need for all language programs (whether foreign language or immersion). Even though Spanish is widely spoken, we still have a hard time finding paraprofessionals and special education teachers who understand it well enough to support students studying a foreign language at the novice levels. For immersion programs, students will need an even higher level of understanding from their support staff. Creating new programs is one thing, but supporting the academic and emotional needs of all students once they’re in any type of language program is equally important.

  2. You’re right. Sorry. Hadn’t checked the guide. Dual language immersion is when core subjects are taught in the target language. World language is the study of the language.

  3. Thank you, Rachel. Unfortunately, now I’m really confused. Which middle school programs determine if it’s feeder elementary would be considered? I thought it would be “Secondary World Language Program (Mandarin).” The enrollment guide shows Aptos has “Secondary Duel Language Pathway Mandarin” while Roosevelt and Marina have “Secondary World Language Program (Mandarin).”

  4. Roosevelt and Aptos currently have Mandarin programs. But other than that you have it right — the choice to start with Mandarin is that we want to be sure there is ongoing robust MS enrollment for Mandarin. We already have that for Spanish as those language programs have been around longer and are better established.

  5. Wonderful, exciting new, and a welcome step forward! With few exceptions, the current offerings for world languages in elementary are “all or nothing” leaving out many families and putting attendance area schools at a disadvantage.

    Do I understand this correctly? The proposal is to explore Mandarin instruction in elementary schools that feed into Marina and Roosevelt. Then if that moved forward and was successful, another proposal could be made to follow the same process and explore expanding Spanish instruction for elementary schools feeding into Willie Brown, James Lick, Marina, and Presidio. It’s a little challenging to cross reference between ES and MS in the enrollment guides. Is there a reason not to evaluate both Mandarin and Spanish at the same time? Has the district conducted outreach to gage relative demand? Or, is it just a logistics choice to focus on a small pilot program?

  6. Really important issue, Rachel. Vis Valley and Bayview are two neighborhoods with very high concentrations of native Chinese speakers (both Cantonese and Mandarin. I encourage you and SFUSD officials to visit their local libraries and community centers and interview parents there (of all backgrounds) what language programs young parents want offered for their children. I have done this and found that both Mandarin and Cantonese speakers are interested in Mandarin, with an equal interest in French. African Anericans and Caucasians also expressed interest in French. Some Caucasians expressed interest in Mandarin. Seems like if the goal is language equity, then more Mandarin schools should be introduced (e.g., Charles Drew ES, Vis Valley ES, El Dorado ES, ER Taylor ES). If the goal is racial and socioeconomic equity, then French Immersion in the southeastern neighborhoods would be most prudent (same schools).

  7. Hi Kate – that is the eventual idea but we have to start somewhere and there is a smaller Mandarin pipeline than Spanish pipeline at this point. If this pilot is successful, the idea would be to expand access to other world languages.

  8. Hi Rachel,
    This is a great idea but I would urge you to consider Spanish as well as it is a language which is spoken by many of California’s residents and we are a direct neighbor with Mexico. It seems that students could employ elementary Spanish in their daily lives in San Francisco whereas most Chinese speakers in San Francisco speak Cantonese.
    I love this idea; I would just suggest that Spanish be included for schools which feed into Spanish immersion programs.
    Thank you.