Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hot topic: SFUSD lottery/Mandarin immersion

This from an SF K Files reader:

Parents who are looking at Mandarin immersion in particular (i.e. Starr King and Jose Ortega) for Kindergarten should remember that it works a little different than other programs.

The District reserves half the spaces for Mandarin-speakers and the rest go to non-Mandarin speakers.

So in Round One of the lottery, only half of the spaces will go to non-Mandarin speakers, 22 at Starr King and 11 at Jose Ortega. We have quite a few siblings, so those numbers will be even lower this year.

HOWEVER - Historically (and we expect no huge change for 2010-2011) the Mandarin spaces have NOT filled. We have usually gotten between one and two Mandarin speakers per class (why is worth a long and somewhat meandering essay on socio-economic and cultural expectation and presumptions in the Mandarin-speaking community.)

[An aside here: If your child is a fluent Mandarin speaker, you WILL get in in Round One. If you do not, it's because of a glitch in the program. RUN, DO NOT WALK, TO THE DISTRICT. There were a couple of these last year and in each that we could identify, it just took one call or visit to the District to get the kid in. Pretty much any child fluent in Mandarin will get whichever school they want.]

That means that unlike almost all other programs, a WHOLE BUNCH of slots in Mandarin immersion open up in Round Two.

So, if your child is not a fluent Mandarin speaker and you don't get in to one of the Mandarin immersion programs in Round One, there is still a very good chance that you will get in in Round Two. You've got almost as much chance of getting in in Round Two as you do in Round One.

Final note: There is no requirement that children coming in to 1st grade immersion have any knowledge of the target language (ie Mandarin.) So each year we have several families who come in to Mandarin Immersion in first grade and their kids do just fine. Because people move over the summer, there are almost always a few spaces open.

If you have more questions, please contact the schools, or the Mandarin Immersion Parents Council. You can read more about the programs at http://miparentscouncil.org/


Beth Weise
President, Mandarin Immersion Parents Council


  1. What about native Cantonese speakers?

  2. Unfortunately, they only count Mandarin.
    We've actually suggested that they include speakers of other Chinese dialects, because at this point anyone coming from China, no matter what language they speak at home, also speaks Mandarin because they went to school in Mandarin. So while the children might not speak Mandarin, their parents would all be fluent in it.
    However thus far the District is sticking to native Mandarin speakers.

  3. What are the socio-economic and cultural expectation and presumptions in the Mandarin-speaking community? I have no idea what you're talking about, so if that's something to consider for my school choice, I would like to know.

  4. What we've heard, and this is by no means a total or accurate snapshot of Mandarin speaking families in San Francisco, are these issues:
    Some would rather focus on their kids learning English
    Some plan on teaching their kids to read and write Mandarin at home.
    Some prefer schools with higher test scores
    Some are not comfortable in the neighborhoods the schools are in
    Some feel less comfortable with the ethnic makeup of the schools. At Starr King, at least, we're about at total parity, equal numbers of Hispanic, African-American, Asian and White kids. With a nice helping of Samoans.

  5. Um, I don't think I like the implications of the 12:48's question. But I've always understood Anglos who are interested in Mandarin immersion as people who want their children to speak the business language of the ascending Asian world. Mandarin is mainland China's official language for education, business, etc. Cantonese is the dominant dialect in working-class Chinese/Chinese-American San Francisco, I believe. But API scores seem to skew higher when there is a significant Asian/Asian-American population in a school. If I'm right, put all that together and make of it what you will. If I'm wrong, please correct me.

    And my feeling is that no ethnic community ought to be stereotyped as having greater or lesser "socioeconomic and cultural expectation and presumptions," if by that you mean an investment in learning and/or an aspiration toward material success.

  6. It is too simple to say that Mandarin is the official language of business and Cantonese is the working class language.

    I found this facinating essay which talks about the differences in the two languages:


  7. sorry! fascinating.

  8. I'm an Anglo parent whose kids have been in heavily Chinese schools throughout their school years.

    My strong impression is that Chinese immigrant parents tend to be very focused on their kids' learning fluent English as fast as possible, and tend to be likely to be resistant to any program they perceive might slow down that process. Parents who struggle with English themselves tend to be acutely aware that it's a problem and strongly want their kids to not have to face that problem. It's hard to convince those very focused parents that their kids really will be fully bilingual.

  9. "What we've heard, and this is by no means a total or accurate snapshot of Mandarin speaking families in San Francisco, are these issues:"

    Another big issue for west side Mandarin speaking families is the location. I know of a few such families who weren't willing to travel clear across town for a Mandarin program. Honestly, if the district wanted to seed the school with Mandarin speakers, it might have made more sense to locate it somewhere closer to the west side.

  10. There are many Chinese families, including Mandarin speakers from the People's Republic of China, moving into the Bayview and Visitacion Valley (and Chinatown), so it's not that crazy.

    Plus, one of the purposes of adding an immersion program, from the District's perspective, is to create a magnet in a school that is failing. How many schools are failing on the west side, or need much, if any, help in attracting customers for the lottery?

  11. Well, the only kid who tested fluent in my kid's K class at SK this year lives in the Richmond, not Bayview/VV. There are a whole bunch of Sunset/West Portal/Glen Park/Sunnyside folks (as well as other neighborhoods, I don't know where all of the families live). The commute is a shlep, I'm not going to kid you. Some days are easier than others. So far it's worth it.

  12. I guess that's the point of a magnet school, to make it worth it to pull people from all over. Obviously lots of people have schlepped from east to west/north over the years (to Clarendon, Lilienthal, Giannini, Lincoln, Lowell, etc.). Not to mention the private school schleps. The fact that SK is pulling from the west side shows it is working as a magnet program.

    I AM glad you like the SK, Parkside and find it's worth it. That is the ultimate question for any family.

  13. And putting a Mandarin immersion program in a Westside school would have meant cutting a class or two from one of those schools -- all of which are hugely popular and hard to get in to already. There would have been rioting in the streets...

  14. Beth,

    I think the parents spearheading the MI effort were originally hoping for Feinstein... which was just opening at the time MI was getting off the ground. That probably would have led to more native Mandarin speakers enrolling in MI... but at the expense of other benefits that have come from starting the program on the Eastside at Starr King.

  15. @12:20 I don't regret our placement at SK but will note that we were shut out of Westside schools we listed including Miraloma, Jefferson, Sloat and Sunset. So it's not like we didn't want to stay on our side of town... in R2 we made a decision to waitpool SK knowing we would likely get it due to the process Beth described, rather than WPing schools closer to home that would have lower odds of getting in.

    Again, it's a good school. It's not perfect but has lots to offer. Would love to see someone who tours it this year actually review it.

  16. Yes, part of the point of immersion placement is to expand the number of attractive options rather than replace programs that are already wildly popular.

  17. There are many obvious benefits to instituting MI at Starr King and other under performing Eastside schools, which have already been mentioned. No argument here. I'm just a little uncomfortable with the offered explanation for why native speakers aren't flocking to the school. It seems just on the edge of saying that the Mandarin speaking community is racist.

    It seems that in the district's decision to put the MI program at SK (rather than Feinstein) they have, in effect, chosen to boost a failing school, rather than attract Mandarin speakers. Not saying that's a bad thing. But it then seems a bit disingenuous to speculate that native speakers aren't enrolling due to "socio-economic and cultural expectations and presumptions". What about the 40 minute schlep across town?

  18. Please keep in mind that Jose Ortega is on the west side of town and that many families from Sunset, Parkside, West Portal, Lake Merced, etc attend the school. The drive from Parkside is 15 minutes with traffic.

  19. "Another big issue for west side Mandarin speaking families is the location. I know of a few such families who weren't willing to travel clear across town for a Mandarin program."

    Well, they could have went to Jose Ortega. The first class in that program (2nd grade now) is only about 12-13. Plus, Jose Ortega's API scores are higher than SK.

    Also, what Beth said. SK needed the immersion program to pull in the customers. Feinstein doesn't, nor do 95% of the schools in the N and W of the city.

    There's a shortage of capacity in the SE, plus many of those schools are weak in API scores. It makes sense for the district to increase demand for those schools bu introducing immersion programs into SK & Daniel Webster, both of which were near closure before the immersion programs were introduced, than close them down and then have the problem of where to plave students in that neighbourhood (there's only 3 schools in Potero - SK, Webster, and Buena Vista, and Buena Vista is a district-wide alternative school).

  20. As for why we don't have many Mandarin-speaking families, two points.
    One, there aren't all that many Mandarin-speaking families in San Francisco, compared to Cantonese. The parents may speak Mandarin, as they were schooled in it in China. But the children speak other dialects and so by the District's count aren't native speakers.
    As for the issue of people feeling uncomfortable about the areas the schools are in, well, I'm only repeating what I've heard from families who have come on tours.
    However, please remember that there are also numerous non-Chinese families who also don't want Starr King (and to a lesser extent Jose Ortega) because of the area. It's true that we're right next to a housing project, and for some people that's a deal breaker.
    But the question I was addressing was Mandarin-speaking families, not families across the board.

  21. --Well, they could have went to Jose Ortega.--

    Right, they could have went there, except the families I'm speaking of were looking at K back when SK was the only public Mandarin offering in town. Their kids are now in 3rd grade.

    The original comment was why SK has trouble drawing native Mandarin speakers, and I was surprised that proximity was not on the list of "reasons".

  22. my daughter is a native cantonese speaker and went to a 50/50 english cantonese pre-school. we chose SK over DeAvila because we felt she will not learn anything new in K and 1st grade at DeAvila. it's like asking a native english speaker to go to an ESL class to relearn the ABCs and count 1-10. we were afraid that she will get bored in school and loose interest in learning.

  23. I know this is an old post but I want to find out if it is still true that Mandarin fluent speaking children are still easier to get into MI in 2011 or 2012?