Monday, December 13, 2010

Language-focused schools: Can you have it all?

First off, here's a double apology.

I know I've posted a lot in the last week, probably to the point of over-posting. But I'm trying to squeak in one more private school post before the first application deadlines land on December 15.

And this time, I'm doing things backwards. I won't have time this week to post detailed tour notes on two private schools that we toured -- French American International and Chinese American International. But I'm sure that a lot of families out there are likely to be applying. So I'm going to post this summary first, and add tour notes to the database later.

In thinking through these schools, one key thing keeps coming to mind -- in getting the language benefits of an immersion education, what else might one have to give up?

In our tours, these schools were certainly distinctive. Here are a few key impressions.


  • Challenging but warm kindergarten classroom, with teachers and students working collaboratively and bilingually to think through questions related to numbers and the calendar.
  • Academically demanding middle school classrooms that seemed to take a traditional approach but keep the students engaged. I've rarely seen students of any age, let alone middle schoolers, have such a thoughtful discussion with their teacher about Emily Dickinson.
  • The addition of a third language (Spanish, Mandarin, or Italian) to the curriculum later in elementary school gives students a noteworthy distinction. At the FAIS Open House, the confident, personable middle schoolers and high schoolers who gave remarks -- each in three different languages -- were among the most impressive student speakers we've seen at just about any school we've visited.


  • Challenging, serious kindergarten classrooms. In no other school have I seen little kids working more intently. If you want an academic, immersion-based kindergarten, this is a school for you.
  • Lively, vibrant middle school classrooms. In one Chinese-language fifth grade geography/social studies lesson, kids were practically falling over each other to answer questions posed by their cheery, dynamic teacher. Interestingly, the middle school classes almost seemed a little more relaxed than those in the elementary school.
  • An excellent math program. If you or your child loves math, take a look at this school.

So what's behind my larger question? It's driven, in great measure, by people I've met on other tours -- parents at immersion schools who are looking to transfer. To be specific, on tours this fall I've met four current CAIS families who are seeking other options, two Alice Fong Yu families, and one each from FAIS, Jose Ortega, and Buena Vista.

All have said essentially the same thing -- their current schools aren't terrible or harmful, but they just aren't the right fit for their child. According to these families, a certain kind of child who enjoys very structured, traditional academic environments will do well at immersion schools. For other children, these families said, it's a different story.

(For more context, I tried digging through the SF K Files archives for past tour notes on these schools, but could only find notes for FAIS, AFY, and Buena Vista. If anyone knows of others I missed, please add to the comments!)

I'm not implying that families are fleeing these schools in droves, and I'm not trying to bash immersion schools as a whole. We plan to tour some public immersion programs in January. And movement between schools is to be expected -- we saw lots of it in preschool. All of the above-mentioned immersion schools are popular. But still, I think it's worth asking -- when a school is trying to focus on language, how much additional flexibility does it have?

What have others found at immersion schools, either as current parents, former parents, or on the tour circuit? In an immersion-focused curriculum, what other factors might get lower priority? Which students do best in immersion schools? How do these schools handle different learning styles, or social and emotional issues? Can you get immersion and still "have it all"?


  1. Don says some non-native English speakers use immersion schools to get an education in their native tongue rather than to learn a second language.

  2. I am the parent of a Kindergartener at CIS @ DeAvila. I love it. She loves it. I found that school to be the perfect storm of an engaged and passionate principal, great teachers, and a turbo-charged parenting community. Yes, immersion works for native speakers who, according to the research that is out there, also learn English. It also works for bilingual kids like my daughter, who is wonderfully challenged intellectually and gets to bloom socially be helping both the English and Cantonese monolingual kids. The monolingual English speaking families in her school love it, because, again, it provides a level of stimulation that you don't find in a lot of other places. This is one of the very few things at SFUSD that seems to be working and where you have white middle class families and low-income families work together productively rather than be pitched against each other by differing policy interests. There are some worries amongst parents, though, if the same level of quality will continue at the middle school level, since the school is only K-5 and the districts first middle school feeder draft happened to completely overlook language paths (though they promised to be more mindful about this next time).

    At CIS, the instruction is quite structured, but that structure is balanced with a tangible sense of love and caring. I've been told by other parents that the homework load is less than at AFY. My daughter responds well to structure, so it's a great fit for our kid. They do have PE, playworks, and PTA-financed dance and art classes, so there is movement and creativity, too, but a kid who has a hard time sitting still for extended periods of time is likely to struggle.

    You can check it out yourself by touring it. Find tour dates at their website:

    Good luck to everybody searching for the right school for their kid.

  3. P.S. (same poster as previous comment): sorry for the typos/grammar glitches, but I wrote this in a hurry...

  4. Just FYI: I reviewed the following schools with Spanish immersion programs last year: Daniel Webster, Marshall, Buena Vista, Alvarado, Monroe, Flynn, and Paul Revere.

    With that said, I don't think I was very helpful about immersion per se -- I have exactly the same questions, Seattle!

    And Don, I've heard more than one principal say it's tricky to get native Spanish-speaking kids into immersion programs. The parents want their kids to learn English, unsurprisingly.

  5. It's true that immersion doesn't work for everyone. My kids are in immersion and it has been a wonderful experience for both of them yet we know several families who have left immersion programs. In many of these cases they left because both parents weren't onboard with the program. It's absolutely crucial that both parents be fully invested in immersion because it takes extra effort on the part of the family to help the child. There's more homework and you often have to spend extra time with English language arts. Sometimes only one parent wants immersion while the other is resistant yet gets talked into it. These sorts of situations often don't work because the child needs support from both of you in order to thrive. These tend to be intense academic programs.

  6. We're at the Lycee and it's great for one of my kids, who is very driven and academic. The other one has struggled with the extra workload of having homework in two languages. By 3rd grade, kids have at least least one hour of homework a night. The other thing to note is that if you have to transfer to an English-only school, they will be behind in English - as we have several friends who have experienced this. Now, on the positive side of the equation, my kids, who have very different learning styles, are both totally bilingual. We have a 7-hour school day and just five hours of English a week, so they are truly immersed in French, and it's worked like a charm! They go to school with kids from all over the world and I appreciate the global worldview of the school. My kids tell me all the time how happy they are that they speak two languages. Note, we did live in France for 10 years, so we all speak French and are very connected to the culture. I don't know what it would be like to do immersion where you had no connection whatsoever to the culture or language. Lastly, be prepared for family and friends to find your decision strange - we sometimes get grief for our choice, about how Spanish is more useful, aren't they behind in English, how does it serve them to speak French etc blah blah.

  7. Don thinks this about that: He thought the district was strapped for cash and wonders why, on the one hand, SFUSD turns a blind eye to using targeted ELD funding to back fill for other purposes instead of delivering the necessary English language acquisition instruction, while on the other hand, it also turns a blind eye to allowing non-native speakers to gain access to immersion instruction in their own language? He wonders why SFUSD's taxpayer funded dollars are used to pay for foreign language instruction for non English speakers while legally mandated funding appropriated for ELD is allowed to be redirected into general funds?

    Not only does Don think this is a misuse of public funding, he also believes that immersion was designed to provide foreign language instruction to those that don't already speak it as a primary language. He has heard that schools such as AFY are trying to crack down on abuses as described herein, but gaming the system has become an American pastime and, additionally, many SFUSD policymakers don't want English as the primary language for America. This is their excuse for their criminal misappropriation of targeted Economic Impact Aid- English Language Learner (EIA-LEP) funds.

  8. Truly. Truly nauseating. Don got caught sockpuppeting again, talking about himself in the third person, so now he's pretending to have done it on purpose, and subjecting all of us to Elmo's World.

  9. I am a DeAvila parent too. Daughter in K.

    Immersion is not for everyone. Even in my daughter's class, several kids left after the school started and new kids filled in. Kids learn differently. Some are fine with languages, some cannot handle. As 8:11 said, it is critical that both parents are on board. In addition, it is very helpful if the kid is exposed to multiple languages before K.

    Each school is different too and it has a lot to do with the principal and the teachers. From what I heard, AFY is very disciplined, Asian style. I am not against it. Keep in mind, many AFY kids end up in private HS like L-W, University and Urban. However, as a parent, at least you need to be mentally prepared for the heavier workload and higher expectations.

    Some immersion programs are mixed with GE in some schools, like Ortega and Starr King. They have their own challenges regarding two student body and two parent community. Although PTA works hard to unite them, you should expect some issues with this kind of setup.

    I am just glad that my daughter is in CIS. She is so happy to learn another language (she has Mandarin and Spanish at home already). The principal is great and the school is overall relaxing. I haven't found the homework overwhelming.

    In any case, I think SDUSD did a great job with the language immersion programs. I just hope they continue their track record with middle schools.

  10. You might want to check out the FAQ we put together at the Mandarin Immersion Parents Council
    It speaks pretty frankly about the family commitment required for immersion, especially Chinese immersion.

  11. I don't have the The Mandarin Immersion Parents Council FAQ in front of me, but I recall that it describes the “first grade freak-out” (or something like that). Basically, right around first grade, parents “freak out” that their children are clearly not performing in English the way that children in general education classes are. I can tell you from my personal experience that this definitely happens. My 1st grader is still mastering reading words in a way that I know his peers were doing in kindergarten. On the other hand, he can read lots of Chinese characters, and he’s loving the program. I’m told that eventually, the students will catch up on their English skills, but it definitely takes a leap of faith!

  12. Can we please stick to the topic, speaking in the first person plural?

    Don made a statement. Who cares if he wants to write in the 3rd person. It is his opinion, refute it or ignore as you wish. But whatever might be your objections to him, I think I speak for many when I say we would appreciate it if you would stop the attacks.

  13. My suggestion is to go for a school that is full immersion, with no GE track, and vice versa.

  14. I am the parent of a kindergartner in the Japanese language program at Rosa Parks. It's not immersion, but the kids get 1 hour a day every day of Japanese instruction and the rest is in English. The home-room teachers also speak or know some Japanese and include Japanese words, songs and culture in their instruction. It's an effective program - the kids learn Japanese and can speak and read it well by the 5th grade. They also learn English, on par with their counterparts at English-only kindergartens. Most parents in the JBBP program are very involved and supportive, including volunteering in the classroom, fundraising and organizing special events. It's a diverse group of families, mostly Americans, many of whom have Japanese heritage, although several do not. Some kids have a Japanese parent and therefore have a deeper knowledge of the language, but the program is flexible for kids at different levels. We love the JBBP program, the teachers and the school, and we think the principal is doing a fine job. Some parents are scared off by the school, which is an "improving school" and has a challenging population of students in the GE program, including kids from the projects, some of whose parents don't support them academically, and immigrant children whose parents may not speak English. The JBBP program is separate from the GE program, and we and our child like it so much, we are not put off being at an "improving school." Certainly this is something everyone has to decide for him/herself.

  15. Thanks to the people who are keeping this thread on topic. We loved the idea of immersion, but ultimately decided it would be too much for our kid. I appreciate the honest comments from parents who have experience in the programs. I'm happy for you and, based on your comments, reassured that we made the right choice. I'm really glad SFUSD makes these programs available.

  16. My child is currently thriving in 1st grade at CAIS. She has 1 page of homework in Mandarin and a weekly packet that amounts to 1 page of English per day, plus some reading on the weekends. The workload in 1st is by no means strenuous though I understand the pace picks up quite a bit in 2nd grade or certainly by 3rd. I believe that is true for the public Mandarin programs as well - the amount of vocabulary learned is intense.

    Please understand that the CAIS model is 50/50 target/English and one of the things that allows is a better balance of Mandarin learning to the ELA side. I'm not knocking the SFUSD model - they base it on curriculum research and have been doing it for a long time. They have years of experience at AFY and West Portal in particular.

    I know many immersion parents focus on how much target language their kids are getting; we feel the 50/50 model at CAIS works better for us and our child is developing into a very strong reader and writer. On the basis of informal conversation I would say our child's reading is on par with her peers who attend GE programs across the city.

    It's true CAIS has a very strong reputation for math and I think it may be because the kids get math in both languages, at least in 1st. You gotta imagine more time = better grasp of the fundamentals.

    As to the highly serious K class, that could be in part the Montessori curriculum. Or just the particular moment you stepped into that classroom - touring can be such a crapshoot that way. And, while K is the first experience your child will have with a school - remember you are finding a school for hopefully the next 6 (or for FAIS/CAIS, 9) years, not searching for the perfect Kindergarten.

    Hope this is helpful to some of you.

  17. I have two kids at CAIS, a graduating 8th grader and a 4th grader. My oldest started in the pre-K at age 3, so we've been at the school for 11 years. It's true that immersion is not the ideal program for every child, sad to say. My 8th grader did brilliantly, but my 4th grader has struggled and we will be moving him for 5th grade. This is not something that was clear in the early years, but has become more so as the program has become more challenging and as certain issues have emerged with my youngest.

    With him, it's not so much that he doesn't like/need structure (he does!) but that the curriculum is accelerated. Basically, to do well at CAIS, he needs to be able to master the English curriculum (CA standards) in half the time that a monolingual program would have to teach it, and the Chinese curriculum on top of that. For a cognitively average kid with some focus issues, this is a tall order.

    Unfortunately, you can't foresee this in pre-K or K. At CAIS, I've seen attrition cluster in 1st-2nd grade and than again around 4th-5th. In those years in particular, it seems, the program acceleration and developmental readiness don't always align. Learning issues emerge. Kids who need extra time to master tasks start to become overwhelmed. What you end up with in middle school is a self-selected population of high achievers.

    I wish we could have it all; I am completely on board with the school's mission, and my oldest has loved CAIS and gotten a stellar education. But she would have done well with just about any program, so it's not that this particular structure is what she needed to succeed. With my youngest, it's clear (now) that despite parent motivation, the fine example of an older sibling and even the infinite patience and support of teachers, the program just isn't working for him.

  18. I am so thankful for this thread -- it's like an early Christmas present! I have a child at an SFUSD immersion school, and we all (parents and child) love it. But we're having doubts about whether it would be the right fit for our younger child. Nothing specific -- just a gut feeling that it wouldn't be the good fit that it is for #1. I was starting to think maybe I was just worrying unnecessarily, but it's so interesting to read about other experiences. Thanks, especially, to 3:40 for sharing your experience. Definitely something to think about.

  19. For the JBBP parent, I have a question. I've heard that the Rosa Parks program has better outcomes than the Clarendon program, at least for Japanese fluency. Do you know if either school certifies the kids' fluency? Is there some kind of Japanese test run by an external organization that would give parents (and students, teachers and administrators) the confidence that the kids are really understanding, speaking, reading and writing at some level? (I presume that, at the end of 5th grade, the kids aren't at grade level for Japanese, but what level are they?)

    I'd heard that, even after 25 years of SFUSD Spanish language immersion programs, some kids can't pass the Spanish competency exam at Lowell, and end up assigned to Spanish 1 (where they're very bored). Parents, who don't have a high level of Spanish, think their kids speak great, but when it comes to an exam, they can't do it. I don't totally trust the SFUSD language evaluations, and wonder if anyone in the JBBP program has addressed that. (Personally, I assume that the answer is "no.")

  20. This is to Anonymous at 3:40. We have a 3rd grader in a public Mandarin Immersion program and a preschooler. We are seeing that our preschooler is very different from our older child, and I am already suspecting that immersion may not be for him. My question is this--although you ultimately chose to remove your younger child from CAIS do you feel that the years he spent there were damaging in any way (to academic achievement or self-esteem) ? Thanks.

  21. I'm 3:48 from yesterday, and I have some follow on questions to 11:23. What were the signs you had that immersion might not be right for your second child? I don't have any specific reasons I think it might not be a good fit, other than "mother's intuition." I'm wondering if you have some specific things, looking back, that made you realize it might not work. Thanks so much for your insights.

  22. I can give the perspective of our two kids in immersion, the first one doing very well and loving it, the second one struggling more. We knew immersion would be challenging for our second child for a few reasons. He was a late talker, is extremely shy, and very sensitive. And in fact, he did not say one word in either language the entire first year (pre-school), just a few words the second year (pre-K), and did not really start opening up until K. Immersion has been hard on him - the two languages are just a lot for him to process and we have of course worried it was damaging to his self-esteem and self-expression. The teachers, administrators, speech therapist, and psychologist at our school have been incredibly supportive and nurturing, but we sometimes feel we have made things hard on him for no reason. It took him three years to really pick up the immersion language (French), unlike our first who got it right away. I'm bilingual as well, so I speak French exclusively with my younger one at home, put on lots of French DVDs etc to help him keep up. He really needs all that extra focus on French, whereas the other one just seems to think in either language with ease. Thankfully, he started immersion at age 3 - it would have been way too stressful for him to wait until K to start immersion. We may end up living in France, so we are sticking with immersion for now. But it has been a bumpy road for number 2!

  23. 3:40 again.

    The problem is that we pick these schools for our kids when they are 4-5 (or, in the case of pre-K, 2-3.) Looking back, there was nothing at age 4 to signal that the program wouldn't work for my youngest. He did need a little extra support starting in 1st grade, but his progress was considered part of a normal continuum.

    I do think there was an element of wishful thinking at play, in that I really wanted the program to work for him as it was working for my oldest. We were pretty committed to the school, having been there for several years by then. And, until the middle of 3rd grade, it was more or less working. But then, the gap started widening and in 4th grade, I can see that his self-esteem is taking a hit.

    Was it damaging? I hope not. He's honestly a pretty happy kid, likes his school and doesn't want to leave, has many friends, and has pretty good Mandarin by now. But the leap to the 4th grade curriculum has been hard for him, and there is also a stress in trying to move him now. The odds are not high that we will get a 5th grade placement at the schools we're considering. If we'd been more on top of it (and a bit less in denial) we would have tried moving him a year ago. Not that finding a 4th grade placement is a piece of cake either.

  24. We are considering immersion next year for our son (probably public) and have a younger daughter. These comments are extrememly helpful. I hope that others will continue to give their opinions and advice on this!

  25. Quote: "Not only does Don think this is a misuse of public funding, he also believes that immersion was designed to provide foreign language instruction to those that don't already speak it as a primary language."

    Actually, you are confusing one-way immersion, which in fact follows the above philosophy, with two-way immersion, which is designed to combine education monolingual speakers of both the target language and English with bilingual kids in a way that benefits all three groups. The result is that the language learners, who in a non-immersion environment would drag down your precious API-scores, suddenly are turned from a liability for a school into a precious asset. I guess the fact that this concept keeps angry jerks such as Mr. Krause out of immersion schools and in their respective neighborhood schools, holed up and trying to fiercely defend and protect themselves and their kids against the influx of those horrible poor kids and English learners, could be considered a welcome side effect.

    To me this is far from a misuse of public funds. In fact, I consider it the opposite, something we seldom see in this extremely divided city with its often crazy Kafka-esque bureaucracy: a usage of public funds that is actually smart and efficient rather than dumb, wasteful, and guided by blind policy and dogmatic reasoning...

    Just another opinion.
    (ducking proactively in order to not be hit too hard by whatever angry response this post might trigger...)

  26. When you insult people, call them schoolyard names, stereotype and misrepresent them, you shouldn't be surprised if you get what you dished out in return.

  27. 1:51

    Where does Mr. Krause say anything about one versus two way immersion? I think you misread his intent or at least I read it differently.

    I took his concern to be the lack of interest in our district for English language learners. He is correct in saying that money is being diverted from English language development to pump up depleted budgets elsewhere at schools.

    I know zilch about how ELL is funded or whether the diversion is lawful, but I do get his point. Our ELAC committee is complaining about the same stuff.

  28. Before this discussion gets completely off track, I would like to ask parents who have left immersion why they left. Were there any concerns about an English speaking child being socially isolated in the program?

  29. 1:51pm, I was struck when I read your comment, because it is such a disservice to and misrepresentation of Don. My family has been part of the Alamo family for several years and during that time he's been the lone voice for English Language Learners. My information is somewhat 'through the grapevine' because out family is not involved with ELL at all, but I heard that the schools didn't have an ELA at all until he pushed for it. This is not the subject of this discussion on immersion. I just needed to say that.

  30. The discussion is language-focused schools. Please stick to it so we don't get sidetracked. Please treat people with respect and avoid usefully inflammatory speech.

  31. If a child enters a school and doesn't speak English that school becomes immersion for that child.

  32. At this point, Mandarin immersion is predominantly English speaking kids, we're still working to get Mandarin speaking families to join. I have a feeling when our test scores start to rise (we're new, so only two classes have actually been tested and they were both small) we'll get more, but thus far no. We do have a pretty substantial number of trilingual families, who speak Spanish, Italian, Turkish and other languages at home and then the kids learn English and Mandarin at school.

  33. Dear 7:38,

    Between 20 and 50 per cent of the incoming kindergarten class at our school (which I will not name) do not speak English at all and most have not been to a preschool or they attended preschool in their native language. We don't think of these schools as immersion in the traditional sense. It is tough for the teachers and the students, both English and non-English speakers alike.

  34. Rumor is that the math instruction in middle school is not up to par at the french immersion schools because the time spent on math is limited (particularly Lycee). This is my concern. Can anyone tell me the hours of math instruction per week in middle school at FAIS or Lycee. I also worry about the lack of infusion of new kids in middle school due to the language barrier and the attrition over the years. Is this an issue or a mole hill?

  35. December 15 8:01 pm

    Golf clap

    FYI - Don favors immersion schools and believes SFUSD should have more of them even though he, himself, prefers non-immersion for his own kids.

  36. "FYI - Don favors immersion schools and believes SFUSD should have more of them even though he, himself, prefers non-immersion for his own kids."

    I'm not sure I understand. How can you be in favor of establishing more immersion schools and, at the same time, feel that establishing them (in how it is currently done) constitutes a misuse of public funds.

    What am I missing?

    Are you saying immersion schools are great (for some people), as long as they are not financed by tax money???

  37. Gawd, ignore him, PLEASE.

  38. Don would like to clarify. He is saying that the GE schools are using targeted ELL money that is funded exclusively for English language development in order to back fill for any other purposes and, therefore, those ELL kids don't get the use of the funding set aside specifically for them. That is unlawful according to the people with whom Don has spoken at the CDE and that is true because Economic Impact Aid - LEP was not given flexibility in the legislative bill (SB X3_4 2009)that allows most Tier III categorical funds to be used "for any educational purpose". (This misuse is not the case everywhere, but it is a persistent problem.)

    In other words, the legislature considered English language acquisition paramount and did not allow the funding for it to be diverted when they loosened up the usage for 40 of the 42 Tier III programs. Only special ed and EIA were excepted. Yet, SFUSD turns a blind eye when school sites do exactly that.

    So, his point is this (and excuse him if he did not make it as clear as he should have): - It seems very unfair that students that don't speak English are not getting the necessary resources they need to learn the primary language of the United States, while other students get the access and funding to learn not only English, but another languages as well.

    Don is trying to reconcile the technical aspects of funding language literacy with the equity concerns that dictate that all students be given equal opportunity to develop skill in the English language. That is to say a student who is identified via CELDT as an ELL ought to get the necessary instruction to meet that need, especially if we can afford to teach another language to children who already speak English.

    He hopes he has made himself clear.

  39. Can you please stop writing in the third person?

  40. Her's doing it for attention, he is a troll. The best way to handle trolls is to IGNORE THEM.

  41. It is really sad that this conversation is not continuing. I am very interested in language immersion, but also very new to it. I would really like to get more information to make a decision for my child. It's decision time. I would really appreciate hearing more perspectives.

    Speaking on behalf of other parents out there trying to gather useful information - find a new hobby Don. You are ruining this for everyone.

  42. 1;22 You're not speaking on behalf of me. I think Don's point is worthwhile of mention. If you don't agree that is your opinion and that's fine. But don't pretend to speak on behalf of others. Rightly so, since we don't even know who you are.

    Here's my suggestion. Take the first half of 12:55's advice and ignore Don as you wish. Reject the other half of that suggestion and avoid using pejorative language and put-downs. Be respectful and ignore what doesn't interest.

  43. I don't get it. Don's comment was polite and right on the money. What are you complaining about,1:22? It is a little weird to speak in the 3rd person, but hey, no big deal.

  44. To 5:24 PM, I think that the French schools struggle with having enough kids in later grades, due to natural attrition and the difficulty accepting new kids due to the language issue. In high school, FAIS has two strands to deal with that, and most public immersion middle schools don't have language programs.

  45. Back to the topic.

    International HS takes about half of student body from FAIS when I toured several years ago. IHS has an IB program which is way ahead of US HS curriculum - if taken full advantage of, it could cut one year of college classes. Given how IHS performs, it is hard to believe FAIS can be behind on math. I don't know about Lycee.

  46. Don's latest trolling includes posting with requests to stay on topic hoping to divert the conversation away from his pitiful commentaries. It's pathetic. When will he ever leave us alone?

  47. How do you known when it is time to leave an immersion program?

  48. SFKfiles version of whack-a-mole!

  49. Wow. I finally realized what's going on here. Reviewing this thread and a couple of others it became clear to me. Someone has a serious vendetta against Don. omeone is repeatedly posting inflammatory comments that almost always include the word "troll". This is leading the conversation towards Don and, in turn, making him the focus. Don might be responding anonymously.

    The off-topic anti-don posts are a far bigger problem to blog continuity than Don's anti-SFUSD commentary.

    This is personal.

  50. The topic is IMMERSION. Ignore all the other stupid stuff.

  51. 8:42
    You know it's time to leave an immersion school when your child tells you he is good at school only 1/2 the time, when the instruction is in English. This is from personal experience. We still love the school he left (our youngest one is still there and thriving), but language immersion was just not right for him. He is in a monolingual (English) program now, and happily progressing in all areas.

  52. @ 5:24 12/16

    I can only speak for FAIS - they start out with 80 children in 4 classes for K. at third, there are around 70 children in 3 classes and then by 8th grade there are 50 - 60 children. as stated by others, they infuse new kids by adding a strand for english speakers for high school at IHS.

    in terms of math instruction, they teach math in english using american textbooks and also in french using french textbooks. i believe other private immersions schools have the same approach. it was explained to me that this strengthens their math abilities since the children are able to acquire techniques for problem solving using different approaches. we are not far along enough in the school yet to know this first hand.

    i was told by the school administrators that years ago they had concerns about the rigor of their math and science teachings (not sure how long ago). as a result, the school has made a concerted effort to enrich the cirriculum and construct state-of-the-art laboratories to elevate the importance of science in the school.

    i think seattle's "challenging but warm" assessment is an accurate description of the environment at FAIS.

  53. There is only one type of student that I've seen fail to acquire enough Spanish to succeed in language immersion: students with major deficits in their first language. Other children pick up the words they need quickly, even if they have other issues such as ADD. But if a child has a very limited vocabulary, or is incapable of forming complete sentences in the first language (English, in most cases), they will have a very, very hard time learning a second language. For those children, develop the native language first.

    -- public school immersion teacher

  54. Dear 9:12 AM (public school immersion teacher)

    May I ask a question? I have a child who has a reading based learning disability. She speaks a 2nd language already (by immersion from visiting her father's family overseas). She did have a hard time learning to read English (that has been successfully addressed with proper intense private tutoring). I worry that the 2nd language requirements for middle school / high school will be an issue for her. Any thoughts on this?

  55. PS from the above message - her current spoken 2nd language (she does not read it) is not a language that is taught by the SFUSD or any other school locally.

  56. 8:43: sorry, there's no way I can advise you on a situation like that. Perhaps you should consult with someone at the middle school / high school level.

    --immersion teacher

  57. "Don says some non-native English speakers use immersion schools to get an education in their native tongue rather than to learn a second language."

    Nothing wrong in that: many Spanish speakers want their kids to learn formal Spanish as well as English.

    "Don would like to clarify. He is saying that the GE schools are using targeted ELL money that is funded exclusively for English language development in order to back fill for any other purposes and, therefore, those ELL kids don't get the use of the funding set aside specifically for them."

    Don, my impression was that immersion was (1) a way to comply with the anti-bilingual education requirements of Prop 227, (1) a way to stop the schools in the SE in the inner & outer mission from becoming even more socioeconomically skewed.

    My impression is that the test scores of the English-speakers show improvement (in the long run), and for the ELL's its pretty much a wash for immersion versus bilingual.

  58. AFY parent here.

    The school works very well for us, but our kid went to an immersion preschool and had no problem there, so we knew language acquisition wasn't going to be an issue. Reading in English has stayed on track.

    AFY's an excellent school, but it is highly structured, piles on the homework, and might not be the best for a sensitive arts-orientated kid. My kid needs lots of structure, so it's a good fit for them (otherwise we'd be checking out St. Catherines, a Catholic elementary boarding military academy in S. California).

    We've seen a lot of kids in our class leave (3 out of the class) this year, but whether that's 'cos the school wasn't working for them or because of SFUSD's address audit I couldn't say.

  59. Do all immersion programs have lots of structure and homework, or is that unique to AFU?

  60. I have a child at the Lycee.

    Yes, he does have homework.

    He's thriving in both languages as well as in math and science. I don't sense that he is "behind" in English.

    I think this thread is a bit of a lost leader as many of the public school immersion programs don't compare in their broader curriculum to FAIS, CAIS or the Lycee. FAIS and the Lycee also have a co-ordinated language curriculum into high school which is lacking in the public immersion programs.

    FAIS, CAIS and the Lycee do have it all and if your family is academically minded and you are lucky enough to get into one of them, you won't look back.

    There's probabaly a small cadre of public K-5 or K-8 immersion programs like West Portal that compare, but there's not many of them.

    And yes, there is about an hour of homework a night. If you don't like that, don't apply.

  61. "Do all immersion programs have lots of structure and homework, or is that unique to AFU?"

    The Lycee, FAIS and CAIS are have about an hour of homework at night by 3rd grade. I'm not sure about the "structured" part. I keep hearing this concern about "structured".

    Part of the programs at these schools are "structured" and part is not. From my tours of E R Taylor and Alvarado, I wouldn't say that FAIS, CAIS and the Lycee are more structured than that.

    The Lycee has a terrific playground. Most of the kids who stay for afterschool care get at least two hours of unstructured but well supervised play per day.

  62. Regarding families leaving the Lycee:

    Haven't seen it.

    One family left for AFY. Another family might transfer to FAIS where there is a little less emphasis on French. It's a great community. Most of us are happy that we don't have to deal with all the chaos in the public schools.

    I also don't think families leave FAIS and CAIS. Most were aware of the homework requirement when they applied.

    So the person that posted about families leaving immersion programs in droves must be referring to public school immersion programs.

  63. Seattle, I'm re-reading your initial post.

    Regarding the whole structured thing, I'd say it's sour grapes.

    There are very few transfers out of CAIS and the Lycee.

  64. Lycee parent -- thank you for sharing your perspective. Very interesting. I don't think anyone said anything about students leaving any immersion programs (public or private) "in droves," though. Seattle wrote that she had talked to "four current CAIS families . . . , two Alice Fong Yu families, and one each from FAIS, Jose Ortega, and Buena Vista" who were "seeking other options." Even if all those parents ultimately did place their children elsewhere, that doesn't sound like a mass exodus to me. And the comments on this thread suggest to me that parents in both private and public schools have questioned whether the programs are right for everyone, including younger siblings of students who have done well in immersion. It's great that you like Lycee so much.

  65. 12:01 PM:

    Lycee parent here again. Having seen hundreds of people acquire a second language in my lifetime, I'd say there are very few kids that can't learn a second language.

    The primary reason that kids have difficulty with second language acquisition is that their parents can't help them in both languages. If a parent can't assist with homework, it is harder for the child to learn.

    The load of having to help two children in a foreign language is likely overwhelming for many.

    That's probably why families drop out.

    It doesn't really have anything to do with the program being "overstructured" or the inate ability of children to learn a foreign language.

  66. "FAIS, CAIS and the Lycee do have it all and if your family is academically minded and you are lucky enough to get into one of them, you won't look back."

    "I also don't think families leave FAIS and CAIS. Most were aware of the homework requirement when they applied."

    I can only speak for CAIS, but I think it's a huge disservice to state that families don't leave. I know many, many families who have left CAIS for a variety of reasons, but I personally know at least a dozen who left because their child was struggling academically. Of these families, a significant number of them moved one child but kept a sibling at CAIS. These are all families who are "academically minded" but discovered that schooling (like parenting) is not a cookie cutter deal. Despite best intentions, some kids will stubbornly refuse to live up to our own ideals for them. Some will have learning issues; some will be artistic and not academic. Some will be simply average, and as a result will be at the bottom of a pack of high achievers.

    I am one such parent; for one kid, CAIS has been great; for the other, even though her Mandarin is pretty good by now, the demands of the dual curriculum are too great and she's falling behind and becoming stressed out. I've had to rethink my own vision for what i want for my kids, and I've concluded that even more important than becoming bilingual, I want them both to feel successful. For my youngest, that means moving her out of CAIS.

    Re: homework. An hour a night in 3rd grade is about right, but keep in mind that the load increases each year. My 8th grader regularly has 3+ hours a night, including weekends (and she's the one for whom it comes easily.)

  67. When I toured Ortege many years ago before they started the Mandarin program, the principal said the average homework load should be 10 minutes per day for each grade level....meaning 10 minutes for 1st grade, 20 minutes for 2nd grade....80 minutes for 8th grade.

    Now, if you double that, you will get an hour a night for 3rd grade and 3 hours for 8th...

    Just an observation.

    To tell the truth, I think that's excessive. However, don't kids do their homework in the after-school program?

  68. "Now, if you double that, you will get an hour a night for 3rd grade and 3 hours for 8th..."

    Lycee mom again: I don't know about you, but I did about an hour of homework a night by fifth grade.

    "To tell the truth, I think that's excessive. However, don't kids do their homework in the after-school program?"

    Speaking for the Lycee, its a mixed bag regarding when kids do their homework. Some families use the afterschool program to get their kids to do homework. Others have their kids in the playground after school. I like the idea of a good two hours in the playground and then homework between 7 and 8.

    Again, I don't see it as an either or proposition. However, I have noticed that kids usually love to do their homework as long as there is parent to help and make it fun.

    There may be some kids that have learning disabilities, but most do not. It is a matter of the parent adjusting to the different learner styles of their children, not an inherent inability of a child to learn two languages.

    I suspect that some families pull out of CAIS because of the cost of paying for two tuitions along with tutoring two kids with different learning styles.

    It is not an often discussed topic, but I have noticed that the larger the family size, the more likely that a family will pull out of private school. It's obvious, but no one wants to talk about it.

    That being said, CAIS struck me as exceptionally rigorous from the beginning. That's not a function of language immersion. It's a function of their wider curriculum. I'm not sure about FAIS, but the Lycee seems to be more balanced compared to CAIS. They have a superlative arts program by the way. Last year, the Lycee invited the Chinese artist and children's author Chen Jiang Hong to the school.

    Happy Holidays!

  69. Lycee mom, it's obvious that you love your school and its curriculum. I think you should stop speaking about the CAIS experience, though, because you've gotten it wrong on most counts.

  70. 4:12, I'm glad for you that you were able to make the decision that CAIS didn't work for your second child.

    Parents should be aware, that most families are happy with immersion. All schools have transfers out. The better immersion schools don't have more transfers out than other schools.
    In fact, they have a long waiting list of families wanting to transfer in.

    If you're interested in immersion, do consider the extra workload and the fact that your children may need homework help in two languages. Other than that, all three schools, FAIS, CAIS and the Lycee, are among the best schools in the city.

  71. I think if you put your child in a Mandarin or Cantonese immersion program you are being unrealistic to think you can "have it all" in terms of time. It takes a LOT of time for kids to learn to read and write characters. This time spent memorizing is not necessary in alphabetic languages. The kids will not be reading in Chinese as fluently as in English and will not gravitate to reading Chinese. The time spent memorizing could be spent doing many other things. Our child ended up in a Cantonese immersion program and I see this as a big drawback. I like that he can understand and speak Cantonese but think the characters take too much time to learn.

  72. Memorizing characters is no more different from memorizing alphabetic languages. They use different parts of brains. Characters are more visual and alphabetic languages are more phonic. Both involves memorization. However, it is way easier to learn to read (recognize the character) than to write (memorize all the strokes).

    Once a kid master the first few hundred most commonly used characters, it became must easier. Simple characters combine into more complex ones - often, one part hints the meaning, and the other provides the sound.

    Finally, with everything done on computer these days, knowing how to say and read Chinese is almost as good as knowing how to write. You just need to type in Pin-yin (the sound of character and/or word), and the computer will show you the characters to pick from. Basically, you will be able to write an essay with only the ability to pronounce and recognize the characters.

    You can install Chinese input on both Windows and Mac.

  73. One of the hardest parts of Chinese immersion, as posters above have noted, is getting your kids to read more in Chinese. English is easy - once you know the alphabet you can pretty much sound things out. But in Chinese if you see a character you don't know, it's difficult to guess its sound or meaning. Easier for native speakers who've been exposed to Chinese their whole lives, but not for non-native kids in an English-speaking environment. There's precious little available that's at the appropriate age-level for interest but also uses a small enough character set that our kids can read it. Kids in US immersion programs tend to read a grade level or two behind where they would be if they were in China, for example. So while your child can read Harry Potter in English, they're stuck reading boring beginner texts in Chinese.
    Thankfully we're starting to see some cool web-based reading sites that let the kids read and hear stories (check out but there's just not that much there yet. And without a lot of reading, the kids don't get the constant repetition that they get in English.
    None of which is a deal breaker. But it's another example of how immersion, especially Chinese immersion, requires more parental oversights and focus than an English-only curriculum would.

  74. Lycee mom here again.

    It's been said on this site before, but in terms of writing, French, Spanish, Italian and German are as easily learned as English.

    If you're interested in immersion for your children but you are not a native speaker, your best options are these languages.

    A lot of the kids at the Lycee quickly pick up the fact that many words are shared between French and English. Learning the languages together strengthens vocabulary, reading and writing of both languages.

  75. My son goes to Shu Ren International School in Berkeley, which is Mandarin immersion. I agree with the other commenters who emphasize the importance of both parents being on board with immersion education. The people who have not stayed at Shu Ren have not been fully committed to Mandarin immersion and so were disappointed, for example, when their preschooler wasn't up to speed on English letters and numbers (Pre-K is 100% Mandarin at Shu Ren) or who weren't willing or able to make the long-term commitment. For the rest of us, it's been an extraordinarily gratifying experience. The curriculum is balanced so Mandarin is a tool used to teach other subjects and with the International Baccalaureate framework, everything is integrated and they learn in-depth about a wide variety of topics. Even without the Mandarin immersion, I feel he is getting the best education we could hope for. There is more homework than there might be at other single language schools, since learning characters take more time and effort, as others have noted. They only have an hour of English a day in 1st grade but nevertheless the teacher has at least half the class reading well above grade level, and much of that is due to work kids do at home. But for us it is worth it and yes, I do feel that we can have it all.

  76. We are at La Scuola and it has a very different approach IB/Reggio. We love the school, teachers and staff. I'm at work right now so don't have time to write about how wonderful it is, but the last open house is this Saturday so you should definitely look into it.