Saturday, November 17, 2012

Starr King: Mandarin Immersion in Potrero Hill

You should consider this school if you're looking for:  Mandarin immersion, diversity at the school level, parent involvement, a late start school.

The Facts

Web site: www.starrkingschool.net
School tours: Tues 9:30-11AM, register at starrkingtours.eventbrite.com
Location: 1215 Carolina St
Grades: K–5
School Hours: 8:40-2:40
Before/After-school program: no before-school program. 3 after-school programs
Kindergarten size: 66 students total, 3 classes of 22 students.
Playground: black-top terraces; play structure
Language: Mandarin immersion (2 classes); Spanish immersion in grades 4-5 this year, being phased out.



Overview

Late start and no before-school program

Starr King starts at 8:40 AM, and they have no before-school program.  I repeat, 8:40 start, no before-school program.  Parents who have to be at work by 8:30, read no further.
   Their brochure states that students may arrive as early as 8AM, but does not mention who, if anyone, is assigned to watch the early arrivals.

Mandarin Immersion

If you're interested in Mandarin immersion, this is the school to tour.  The information sheets for touring parents are full of information on Mandarin immersion, EPC and student placement, and other resources. The principal also included a lot of general information on Mandarin immersion in his presentation to the parents.
     Starr King has 2 Mandarin immersion and 1 General Ed class at the lower grades.  In contrast, Jose Ortega, has 1 Mandarin immersion and 2 General Ed classes per grade.  The higher ratio of Mandarin to General Ed makes Starr King closer to a full immersion school. It also allows Mandarin teachers to rotate classrooms for the English component so that students are only communicate with their regular teacher in Chinese.
      Jose Ortega and Starr King use the same curriculum, and both teach simplified characters. Students are explicitly taught 600 characters by 5th grade.  The number of characters per year starts at around 70 in kindergarten and peaks at 190 in 3rd grade. 4th and 5th graders are taught just 110 characters a year but are expected to learn more independently. The character list is available at: http://www.jinshaneducation.org/mandarin/character-lists
    The principal, Greg John, came across as being enthusiastic and informed about Mandarin immersion. He had just been to a conference on the subject, and discussed the reasons to learn Mandarin in elementary school: most common language in the world, much harder for English speakers to learn than Spanish.  He seemed less invested in the Gen Ed program,  but perhaps that was because he was speaking to the touring parents, who were all there for Mandarin immersion.

Diversity and Segregation

    Starr King's enrollment consists of 2 disparate populations: the Mandarin immersion program draws Asian and white students with highly educated parents from across the city. The General Ed track draws African American, Latino, Pacific Islander students mostly from Potrero Hill, including the housing projects down the hill. A few are also bussed from other low-income areas like Treasure Island and Bayview.
     I went to public school in a Southern town where after the schools were integrated, students were tracked within the school by race.  The advanced track was all white, with one black boy and girl in each grade.  The modified track in my school was all black. I was distressed to see that Starr King has achieved, de facto, the kind of segregation I grew up with 30-odd years ago.
    Guessing ethnicity from appearance is admittedly iffy, but the Mandarin immersion classrooms were decidedly blonder. The two Mandarin immersion kindergarten classes looked over 80% Asian and white. The one general education class we saw was black, Latino and Pacific Islander--not a single white or Asian face in the room.
     The Mandarin immersion classes at Starr King do have more white students than at Jose Ortega. About a third of the students in immersion appeared to be white. At Jose Ortega, the Mandarin immersion students were almost exclusively Asian, but the general ed classes also had Asian students, so the tracks didn't feel as racially segregated.
    To be fair, Starr King was on the brink of closure, and Mandarin immersion turned it back into a viable school, to the benefit of the General Ed program as well. The PTA raises money to benefit the entire school; the money is not allocated to a specific program. The school encourages interaction between the two groups in non-academic areas: on the playground and on the school's soccer teams, for example. Starr King provides far more diversity than private schools or the immersion only schools like Alice Fong Yu or CIS at DeAvila.
    The Mandarin immersion students do not share classes with General Ed students, even at the upper grades, when the program is 50% English. However, sometimes teachers in Mandarin and Gen Ed classes choose to do activities together in the older grades.

Special Education: Autism

Starr King also has 3 special day classrooms for severely impaired children with autism. This year they have 23 students total.  Older students in Mandarin immersion or General Ed sometimes work with students with one of these classrooms, and the belief is that both the autistic and the non-autistic student will benefit from the interaction.
    Students in the special day classrooms are mainstreamed in activities like recess, lunch, PE, art, or academic subjects as their abilities allow.  These students are usually mainstreamed into the General Ed classroom, not Mandarin immersion.

Academics/Test Scores
    The principal described a "huge performance difference" between the two programs.  The performance gap is exacerbated by the fact that African American and Pacific Islander students, the 2 lowest performing groups in SFUSD, are poorer on average at Starr King than African Americans and Pacific Islanders for SFUSD overall. Asians and Whites, the highest performing groups in SFUSD, are more affluent at Starr King than Asians and Whites in SFUSD overall.
    CST scores are hard to interpret because of the different scores of the 2 tracks. When matched for ethnicity, economic status, or parent education, Starr King students tend to do slightly worse in English and slightly better in math than the SFUSD average on the CST.  I've listed CST scores for selected groups in the tables at the bottom.


After-School Programs
There are 3 after-school programs. Some de facto segregation here too.
    The free on-site ExCel afterschool program , run by the YMCA, attracts the most General Ed students.  Attendance is mandatory, and you cannot pick up your child before 5:45. The program loses money if you do.
    SF Rec and Park runs programs at Potrero Hill Rec Center and Jackson Playground.  They are $700/year and end at 5PM. There is a bus to Jackson Playground, and students are walked to the rec center.
    The third option is the  Fei Tian Academy of the Arts' Chinese language afterschool program. Five days a week is $2300/semester (!).  Dance, art and music classes are available for an extra fee, it works out to about $10/class for dance, $5/class for drawing. Bus transportation to Fei Tian is $5-7 per day.

Parent Involvement, Enrichment and Class Size
The PTA raised $135,000 last year; their goal is $195,000 this year. The PTA raises money to keep classes small; for example, the 4th and 5th graders are in classes of 12-14 students in the Mandarin section of their program. The PTA also helps support StageWrite, where students write and produce their own plays, Street Side Stories for 3rd graders, choral singing for K-3, and Playworks for structured play/games during recess.  No mention of visual arts.

Facilities
Clean and well-maintained but outdated and badly in need of a facelift.  Old bathroom style tiles line the walls, dim fluorescent lighting flickering in the hallways, the cafeteria/auditorium is far too small for the student size.
     We saw only 3 classrooms.  The classrooms look brighter than Jose Ortega's but also slightly smaller.  Like Jose Ortega, the schools scheduled for renovation next year.  Which raises the question: do you want your kindergartener to be exposed the the asbestos, lead paint, noise, and dislocation of renovation, if you end up with an updated facility by 2nd grade?
   The playground is the usual large blacktop with a playstructure in the middle, not too different from Ortega.
    A note on playgrounds: I was feeling disappointed by the desolateness of the play areas at public schools until I realized that both private and public schools have similar playstructures. The main difference is that the private schools (Live Oak, Synergy, Friends, CAIS) usually have a small, often cramped, outdoor space with an attractive surface surrounding the playstructure, where public schools often have an enormous expanse of asphalt.  The latter is less aesthetically appealing, but more functional for the kids.
    
Support staff
There is a half-time RN and a half-time social worker.

Getting in:  Are you willing to wait until 2 weeks into the school year?
EPC reserves 2/3s of language immersion spots for children who speak the language.  There are few native Mandarin speakers in SFUSD, which improves your odds of getting into the program considerably.  Last year,  Starr King had only 5 Mandarin speaking kindergarteners out of 44 spots: 2 were English learners and  3 "fluent proficient" English speakers.
    The downside is that EPC still reserves 2/3s of the spots for Mandarin speakers, so most people have to wait until Round 2 or later.  According to the principal, last year EPC held onto some of the remaining spots until 2nd week into the school year.  How painful is that?


Supporting Starr King

You can make a PayPal donation to the Starr King PTA. Please note: PayPal will take a cut of 2.2% + 30 cents. 

Or you can mail a check to:
    Starr King PTA
   1215 Carolina St.
   San Francisco, CA 94107

See their fundraising webpage for many other ways to support Starr King. Here's a few ways that cost you nothing.

  • registering your Safeway Club card and credit cards at eScrip.com. A percentage of your purchases at Safeway and several other participating merchants will be donated to the school. (Starr King ID: 6573711)
  • registering your Target RedCard in the Take Charge of Education program. 1% of your purchases will be donated to the school (Starr King ID: 35332)
  • using the Starr King link to shop at Amazon


The Numbers


2011-2012 Enrollment by Ethnicity, Grades K-2

EthnicitySK SFUSD
Latino of any race
16%
27%
Not Latino or Hispanic:
  Asian
23%
33%
  Filipino
1%
4%
  African American
21%
9%
  White
22%
17%
  Pacific Islander
7%
1%
  Two or More Races
8%
6%
  Not reported
3%
3%

Source: California Dept of Education, Educational Demographics Unit


2011-2012 Parent Education Level, Grades 2-5*


SK SFUSD
Graduate School/Postgraduate
27%
15%
College Grad
27%
22%
Some College/AA degree
9%
21%
High School Grad
15%
15%
Didn't graduate high school%
8%
13%
Declined to State/Not Answered**
14%
13%

*CST test takers only. CAPA, CMA and STS not included. CST tests start at 2nd grade. 
**For SFUSD, the "Declined to State" group has CST scores close to or slightly below the "Not a high school grad" group.


2011-12 Economic Status,
Grades 2-5*
Percent of Enrollment Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch  
(<185% of  the Federal Poverty Level)


SK 
SFUSD
All students
 58%
61%
Latino of any race
71%
83%
Not Latino or Hispanic:
  Asian
14%
65%
  Filipino
50%
55%
  African American
91%
79%
  White
9%
19%
  Pacific Islander
92%
83%
  Two or More Races
8%
38%


*CST test takers only. CST tests start at 2nd grade. 

2011-2012 CST Scores by Economic Level


Starr King
SFUSD

Score
At or above grade level
Score
At or above grade level
NOT Economically Disadvantaged
English 390
Math 447
71%
87%
English 398
Math 433
80%
82%
Economically Disadvantaged (<185% of the Federal Poverty Level)
English 314
Math 344
30%
41%
English 351
Math 385
53%
62%

2011-2012 CST Scores for NOT Economically Disadvantaged Students*


Starr King
SFUSD

Score
At or above grade level
Score
At or above grade level
White
English 398
Math 474
76%
93%
English 408
Math 444
84%
88%
Asian
English 389
Math 454
74%
85%
English 399
Math 457
80%
89%

* White CST scores for grades 2-3 only. Asian CST scores for grades 2, 3 and 5 only. The California Department of Education only publishes scores for grades with over 10 students in each subgroup. Other ethnicities didn’t have enough published scores for comparison.

2011-2012 CST Scores by Parent Education Level*

Starr King
SFUSD


Score
At or above grade level
Score
At or above grade level

Graduate School/ Postgraduate Education
English 403
Math 468
73%
92%
English 407
Math 456
89%
89%

College Degree (BA/BS)
English 392
Math 447
74%
82%
English 397
Math 427
81%
81%


* CST scores for graduate/postgraduate parental education for grades 2-3 only. Scores for college degree for grades 2, 3 and 5 only. The California Department of Education only publishes scores for grades with over 10 students in each subgroup. Other parent education levels didn’t have enough published scores for comparison.

Source: http://star.cde.ca.gov/

10 comments:

  1. what a depressing picture of this school. honest, but depressing for the general ed kids.

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  2. i can't help but wonder why anyone would want their kids in a GE program here. after reading these tour notes i would think everyone would steer clear of this school for GE. maybe this is a problem in all immersion schools? are there any immersion schools where the GE class is well integrated and successful?

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  3. My observation touring schools/hearing about schools with immersion and general ed tracks was that at many, the GE track is not as well regarded as the immersion track. This is definitely the case at Monroe, and at Flynn. West Portal did not evidence this disparity, probably because of the SES of the surrounding community. We also didn't get in :-)

    Remember that the GE track will be filled first with siblings in the GE track (probably few for Starr King), then kids from CTIP1, then kids from the Attendance Area, then open to the rest of the city. The immersion strands, on the other hand, give no priority to neighborhood kids and feed from the whole city.

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  4. How's the GE program as compare to Jose Ortega, since the two school are very similar

    ReplyDelete
  5. Just a few notes from a current parent - Re before school care, there is staff supervision in the cafeteria, where kids can have breakfast and read books that the school provides (or their own), starting at 8:00. At 8:30, the kids are released to the playground where school staff are supervising. Re within school segregation - kids from the GE and Mandarin programs are in classrooms together during the first half hour of the day, which is English instruction. The Mandarin program tends to have about 15% African American and Latino kids, though it varies a lot by year. But you are right that within school segregation is a major concern, and while the GE teachers are mostly great, many of the kids come from very impoverished and otherwise difficult circumstances. We are very happy there in the Mandarin program, as parents of African American kids.

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  6. For what it is worth, I have had two friends with kids in the GE program at Alvarado, and they were very happy. I think the Spanish immersion program may even have a lower SES overall than the GE program, with poorer Latinos coming to it from the Mission.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The general idea for immersion was to bring in more diversity into schools which were traditionally of a homogenous socio-economic group. So if you have a school like Starr King which has a lot of low-income African American and Latino students and want to create more economic and ethnic diversity, you bring in a Mandarin immersion program which will bring a different set of families into the school. This is a good thing for all the students at the school. While it does not necessarily raise the test scores of the pre-immersion student population, it can bring more resources which benefit all the students and can bring in different points of view. And over time, there might be a natural bridge between the two programs with a variety of students applying for the immersion program.

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  8. West Portal has an integrated immersion and GE school. But theirs was the first immersion in SF. It's over 25 yrs old and it wasn't brought in to an underperforming school as was done at Starr King or JOES. Their GE program is highly sought after. Something to remember about the immersion programs is that 2/3 will always be the demographic that speaks the native language. so not necessarily very diverse in that sense.

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  9. 10:10, the student demographics at Starr King and Jose Ortega aren't that similar. Starr King brings together students from very disadvantaged families and relatively affluent, well-educated ones--two extremes if you will. Jose Ortega's enrollment has more middle-of-the-road demographics, with socioeconomic statuses close to the SFUSD average.

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  10. As a Starr King parent, I want to comment on the GE/Immersion integration in addition the comments above which are all correct (extremes of affluent/very disadvantaged, 30 minutes of English mixed strands in the morning). Starr King is a big soccer school, fielding up to 2 or 3 teams for each grade, open to both MI and GE kids who practice together. All families are very supportive of soccer with many MI families who regulary pick up kids at the projects across the street for the games which take place all over the city. The kids all know each other, regardless of the strand.

    However, the extreme demogaphics does create some tension in the school and families who enter the MI program need to be comfortable with the demographics. Overall, we have been happy at Starr King.

    BTW, you can read more about Mandarin immersion across SFUSD at:
    http://www.jinshaneducation.org/

    ReplyDelete