Chris Russell: Don’t make Mandarin the school district scapegoat

December 31, 2013 

In response to the Dec. 8 commentaries (“Bigger Mandarin Program Would Come at a Great Cost” and “Expansion Irresponsible”), I believe both writers are ill informed and perhaps have received erroneous information to form their views. I would like to offer my views as a parent of a child in the program.

First, overcrowding has been an issue at Glenwood for many years; long before the creation of a single class of 24 students this year was ever conceived. Where was the outcry about overcrowding for all of those years? Or is this perhaps really about resistance to the need to redistrict again and the Mandarin program is now inappropriately being used as a scapegoat to help protect some from redistricting?

Second, in both articles funding and the “achievement gap” seem to be the stated motivator for reconsidering the dual language program. I have learned to be skeptical of the motivations when achievement gap is used as justification for too many things. This is not to say we don’t have a profound achievement gap issue. Any read of the recent reports of education disparities in the district should blow a big hole in our egalitarian illusions that our great educational mecca here is somehow above the rest. We are not.

With that said, it is interesting that the Mandarin dual language program is being singled out again, as dual-language programs are one of the few methods available that empirical evidence shows can effectively address achievement gap issues! This is not to say that the district is using it this way thus far, to my disappointment.

I, for one, do believe we really do need to address the disparity in our community and I think this program is one tool that could be used much more to help in that goal. I have to wonder if those that really want this program gone would be receptive to the need to redistrict if it were in the name of addressing the achievement gap? Such a redistricting is likely what will be needed if we are really serious about addressing the disparities.

Third, it needs to be said that some of the worst naysayers and providers of biased information/perspectives have been the CHCCS administration itself, which has repeatedly done just about anything it can to cast the program in the worst possible light. Our administration seems to have the uncanny ability to selectively make it seem that it cannot plan or manage itself out of a wet paper bag when it chooses something it doesn’t want to do. I would ask that this school administration stop making created planning fiascos, false choices for the community to react to, and fanning the flames of the all too familiar and predictable anxieties over redistricting and get on with the legitimate work of actually using this program to the benefit of the broader community.

The Mandarin dual language program can be used effectively to address achievement gap issues if there is a willingness and mandate from the board to do so. It seems clear that the real issue here is the understandable resistance for the need for redistricting again, the absence of proper long-term planning and our unwillingness to set education goals that best prepare our students for their future that includes a need for a greater understanding of Eastern cultures and languages, which we very much need right here at home as well as in an evolving world.

Let’s not cheapen the legitimate need to address the achievement gap by mislabeling this program as a culprit, when in reality we need to use every good tool we have to work this problem, and the Mandarin program could indeed be a very good tool for this.

Chris Russell lives in Chapel Hill.

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