Friday, October 21, 2022

Chinese-language Immersion Schools

By now everyone seems to have come to the conclusion that China is yesterday, and that liberal democracy is ascendant. Obviously, when everyone gloms on to one self-serving belief the chances are good that they are missing the point.

Of course, everyone also knows that the American system of public and even most private education is a calamity. While teachers and administrators argue about how best to teach five year olds the art of the blow-job, children in Shanghai are starting to learn algebra. And let’s not forget the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, who brought up her daughters strictly and rigorously according to modified Chinese standards, and who has done a very good job of it. Of course, American charter schools, like New York’s Success Academies have provided a far better education than have public schools, even when they draw from the same candidate pool.

On this score, parents often vote with their feet. In a stunning vote of no confidence New York parents are abandoning public schools in droves. They are moving to the suburbs, moving out of state, or even sending their children to parochial schools. 

But now, in a sign of the times, parents in Oakland, CA have another option. Chinese immersion schools. Jay Caspian Kang has the story for The New Yorker. Unfortunately, he spends too much time on the diversity issue, because that is the current obsession among our elite intellectuals, but in truth the schools are not all Chinese-American. They teach children how to speak Mandarin but they do not overlook more traditional subjects.

Obviously, this works only for parents who see the value in Chinese language immersion, or who simply do not want to consign their children’s futures to the teachers’ unions.

Kang explains, noting a point that I had ignored, namely that Chinese-language immersion schools exist in many of America’s largest cities. One feels compelled to point out that many savvy New York parents want their children to study Mandarin in school. Many of the toniest private schools in New York City offer it as a language option.

Immigrant parents who feel alienated from or squeamish about public schools still send their kids to parochial schools. But, in many of America’s largest cities, another option, which has none of the religious hangups of the Catholic school nor the price of private schools, has presented itself: the Chinese-language-immersion school.

One understands that these schools require good behavior, school uniforms and proper decorum:

The students at Yu Ming wear navy-blue and white uniforms, and learn in classrooms that are modest and cozy. Kindergarteners sit on a rug on the floor and listen to a teacher speak to them in Mandarin; across the hall, first graders jump up and down, singing a Chinese song set to the tune of “Ten Little Fingers.” I visited during just the seventh week of classes, meaning that roughly seventy per cent of the kindergarten class could not yet understand what was being taught, except through physical cues or the very occasional hint whispered in English. But, by the second grade, they will know how to write stories in Chinese characters. In third grade, they’ll start taking the standardized tests required of every student in California—and they’ll most likely excel.

Among the more interesting facts is that the children at Yu Ming excel in standardized testing, in English language and literacy. Not only than, but they excel in math too:

In the 2018-19 school year, ninety-four per cent of Yu Ming’s third through eighth graders met or exceeded standards on the English language and literacy section of California’s main standardized test, compared with just a fifty-per-cent pass rate statewide. In the Oakland Unified School District (O.U.S.D.), only forty-five per cent of students passed. The disparities in math were even more stark, with ninety-four per cent of Yu Ming students exceeding standards, compared with O.U.S.D.’s thirty-six-per-cent pass rate. U.S. News & World Report ranked Yu Ming the seventh-best elementary school in California—and it was the only entry in the top ten that is not a magnet school or situated in a wealthy suburb.

These results correlate well with the test scores of children in New York’s Success Academies. Naturally, you want to know why we do not have more of such schools, and, you know the answer. It is among the saddest and most pathetic problems with contemporary America.

Kang notes that the Yu Ming pupils are not all Chinese:

One might attribute Yu Ming’s success to an increase in the Chinese population in the area, or even some trend that draws Chinese American parents back to their cultural roots. But what’s striking about the student body of Yu Ming is how many students aren’t Chinese. Roughly half of Yu Ming students are Asian American; an additional twenty-three per cent are “two or more races” (the bizarre institutional term given to multiracial kids). The remaining students are split relatively evenly between Black, Latino and white.

But then, as Kang notes, the students are self-selected, so all the talk about diversity is somewhat off the mark:

All you have to do for your kid to receive the best education in the Bay Area is put them in a classroom where their teachers will not speak English for most of the school day. But the people who are willing to do that and push for their child to go to a charter school will always be a self-selecting group, regardless of their class or ethnic background.

So, the existence of these schools is an indictment of America’s public education system. Unfortunately, it only touches a minority of children. Still and all, it does show us what works.

The truth is that, as long as Yu Ming keeps up its extremely high test scores, families will line up to get their kids a spot—no matter what. This is the reality of educational choice. It’s why parents blockade changes to magnet and gifted-and-talented programs; it’s why non-Catholic people send their kids to Catholic schools; it’s a large part of why so many immigrants have moved to the suburbs in the past twenty years.

1 comment:

autothreads said...

I guess you could call my grandsons' yeshiva a Jewish immersion school. For what it's worth, their kids do pretty well on standardized tests too.
By the way, did you know that Jewish men have had nearly 100% literacy for about 2,000 years. A a rabbi named Yehoshua ben Gamla made education of Jewish boys compulsory after the destruction of the Second Temple.