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Mandarin immersion schools: Where we stand in 2013

April 5, 2013


[April 9 update: Wyoming will be getting its first Mandarin immersion program in 2013-2014, at Paradise Valley Elementary School.]

As educators from across the nation meet in Boston at the National Chinese Language Conference this weekend it seemed a good time to look at the current landscape of Mandarin immersion schools in the United States.

I keep a spreadsheet of all the programs I’m aware of on the Mandarin Immersion Parents Council blog, which I update whenever someone emails me with a new school or program. I posted numbers early in the school year and afterwards got several updates and corrections, which are now incorporated into the list.

This week I’ve been crunching numbers and here’s where we seem to be as of April 2013. The numbers I’m working from include schools that are currently open and seven which are scheduled to open in the 2013-2014 school year. There are most likely more coming next year but these are the ones that I’m aware of.

A whopping 24 new Mandarin immersion schools opened in the United States in the 2012-2013 school year, the largest number yet. The year before it was 20, the year before that 18.

In fact, growth has been explosive since 2007.

recent growth














The first Mandarin immersion school in the nation, San Francisco’s Chinese American International School, opened in 1981. It wasn’t until 1991 with the opening of Pacific Rim International School in Emeryville, Calif., that a second appeared. In 1996 they were joined by two more, Potomac Elementary in Potomac, Maryland, the nation’s first public Mandarin immersion program, and the private International School of the Peninsula in Palo Alto, Calif.

Things stayed somewhat steady, with a few programs opening every year or so and then beginning in 2005 it took off, with five that year and four the next. For the nation, it looks like this:

Here are the new schools that started this year, 2012-2013:

2012-2013 new schools

Here are the ones I’m aware of that are planning on opening in 2013-2014:

New Schools 2013-2014

By state, California, Utah, Minnesota and South Carolina have the most schools. It’s important to note however that Utah and Minnesota are fundamentally different as they’re part of broader state-wide networks, while California and to a much lesser extent South Carolina are multiple disparate school districts, charters and private schools, some with connections to schools in Taiwan and Hong Kong.


The majority of Mandarin immersion schools are public.


It’s a little difficult to tell how many elementary versus middle schools there are, as many schools haven’t finished building out their programs or don’t make clear on their websites how many grades they’ll eventually have. I’m not quite sure how to catalog high schools as by that point students are presumably only taking one course per day in Chinese. For that matter, the only high school I’m aware of is Cleveland, in Portland, which is the culmination of Portland’s Mandarin immersion program. There are undoubtedly more, as other programs are at least 12 years old. But for students not in high school:

grade middle

In general, the mania for Mandarin appears to be expanding unabated. Only the difficulty in finding teachers seems to be a stumbling block as parents continue to clamor for these programs nationwide. Whether they’re hoping to give their children a boost in the 21st century job market, connect to family roots, keep a home language alive or are simply looking for academic rigor, Mandarin immersion programs are appearing everywhere and in most places easily filling their incoming classes.

That increase is positive for many reasons, not the least of which is that parents who invest the time and effort in Mandarin now know that if they have to move for work or other reasons there’s at least a chance they’ll be able to find another Mandarin program for their children. This makes the choice to begin in immersion easier for families who see possible job transfers in their future.

Stumbling blocks continue to be a dearth of trained teachers and a clear set of Mandarin fluency expectations in both speaking and reading. The level at which students speak, read and write continues to be between two and four grade levels below what it would be for children the same age in China or Taiwan. Without any agreed upon standards for the United States, parents have a tendency to look at what Chinese kids can do, a comparison that is neither fair nor helpful.

On the good-news front, leveled readers are beginning to become available from larger Chinese websites such as China Sprout, NanHai, Cheng & Tsui and others. These sites offer easy-to-navigate English sides that help parents who don’t read Chinese buy books for home. While there still aren’t enough fun books for kids in Mandarin immersion program, they’re starting to arrive.

In general, Mandarin immersion programs are more wildly successful than I think anyone would have guessed possible only a few years ago. In September of 2006 there were no more than 24. Today that number is 132 and this coming fall it will likely top 140. With that growth comes both more demands for teachers, textbooks, resources but also opportunities such as networking, markets for books and curriculum materials.

One very bright point is the development of broader school and school district consortia which share training, materials and leverage both buying power and influence among textbook producers. At least two are now official, Minnesota’s and Utah’s and one other is in the works. These may be able to help smooth the way for newer programs by sharing expertise.

Parents, too, are beginning to form networks to support their children, their teachers and their school, and to share information. At least 15 non-profits exist nationally to support Mandarin immersion programs at various schools and a small group of leaders in those parent organizations have begun to communicate electronically about how we can avoid reinventing the wheel in each new town that gets a Mandarin immersion program.

As we say here in San Francisco—加油!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2013 9:58 am

    Reblogged this on Utah Mandarin Immersion Parents Council and commented:
    Immersion guru Elizabeth Weiss with an updated tally of Mandarin schools nationwide.


  1. Mandarin Immersion Schools: Where We Stand in 2013 | Parents of African American Students Studying Chinese

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