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Cambridge, Mass. school lottery tweak angers some parents in Mandarin immersion program

November 28, 2017

I include this because so many of us in Mandarin immersion programs deal with an ongoing series of tweaks and changes from our school districts, administrators and teachers. Sometimes there are unintended consequences that no one expected. Cambridge, Mass. is dealing with some of those now.

From Cambridge Day


Lottery fix

An attempt to fix an unintended consequence of encouraging enrollment in language immersion programs was pushed to a Nov. 21 meeting. Although member Patty Nolan presented what she hoped was her community relation subcommittee’s solution, she asked that a vote be postponed until the affected schools could have time to discuss the proposed changes – not realizing the committee would change its schedule so the next regular meeting would be weeks later. She ultimately agreed that a November date wouldn’t jeopardize changes to the January lottery.

The issue was change in recent controlled choice rules to allow “internal transfers” into the Chinese Immersion and Olá Portuguese program at the Martin Luther King and King Open Schools, respectively – letting non-immersion students in the schools’ other programs transfer to the immersion programs before assigning siblings or running the January junior and kindergarten lottery. The goal was to encourage enrollment in the programs, especially for the non-immersion Chinese Ni Hao program students.

It turned out, though, that some younger siblings of students already in the immersion program were shut out of the January 2017 lottery as a result – unheard of in Cambridge where siblings have priority in registration. It was particularly unfair, families contended, to siblings born after the March 31 cut-off, making them ineligible for junior kindergarten – meaning they now were in line behind other children in their grade who could do an internal transfer because they were born before March 31 and therefore were junior kindergarteners in the school.

The proposed solution is to prioritize sibling registration, only then followed by internal transfers. Internal transfers must be completed before the January lottery. The change got support from Chinese Immersion parents Nancy Wei and Danielle Buie. Wei said this will “spare future families the heartbreak” that she and others experienced when their youngest children were shut out. Her son had been 14th on the wait list last year, she said, even with a sibling already in the program.

When this issue arose in May, some committee members were initially reluctant to take it up, fearing “changing the rules” might open up even more unintended consequences. Kathleen Kelly’s initial impulse was to postpone examining the issue until after the upcoming November election. The committee discussed reviewing the entire controlled choice program, but Nolan, Bowman and Fred Fantini, along with Chief Operating Officer Jim Maloney, convinced all the members to move this specific issue to the community relations subcommittee to “begin fact-finding.” Instead, they came back with a potential fix.

Full article here.

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