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Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School’s expansion request denied

January 20, 2018

Charter school issues are frequently contentious, so there’s an overlay here above and beyond Mandarin immersion.

That said, parents who want their kids to learn Mandarin face an uphill road in many areas. If their local school district says no, one option is for them to try to launch a charter. But then they run into another problem – these schools tend to do too well and they don’t always appeal to the full spectrum of families in the district.

Mandarin immersion charters tend to have more white and Asian students in them, which can be a problem because charter schools are supposed to mirror the populations of their districts as a whole. Another wrinkle is that in area where there are large Spanish-speaking populations, families tend to want to focus on English and not add a third language.

Mandarin immersion charters also tend to have pretty high scores overall. There are studies that will tell you this is because learning a second language (and Chinese in particular) tends to make kids do better academically overall.

There’s also a lot of anecdotal evidence that kids who struggle academically tend to leave Mandarin immersion programs, leaving an overall student body that’s higher achieving. So there’s definitely a chicken and egg question that schools aren’t always eager to answer.

And of course then there’s the elephant in the room – Mandarin immersion programs tend to draw more academically inclined families of all incomes, as well as families with more highly educated and wealthier parents. You can argue a long time about why that is, but it’s true. And as hundreds of studies have shown, children whose parents are more highly educated or from wealthier families tend to do better in school.

In bilingual Canada, where French public immersion schools are common, they’re called “The Poor Man’s Private School” for a reason.

So launching a Mandarin immersion charter school is difficult because without a whole lot of effort (and sometimes even despite that). it’s very likely not going to serve a student body that looks exactly like the district or area as a whole.

Which is what’s happening in Pioneer Valley, a very popular and extremely highly achieving school in western Massachusetts. As the article below states, “The school’s percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations on the test was the highest in Hampshire County, and among the highest in western Mass.”

What to do about this is the question. Bilingualism is good. Mandarin bilingualism is good. Having  public schools that serve all students equally is also good. It’s a conundrum. I’m eager to hear how schools are solving it.


  • Community members of Hadley’s Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, including Jasper Ekwere, 7, of Amherst, prepare to ask for an increase in maximum enrollment for the school in 2016 in Malden. Gazette file Photo

For The Recorder

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


HADLEY — The state’s chief executive for public schools has dealt a significant blow to the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School’s desire to expand.

Acting Education Commissioner Jeff Wulfson decided Friday not to recommend the charter school’s expansion request to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. This means the board will not take up the request — the second the school has submitted in the past two years — in the near future, though the school can appeal Wulfson’s decision for the board to review in June.

“Our school is unique and a sought-after option for families in the Pioneer Valley,” the school’s executive director, Richard Alcorn, said in a statement. “We will make a decision in the coming days on our next steps in our pursuit to best serve more families who wish to join our nationally recognized learning environment.”

The charter school submitted an expansion request in 2016 that was recommended to the board by then-Commissioner Mitchell Chester, who died in June. The board, however, took the rare step of going against the commissioner, voting 7-2 to deny the request last February.

Please read more here.

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