SF Schools to Reduce Services for Chinese Immigrant Students

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Two schools in San Francisco will be scaling back courses and other programs for newly arrived Chinese immigrants starting next year, reports the Sing Tao Daily. While the decision has caused alarm among parents and teachers, district officials say it will ultimately benefit students struggling with the English language.

Lincoln High School says it plans to eliminate the position that oversees administration of its Newcomer Pathway program for Chinese students, currently offered in both Mandarin and Cantonese. The program is designed to allow newly-arrived immigrant students time to adjust to their new school setting by placing them in either full-immersion or bilingual Chinese language courses in key subject areas, including math and science.

Principal Barnaby Payne insists the move will not impact services for the school’s English Language Learner (ELL) student population, adding the decision was based on budget reductions made at the district level.

Beginning next year, San Francisco Unified will reduce funding for programs like those at Lincoln, the Sing Tao notes. The move comes as the district is hoping to place more ELL students into English-only courses.

There were some 360 ELL students enrolled at Lincoln for the 2012-2013 school year, more than 30 percent of them Chinese speakers. District wide there are just under 15,000 ELL students in the K-12 system.

Olivia Huang is a community coordinator and Chinese-language translator for SFUSD. Citing research by the district, she says putting students with limited English ability into English-only classes will help enhance their language learning, as well as better prepare them for college and integration into society.

Francisco Middle School, located near the city’s Chinatown, is planning on eliminating its Chinese-immersion class, the report notes. The school’s principal echoed Huang, citing evidence from other schools in the district, where ELL students performed well despite the lack of newcomer services.

Not everyone, however, is convinced.

"The Chinese and American education systems have their own peculiarities," says Chris Gao, who serves on the English Learner Advisory Committee at Lincoln High School. “It was one of the roles of the [Newcomer program officer] to help explain those differences to the parents.”

Gao added that while the school does have a Chinese-speaking parent contact, the one person alone cannot possibly “meet the needs of all the students.