Our Views: 5 reasons to back global outreach in Janesville education

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Fault Janesville School District Superintendent Karen Schulte for not communicating her plans for the Janesville International Education Program more thoroughly from the start.

Don't, however, fault her vision. Critics wonder whether costs will outweigh benefits and argue the initiative diverts focus from Janesville's children. The project, however, so far has involved mainly administrative time rather than the teachers who have the most direct contact with students.

Credit Schulte and administrators for playing communications catch-up by providing the school board with regular updates on trips and costs. In last Sunday's Gazette, reporter Frank Schultz provided insight into three Midwest districts already educating Chinese students. The stories provided more evidence about why Janesville's outreach program merits support.

1. No longer can Janesville parents send their adult children down to an auto factory to earn healthy paychecks. Instead, our kids must be ready to compete in a global marketplace. China could become our country's greatest friend, foe or trading partner. Whichever the case, learning the Mandarin language and studying beside Chinese students will build cultural understanding and help our kids prepare for higher education and jobs of the future. If a decade from now, students from other nations show more interest in studying here, Janesville will be ready because its program will serve more than the Chinese. Administrators hope to draw students from Argentina, Mexico, Australia, Cambodia, Thailand, Slovakia and Columbia.

2. Schulte isn't inventing this concept. International programs are a growing trend, and she's using other districts as models. One is Oxford, Mich., in a region that, like Janesville, suffered from the auto industry's collapse. Schultz reported that Chinese students also are already learning in two other Wisconsin programs.

3. Janesville's program could raise the bar for all students. Administrators in Oxford and Ladysmith, Wis., say educating highly motivated Chinese students raises the achievement bar and aspirations of local students..

4. Janesville's program could boost district finances. Administrators from other districts cautioned that international programs require much work and that money should not be the No. 1 goal. Oxford and Ladysmith report, however, that foreign students do create revenue for programs that wouldn't otherwise exist. Still, Oxford's superintendent said his program doesn't have an entrepreneur's profit-driven focus but rather that of an “edu-preneur”—preparing students for the global marketplace.

5. The program could stir local economic development. Oxford is enjoying record enrollment, and similar educational opportunities here might lure families to Janesville. Chinese parents want their kids to study in America to prepare for and help them get into U.S. colleges and opportunities they can't get back home. Those Chinese families might also invest in private business here. Schulte suggested as much in her blog Monday. She listed investments in the Milwaukee area spurred by Wisconsin-China relations.

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