Is French immersion creating a 2-tiered education system?
Does French immersion create a two-tiered education system in which privileged kids learn French while newcomers and students with learning challenges wind up in English-only programs?
It's a controversial question the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) is now exploring.
Board staff will spend the summer studying whether "social sorting" is an issue in Ottawa.
"We could have many more immigrants, English-language learners, more special education needs in one program versus another," said OCDSB trustee Rob Campbell, whose motion directing board staff to examine the issue was recently passed.
"My bottom line is, we're flying blind. We don't have this information. Everybody has anecdotes ... but let's set aside the anecdotes ... let's get some actual facts on the table and have some of these important discussions," he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.
Some of your opinions
That conversation generated plenty of comments on Twitter, the majority of which said French immersion does create a segregated system.
Does French Immersion result in "social sorting"?—@OttawaMorning
The @OCDSB is going to study the matter after a trustee raised concerns that French Immersion leads to a two-tier system. But what do you think? What are you seeing in your own kids' school?
Yes - absolutely. I’m dealing with this now. My daughter has ADHD and was told she should be in English. I said no and asked for an IEP to help her in FI. I’m an Anglo who didn’t have a chance to take FI in Ottawa and it’s hurt my career. I’m fighting for her.—@JLStrategies
Same here. I didn’t grow up in Canada, my kid with mild attention issues was told she should move to the easier English school even though her dad is francophone. We insisted she stay in FI and she’s fine now, but it was eye opening.—@SCMcLean76
Yes, definitely. Anecdotally at my sons school our suspicion is that "difficult" kids are streamed to english stream - ADHDs, behavioural, LD, and socially there is little interaction on the playground between streams even if kids know each other outside of school. @VRPSocdsb—@LDR1
But not everyone agreed.
1/ French immersion is not elitist/streaming in the nature of its structure. Open to all students - all academic abilities and all backgrounds (new Canadians). In OCDSB, all students JK/SK are offered a bilingual program, opening up possibility to all based on parental choice.—@NicoleThibault1
Do away with immersion, academic argues
In New Brunswick, an officially bilingual province that's been wrestling with how to teach French to students for more than a decade, academic Doug Willms thinks it'd be better to do away with French immersion altogether.
Willms, the former Canada Research Chair in literacy and human development at the University of New Brunswick, now leads a company that does school assessments and surveys.
In the current system, which offers early French immersion, only about four to five per cent of an entire cohort of students are achieving a high level of proficiency in French, he said.
He thinks French immersion should not be offered. Instead, all students should get some instruction in French until high school, at which time students and parents can decide whether they want to pursue French further and do it on their own.
"How much money should taxpayers have [to pay] to create basically a private school system within the public school system, when only four or five per cent of the children, at the end of the day, achieve advanced skills?" he said.
"If you want your child to learn French, I think they need to fight for an inclusive system, and one that builds up the French skills as they go along, and if they want their child to be even more proficient, have them do extra classes.... It shouldn't be at the public expense."
Teachers weigh in
Marie-Pier Demers, who was a student in OCDSB's French immersion program and now teaches for the French Catholic school board, said French immersion is "essential" for the survival of francophone culture.
"I believe immersion is important, and it should stay, and ... when you say words like private system, it's inflammatory and it makes people jump up," she said.
"I understand that resources are strained, and I do believe that they should go where they're needed ... but I think if you do away with the whole thing, we're ruining very important progress that has been made in this society to recognize the French language as an integral part of the founding of Canada."
Rachel Inch works for the OCDSB teaching English-only classes and teaching English to French immersion students. Her own children are in French immersion.
She said special supports for students with high needs are only offered in the English stream, leaving French immersion teachers without help.
"The system as it is right now is a tiered system, 100 per cent.... It does not need to go away, but it definitely needs to be tweaked," Inch said.
"I think what has to ultimately be done is that support has to be offered in French. If you're going to allow the students that are having difficulties at school get their support that they deserve, then they should be offered that in French as well."
What do you think?
Sound off in the comments section below.