Ed Policy Nov4/13: The Record Off The Record: French Immersion – It’s Complicated

Education Policy Development Committee: November 4, 2013 Chair: Horsman Absent: Alpha, Leonard
Recognition of Songhees and Esquimalt Nations’ traditional territories.

1. Approval of Agenda: Adopted
2. Approval of Minutes: Minutes [attached to agenda, p2]  of Ed Policy October 7, 2013: / Approved
3. Business Arising From the Minutes: None
4. Public Request to the Committee: None
5. Correspondence Referred to the Committee: None.
6. Motions Referred to the Committee: None
7. General Announcements: None

8. New Business:

A. French Immersion at George Jay [School board Chair in 1907] Elementary School
i. Recommended [by District Principal of Languages and Multiculturalism] :

That the Board approve the addition of a French Immersion  program at George Jay Elementary School, beginning September 2014 with the introduction of a kindergarten class. / Carried unanimously.

  • The District Principal of Languages and Multiculturalism  reports that extensive consultation has taken place via the French Immersion Advisory Committee with representatives from the Greater Victoria Teachers Association, SD61 Principals, Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, Canadian Parents for French, as well as with school administration and staff, and school community parents.
  • Currently there are 8 dual track schools in SD61.
  • 124 students from the George Jay catchment area – more than 50% of the catchment area K-5 population – are not attending George Jay. The number of George Jay students who travel to Sir James Douglas for French Immersion would support French Immersion at George Jay. The program would become fully realized in a six-year cycle, as a new French Immersion kindergarten class begins each September and last year’s students move to the next higher grade. Parents and Leslie Lee, George Jay Principal, presented their vision for the program. Ms. Lee reported that much energy had been given to visioning in regard to the school culture, and said funding would be in place so the French Program would not take funds from the English track. “George Jay is really a “multicultural track” school.” Parents stressed the unique culture of the school, reported that consultation was very supportive and thorough,and that school parents were looking forward to connection between the English and French tracks.
  • Nohr: How will the 22  kindergarten students be selected for the class?
  • District Principal of Languages and Multiculturalism: Will follow District registration process for French Immersion as it is a “District Program”.

French Immersion Registration Week is January 27 to January 31, 2014 Registering during Registration Week is important. Families who register by Friday, January 31 have priority for placement.

  • Nohr: Integration between French Immersion track and English track within schools has had some historical difficulties.
  • Horsman: Federal funding determines the percentage of French instruction.

Federal funding parameters: ” In order to qualify for French Immersion funding, boards of education must follow the Ministry’s policies and also the procedures set out in this section.The Ministry of Education provides curriculum for French Immersion: Early French Immersion (Kindergarten to Grade-12) and Late French Immersion (Grade 6-12) programs. In Early French Immersion programs, Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2 should be taught totally in French. Beginning in Grade 4 and continuing to Grade 12, English Language Arts shall be provided for all French Immersion students. ….To receive federal funding, a minimum of 25 percent of instruction must be in French to be funded as French Immersion. A less than 25 per cent time allocation is considered Core French and will be funded accordingly. ”

  • Lisa Anderson, public observer: Watch out for elitism, and equity issues  of a “private school within a public school”.
  • McNally: This motion creates yet another niche program, since French Immersion is not available at all schools and parents have to drive children around the city to access it, but on the other hand this new program  will retain students in a catchment area at their neighbourhood school. Competing values arise, but will support this motion as it enhances the neighbourhood school. Canada is officially a bilingual country; ideally federal funding should be in place for French Immersion in every school. New Brunswick  begins French Immersion in Grade 3. As a former special education / learning support / Reading Recovery teacher, I appreciate the New Brunswick  design, although it is reported to be unpopular. It allows students to become proficient in English reading and writing in a primarily [68% in New Brunswick] English-speaking province, and avoids the situation in which a child’s struggles with reading, writing and spelling in both languages become apparent in a year or two in Immersion, at which point the student may rejoin the English track, deeply confused and “behind” in two languages.

A Tyee report “Does Early Immersion Work?” raises some interesting questions. According to [BC] Education Ministry policy, the “major goal” for the French immersion program is for students to become bilingual. The ministry is not, however, checking to see how many students meet that goal…. Nor is it clear how much extra it costs to educate a B.C. student in French compared to in English. New Brunswick found it costs millions more to offer French immersion. In 2007-2008, B.C. received $9.1 million in federal money to defray the costs of offering French. About half that is earmarked for immersion, the spokesperson said, and another $3 million can be spent either on core or immersion French at the discretion of local school boards. That means the federal government is spending somewhere between $100 and $200 per B.C. French immersion student each year. Provincial spending figures are not collected by the ministry, she [Shirley Bond, Minister of Education when article was written] said. School boards decide how to allocate the money they get from the province, and the government is not keeping track how much is spent on different programs.” A Globe and Mail article from July 2013 written by Andrew Campbell, a teacher for 20 years in Ontario, also offers points for consideration: “French Immersion became popular after the Royal Commission on Bilingualism in 1969, and by the mid-1970s programs had popped up all across Canada. That first wave of French Immersion students are now parents themselves and are seeking French Immersion classes for their children. Since 2006, the demand for places in French Immersion programs has increased by 12 per cent. ….French Immersion classrooms don’t reflect the diversity found in most Canadian schools. They are populated with more students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, contain fewer boys and fewer special education students. Dr. Willms found that almost 60 per cent of those enrolled in French Immersion come from families in the highest socioeconomic groups but only 9 per cent from the lowest. …. The Finnish education system, recognized as the best in the world by Pearson’s latest rankings, is organized around excellence and equity. All students receive the same comprehensive education program, delivered in neighbourhood schools, until sixteen years of age. There’s no streaming of students into special programs of any kind. We need to reconsider a French Immersion program that concentrates students into segregated classes and schools. Educational elitism has no place in our modern public education system. If French Immersion instruction provides the benefits its advocates say, then let’s make it available to all our students, in their neighbourhood schools.”

About Diane McNally