Saturday, January 29, 2011

A race to the bottom of the curve

This crossed the wire a few days ago while I was in transit. The Ottawa Citizen's Matthew Pearson writing about a provincial advertising campaign backed by the French-language school boards.
Gilles Leroux the campaign's spokesman, said many Ontarians don't know the French school system exists or that it could be an option for their family.
His group estimates that between 30,000 and 40,000 children currently registered in English Catholic or public schools would be eligible to attend French schools.
"We hear too many times parents saying, 'I decided to send my kids to the French Immersion program because it is really the same thing'," he said in an interview.
Leroux said he's concerned some francophone parents or those with the right to enrol their children in French schools aren't doing so. (A rights-holder is a parent or guardian whose first language is French, who attended a French elementary school or who has another child registered in a French school).
"We would say to them, 'You have a choice, you have an alternative that really should be your first choice, which is a French-language school,'" he said.
The article also quotes English-language board trustees, angered by this play for students and dollars in a time when many of them are trying to hold onto every student possible.
I would agree with the view expressed here and remain doubtful of the claim that those families who have French-language education rights aren't already aware they can register their children in a French-language school. Many of them do, and outside of the pockets of this province where there are larger numbers of French-speaking people, that choice means a very different set of circumstances than just sending your child to the closest school.
This is an outright play from the French-language boards (and I won't even touch the source of the funding paying for the campaign) to boost their enrolment at the cost of taking students away from English-language schools. They're right-- French immersion is not a French-language school. They've also fought long and hard to maintain French-language education rights in this province, which means a heck of a lot more in southwestern Ontario or the Kawartha Lakes than it does in Lasalle, Russell, Ottawa or parts of Northern Ontario. 
These boards had full-day kindergarten long before others, and many used it to their advantage to boost early years enrolment. Anecdotally I know of a number of families who would enrol in French-language for full-day kindergarten, switching at some point in the primary years to a French immersion school and then, some times but often enough, to an English school by the intermediate grades. Heck, I have family who don't per the letter of the definition qualify as French-language rights holders and have a child enrolled in a French school.
Meaning some boards already softly target and allow almost anyone who wishes to attend their schools. This ad campaign just makes it overt.
Having said all that, I fully support second- (third, fourth, fifth...) language acquisition. I am always thankful for parents who enrolled us in a school where the level of French-language instruction was higher in the primary years (every other day in kindergarten and a quarter of the day from Gr. 1-6) and then pushed us into a late immersion program. I fully recognize and take advantage of the French I possess whenever I'm given the chance -- rare as it is in southwestern Ontario.
I'm just not convinced this is the fair way to do it and predict any boost in enrolment achieved by this campaign won't sustain itself in the long term.


Anonymous said...

in my region if you want a French education for your child it's the Catholic board's French Immersion for you.

Funny that the Catholic board is claiming unfair competition for students and the $$ that goes along with those students when the Cathlolic boards are very much seasoned at their own communications skills in attracting students themselves.

How about we give parents a variety of choices complete with a history of how the kids are doing in each board and leave it to parents to decide?

I mean with many boards dropping boundaries and even those that have kept boundaries parents will cross those and do what it takes to get their kids the education they want for their kids.

Doretta Wilson said...

Actually, I saw similar ads in the Toronto area for the local French Board. Must be a province-wide campaign.

Declining enrolments province wide are probably causing this latest initiative. Almost all boards face the same problem--that Gen-X'ers kids are now in the system and there are just not as many kids anymore.
It is interesting to note that the French boards have higher per pupil costs (

Education Reporter said...

Hey all:

Yes, the campaign is province-wide. Realized after reading the article that I'd been seeing the ads on the TTC for some time now.

Doesn't surprise me per-pupil costs are higher-- many French-language boards don't have the efficiency of scale and critical mass in any one region to keep costs lower. Also, for reasons I've never completely understood, French textbooks and other learning materials cost more-- costs partially defrayed by federal grants in some cases.

As to enrolment wars, I would be cautious with making generalizations. Some Catholic boards still place enrolment restrictions on their elementary schools. Further, French-language boards are supposed to be following the eligibility rules set out by the province, but anecdotally I know of a few that just ignore them.