Tag Archives: Dr. James Croll

The New Brunswick Experience in Doing Right by All the Students


God give me strength to face a fact though it slay me.

Thomas Huxley

            The most difficult lesson for new teachers is that we will never be the right teacher for all our students.  One of the most difficult things to explain to the parent of a student is that the thing you all agree would be best for their child may be a thing you cannot, in good conscience do, because it would not be good for her classmates. 

            These were the kind of issues New Brunswick faced when it took a long hard look at its French Second Language programs and realised that they were expensive, created ghettos and streaming and did not teach French effectively.  I read the Croll Lee Report with a sense of recognition; Ontario is not much different, we just aren’t ready to admit that the emperor has no clothes. 

The report was frank about what wasn’t working in the FSL programs and the perceptions of the people who were directly involved about where the difficulties lay.  As much as I love the academic world, I know that studies cannot be counted on to give us a guarantee that their results can be reproduced under all conditions.  I also know that teaching and learning do not exist in isolation. 

Children have peers and parents.  Teachers have time limits and families and lives outside the classroom.  Parents have prejudices and want what they perceive as best for their children more than they want what is best for a class or a school or school board.  Administrators want to go home in time for dinner and leave behind the bellyful of complaints, justified or unjustified.  Trustees want to do what’s right but they also want to be re-elected.  And I haven’t mentioned money, yet.  Or any serious politics.  In all these push-me, pull-you wants and needs, it is sometimes so hard to remember that education is about educating all our children as successfully as possible.

New Brunswick, God bless it, remembered exactly that.  In this post and posts to come, you may feel that they made mistakes, but they had their eye on the ball.  They were intent on providing an effective education in FSL to all the Anglophone students in the province and intent on doing it in a way that would be cost efficient.  Yes, it was about money, too.  You can’t be accountable to the public without accounting for the cost of the service you are providing.

Before the Reform of the FSL Program

            A bit of background:  New Brunswick has a population of under 800,000 people of whom 51% are urban dwellers and 49% are rural.  The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of education and rural populations is that very few children will be walking to school.  The second thing is that the elementary schools will be small and the secondary schools will draw from large geographical areas.  I’m not an expert, but I frequently drive through rural Ontario from Ottawa to Toronto and through rural Quebec from Ottawa to our cottage.  I see the schools and I see the buses.  At conferences, I talk to the teachers and hear how teaching in rural schools is different from the urban schools of my experience.

            New Brunswick is the province with the second highest proportion of rural population after Prince Edward Island.  I have cycled across PEI and I can vouch for the fact that nothing is very far from anything else in PEI.  The overall rural population in Canada amounts to roughly 20% and in Ontario it is 15%. 

            Educators in New Brunswick not only face unique demographic challenges but N.B.  has also declared itself a bilingual (French and English) province.  As a result, there is a political push to educate Anglophone children to functional fluency in French.

The three streams for FSL students in New Brunswick were: Early French Immersion (starting in Grade 1), Late French Immersion and Core French.  Money was not evenly distributed among these programs: one year of Early Immersion cost 28.69% of funds spent on French as a Second Language in New Brunswick.  Students in EFI made up only 19% of students in the FSL program.  LFI took an even larger per capita chunk of the FSL budget; they constituted 7.7% of FSL students but used 16.6% of the FSL budget.  By now you will have figured out that 71.1% of the students, those in Core French, those with 93.2% of children with special education needs, those who could use some extra help, were allotted 54.75% of the total FSL budget for one year.

These three streams were not the only systems for learning French in New Brunswick.  The count came to 14 different variations of immersion or core.  This included a technique called AIM and one called Intensive French.  Many of these systems would require follow through in subsequent years, so you can imagine how expensive this could get.  Two streams starting in grade 1 and a third splitting the core stream in later elementary school is costly enough.

When the ministry of education for New Brunswick asked “how well are our FSL programs doing in teaching French?” they commissioned Dr. James Croll and Patricia Lee to answer that question by creating a report on the current conditions and making recommendations based on what they learned.    

The short answer to the ministry’s question was appalling.  Statistics were limited and only in recent years has the ministry begun to separate EFI stats from LFI.  Nevertheless, Croll and Lee did find appropriate statistics for the EFI students who started in Grade 1 in 1995 and would have been in Grade 12 in 2006. (Table 37)

Of the 1,469 Early French Immersion students who started in grade one in 1995, only 613 finished the program by going all the way to grade 12.  The standard expected for a student who had been in the immersion program for twelve years was New Brunswick’s oral proficiency of Advanced or above. Advanced is described as:

Able to speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal, and in all informal conversations, on practical, social, and academic or work-related topics. Can describe in detail and narrate accurately. Can discuss abstract topics and ideas as well as events; can support opinions and hypothesize. Accent may be obvious but never interferes with understanding. Control of grammar is good and speech is fluent. Sporadic errors still occur, but they would not distract a native speaker or interfere with communication 

Of the 613 who did not drop out before grade 12, only 554 took the oral proficiency test.  Of those 554 students, 234, or less than 50% of them actually achieved the Advanced target level.  As low as this seems, if you consider dropouts as failing students and most school boards would consider students who dropped out before graduating, failures, then the failure rate is much, much higher. 

Similar results surfaced in the case of Late Immersion and Core French.  Although they were held to lower standards, those who did finish Grade Twelve French were as unlikely to meet their required standards.

Among the other questions the ministry asked itself was whether the standards were appropriate.  It’s a good question.  Why can’t students achieve a good level of oral French after 12 years of study, some of which were full days of French?  And why do so many drop out, no matter what the program?

The Croll Lee report makes good use of anecdotal reports as well.  A few things become clear in the anecdotes. French materials were in short supply throughout the province, presumably because the various programs, regardless of their quality, stretched the resources too thin.  Teachers of French were too often inadequate because either their French was too poor or because they had not been properly trained by the province’s education faculties.  Parents were placing their children in Immersion, especially EFI, not for educational reasons, but to keep their children out of the regular English program; that program had 93.2% of children with special education needs.

If these issues sound familiar to readers of my blog, it is because I have referred to them in my other posts on French Immersion.  The difference is that this is the first ministry or school board I have found that has frankly taken their obligation to education seriously and faced the facts about what was going on in their classrooms.  FSL in New Brunswick sucked and they wanted to fix it for all the students.

As a quick summary, here is a chart of some salient points.  SEPs are the New Brunswick equivalent of Ontario’s IEPs.  In other words a child with an SEP is exceptional and will require some modification or accommodation to their school program.

Equity & FSL in New Brunswick

 

% Of FSL students

% Of FSL $

% Of students with SEPs

EFI

19%

28.69%

6.8%

LFI

7.7%

16.6%

Core

71.1%

54.75%

93.2%

 

In my next post on New Brunswick: listening to everyone, planning for change that works for the whole community.