Saturday, March 15, 2008

Update--Lamrock announces the end of Early French Immersion

Education Minister Kelly Lamrock announced today that effective in September, Early French Immersion would be eliminated in all NB schools. Students will receive no French instruction until grade 5, and immersion will start in grade 6.

Previous interactions with the Minister

We had a number of discussions with the Minister last fall regarding early French Immersion, and in his last email to us he indicated that he had no plans to eliminate the program. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the Croll and Lee report changed his mind. This is troubling, because he is basing his decision on a deeply flawed document. There are significant errors in analysis and interpretation throughout (see the pdf link for details). When the numbers are dealt with correctly, there is almost no evidence to support their conclusions, and ample evidence to refute them. We sent this analysis to the minister a week ago (Mar. 7). He responded thanking us and indicating that he and the public would benefit from it. Since then, he has not attempted to refute our analysis and has simply ignored it. More importantly, he has also ignored advice provided by FSL education experts. The government has commissioned several reports in recent years. The most recent, done by Sally Rehorick in 2006, was never released. She recommended strengthening EFI to make it more accessible to all students. Is this a situation where the government simply kept requesting new studies until they got the one they wanted?

Response by Patricia Lee to our comments:

Patricia Lee, one of the authors of the report, sent a brief rebuttal of our analysis to CBC. In it, she indicated that their analysis was not intended to represent attrition rates, but merely to indicate how the number of students in French Immersion declined with advancing grades. She claimed that they could not calculate attrition rates because of limited data. We respond with the following:

They DO refer to these as attrition or “drop out” rates throughout the text. This CANNOT be determined if you don’t consider how many students you started with – it is simply mathematically wrong. They specifically do compare “attrition” (their version of attrition) rates between the two programs, and generate a biased result because of the method they used. An example of her comments:

“When examining Table 12 (“Comparing FSL Early and Late Immersion Registrations for Grades 9 through 12 between September 2004 and 2006”), once again someone is attempting to use the numbers as “cohort data”. It was/is not the intention to demonstrate anything other than the fact (using 2007-7 as an example) that the registrations in 2006-7 indicate that 37.22% of those registering that year in grade 12 in Early Immersion compared with those who registered in grade 9. Similarly, the grade 12 registrations were nearly 70% of those who registered in Late Immersion in grade 9 in the same year.”

Compare this statement with a quote from the original report:

“ Table 12 provides a comparative view of the success rates of the two programs in terms of the attrition rates from the two programs. Not only are the proportionate attrition rates approximately twice as high within the Early Immersion program, the net completion numbers are significantly (α = 0.05) lower than those of the Late French Immersion program.”

They ARE talking about attrition rates (or at least say they are), and they are simply wrong.

She also stated that the proportion of EFI students who successfully completed the provincial test at Advanced level or above was based on the number who enrolled initially, and that it was not a function of those who took the test.

We would very much like her to explain this statement. Of course they have used initial enrollment as the denominator in this calculation. The point is that they based success solely on whether or not a student passed an optional test. The numerator IS a function of how many took the test. This is obvious.

A particularly unusual criticism:

“Note that those reviewing the table have made a rounding error in the calculation at the bottom of the first page of his review. Using the same cohort from Grade 1 through Grade 5 shows a decline of 476 (from 1822 to 1346), resulting in a decline of 26.13.”

The number we presented was 26.1%. Not exactly a massive problem (and not even a rounding error based on standard mathematical practice). However, in future we will set no limit on significant digits….

Ms. Lee did not attempt to respond to our conclusions on achievement levels, streaming, or costs.

Questions for the Minister:

Given the importance of this decision, the minister should be expected to explain it, and in particular explain which parts of the report are so convincing that he needed to act in this way. Doing anything else suggests a disregard for the residents of this province, and in particular for the children he is damaging with this decision. The stakes here are very high – he is jeopardizing the future of an entire cohort of children based on fundamentally incorrect information, and we need to know why.

In view of this, we request that the minister answer the following questions:

1) Was this report reviewed prior to release? If so, by whom?
2) Specifically which criteria did he use to arrive at his decision? Which data in the report did he view as supporting this decision?
3) Did he consider or even read our analysis of the report, and similar documents prepared by others?
4) Why did he allow such a short time (2 weeks) for consultation after the report was released? Was he concerned about flaws in the report becoming too obvious? Was he trying to cut off debate?
5) Why did he ignore all previous studies by documented experts?
6) Why is he not willing to commit the resources necessary to make EFI accessible to all students?
7) Why is he not replacing core French with Intensive French, and leaving EFI in place? This approach would have the best chance of producing the desired result.
8) Is this a purely financial decision? (If so, he should consult our analysis…)

We invite the Minister to respond to these questions, and would welcome the opportunity to engage in a discussion of the report and its conclusions.

Where this leaves us:

The Minister has said that his goal is for 70% of students in the province to communicate effectively in French. He has set this level at intermediate proficiency. He has abandoned any effort to reach advanced proficiency (which a good proportion of EFI students currently do). Intermediate proficiency is defined as follows on the Department of Education website:

Able to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements. Can handle routine work-related interactions that are limited in scope. In more complex and sophisticated work-related tasks, language usage generally disturbs the native speaker. Can handle with confidence, but not with facility, most normal, high-frequency social conversational situations including extensive, but casual, conversations about current events, as well as work, family and autobiographical information. The individual can get the gist of most everyday conversations but has some difficulty understanding native speakers in situations that require specialized or sophisticated knowledge. The individual's utterances are minimally cohesive. Linguistic structure is usually not very elaborate and not thoroughly controlled; errors are frequent. Vocabulary use is appropriate for high-frequency utterances, but unusual or imprecise elsewhere.

It appears that a goal of having 70% of our graduating class capable of minimally cohesive utterances is acceptable to the Minister. We wonder whether it is acceptable to New Brunswickers, especially when it comes at such a high personal cost to the hundreds of students who will no longer graduate as truly bilingual citizens.


Harold Jarche said...

I joined the Liberal party two years ago in order to support our local candidate. I had never been a member of any party before that. Given this government's record on self-sufficiency (flawed) and EFI (flawed), I have torn up my Liberal party card. I'm not sure how much more damage they can do.

Anonymous said...

The definition of Intermediate French really hits home - that is a devastated testament to the future of bilingualism in our province.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your analysis of the report. I am a parent of a young child who will be affected by this government decision. It brings me back to when there were enough children to have two French Immersion classes in Sackville in 1980. The Hatfield Government's Department of Education held a "lottery" to pick which students could attend the class. We picketed the legislature and met with the Mr. Hatfield. Changes were made and a second teacher was hired. French Immersion is as important now as it was back then. I'm not so sure the minister understands just how much damage he will be doing with this decision. He needs to fix the problems within the Core program and the problems that exist with FI. As someone said on the radio the other day, "it's less French to more students."

Anonymous said...

I'm appalled Early Immersion has been cancelled. I took a job in New Brunswick in large part because I THOUGHT the province was committed to bilingualism. As child, I went through Early Immersion in Ontario, and then went on to learn German and ultimately chose a career that uses BOTH languages all the time. Without the experience of language learning by "osmosis" in Early Immersion, I am confident my career path would have been entirely different. Does the Premier really want to cut off those kinds of opportunities, and make N.B.'s currently weak education system worse?

Anonymous said...

I'm an undergraduate math student (and a graduate of EFI), and have completed only two introductory stats courses, although I am currently enrolled in more advanced classes. Even I saw some of the problems with this report. And if anyone with as basic a statistical education as I have had can see there are problems with the report, that should preclude its use as a basis for government decisions. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Thank you very much for taking the time to write up this informative response. I hope that the government sees the error of its ways.

Jackie Jacob-Vogels said...

As the parent of a child who will now be deprived of the opportunity to enroll in EFI, I have to say that I am appaled at what this government has done. For Mr. Lamrock to make such a drastic change based on such a flawed report is absolutely irresponsible. I have yet to figure out who will benefit from this new FSL program.

I wonder where Mr. Graham stands on this issue....he has been pretty quiet these last few days!!

graham watt said...

For Wednesday's march please bring a pot or pan and something to bang it with. Just pretend you're hitting Lamrock's head or nether parts (if he had any). The Acadians do this every August 15th. Other noisemakers welcome. Signage welcome too. something like:
We need all the people we can get.

NB Teacher said...

The following was posted on the CBC site as well:

Allow me to begin by thanking the CBC for its privacy policy. Without it I could not freely comment as I am a teacher, and we are forbidden to publicly to do so – so much for democracy. As I follow this debate, I am struck by both the illiteracy and transparency of some of the contributors. At times the ignorance and bias astound me. To cut to the chase, I would like to clarify some misconceptions that the opponents of FI and second language instruction have propounded.

• FI does not receive greater funding or more resources than core. Actually, the opposite is true. Teacher aids are almost exclusively involved with students in core, and most Methods and Resource teachers primarily assist teachers of core classes.
• EFI classes are not 30% smaller than core. An exception exists in late FI where classes are smaller because fewer parents opt at this point to enrol their kids than those who choose early FI.
• When the ministers refers to the high school dropout rate for FI students he carefully ignores the fact that there are pitifully few FI courses offered in English high schools in grades 11 and 12, leaving students no other choice.
• The minister continues to refer to the research of his small group of experts who claim that the later a student is exposed to a second language the better. If you believe that, you probably believe that global warming is based on bad science.
• FI is not a program for the elites. It is open to anyone. It is more challenging and demanding, but eliminating it will not result in a more challenging and demanding core curriculum.
• Inclusion as it is practiced is a failure. Not enough resources exist to help struggling kids. It is not possible to meet the learning style and individual needs of all students all of the time.
• Few options exist for students with non-academic interests and aptitudes.

I shudder to think of the prospect of placing fifth grade students who are two or more grade levels behind in math and English into an environment where everything will be taught in French.

Finally, it doesn’t surprise me that superintendants and administrators have fallen in line. It is their job to implement department policy. But that NBTA has so uncritically followed suit is appalling.

Sara Grant said...

I am shocked at Kelly Lamrock's obvious disdain for the children of New Brunswick.It's hard to believe the Minister of Education woud feel so free to publicly announce his lack of confidence in his own province. By eliminating EFI and lowering the standards of the core program he insults both teacher and student alike.
I would be ashamed if my children's aspirations ended at 'minimally coherent utterances'.