Thursday, June 5, 2008

Proof is in the e-mails: education critic

Immersion Madeleine Dubé says education minister 'went looking for someone who would say the same thing as he wanted'

MEGAN O'TOOLE, TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL, Wednesday June 4th, 2008

FREDERICTON - An e-mail exchange that has fuelled fierce debate over the province's French second-language reforms proves the government's conclusion on immersion was predetermined, according to education critic Madeleine Dubé.

The government-commissioned report on French second language programming was drawn up with the express purpose of supporting Education Minister Kelly Lamrock's decision to axe early immersion, Dubé contended Tuesday.

"We've been saying all along that the minister had made up his mind," she said. "He could have chosen to consult with people and get the opinions of people, specifically of the experts in the field, but he just went looking for someone who would say the same thing as he wanted.

"I think everything's coming to light now."

At the heart of the controversy are documents obtained through a Right to Information request, including e-mails from James Croll, the co-author of the report the province used as the basis for its decision to kill early immersion.

In one message, Croll discusses the need to gather specific pieces of data to "make the case" for streaming, which he pegs as a "critical" issue that has "been raised by senior personnel."

Citizens for Educational Choice, a group that has taken the government to court over its French second language reforms, claims the exchange shows the government made a decision on the fate of early immersion and then sought data to back it up.

Education Minister Kelly Lamrock denies there's anything suspect about the e-mails, saying numerous studies - such as the oft-touted MacKay report on inclusion - have pointed to streaming as a major problem. It followed naturally that researchers would examine data on the topic, he added.

"From the moment we were elected we knew that streaming and segregation were a problem," Lamrock said. "As to how we would deal with it, everything was on the table. We were wide open to ideas."

Data gathered by the report's authors were "double- and triple-checked" by the department, he added.

Lamrock questioned the intentions of those criticizing the e-mail exchange, saying it represents "a new phase" of the immersion debate.

"They can't argue policy, so they're going to argue personalities and process," he said.

Also on Tuesday, the francophone teachers association issued a news release indicating the group has asked the province to proclaim a one-year moratorium on changes to the public school system, during which the state of the system could be assessed.

"New Brunswick has reached a point at which it is important to step back and reflect, francophones and anglophones together, on what we want the education system in this province to be and to consider the unique challenges facing each of our linguistic communities," association president Marcel Larocque said in a statement.

Dubé raised the matter during Question Period, saying it shows teachers are unhappy with the direction the education system has been moving and underlines the need for further consultation.

But Lamrock dismissed the idea, saying it would not make sense to postpone a number of key changes designed to benefit students.

"Governments have found a lot of excuses to wait a year when things are controversial or difficult," he said. "I don't think that's a credible position to take."

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