Tuesday, August 5, 2008

So where are we now?

The Decision -- (click here to link to the revised FSL plan)

Minister Lamrock and the Liberal Government have decided that there will be a Universal K-2 Program effective September 2008. They have called this the “Universal Program K-2”. Curriculum modules will be developed to replace the current Core French program starting in January 2009 with the intent of exposing children to French and the Acadian culture during K-2. Unfortunately, at this point we don’t know what these modules will look like. After grade 2, parents will be provided a choice of enrolling their children in either Grade 3 immersion or the new “English Prime” program. As expected, he has also decided to implement intensive French for all students currently in the Core program. After grade 5, they will have the choice of late immersion or English Prime with post-intensive French.

So, where does the decision leave us? We, like a lot of other people, have put a tremendous amount of work into fighting the decision to end Early French Immersion in Canada’s only bilingual province. Was it worth it? Yes, for a number of reasons.

First, we must state that we are disappointed that the children who were registered in Early French Immersion for 2009 are not going to be able to enter that program, as we feel that they should have been grandfathered in. Further, we would have preferred a kindergarten or grade 1 entry-point with significant investment to make it more inclusive, and we worry about the untested and undeveloped aspects of the new plan. That said, the grade 3 entry-point to French immersion seems better than the original grade 6 plan developed by the government. It is our hope that grade 3, with appropriate preparation in K-2, will give children a reasonable chance of reaching advanced proficiency. We also hope that the promised additional resources will be provided to make immersion more inclusive.

Second, we have met a lot of really great people from across New Brunswick and Canada who have shared our concerns. We learned that a group of parents, grandparents and friends can, if they try hard enough, buck the system and get the government to listen to their point of view.

Third, we learned that the internet, with its ease of use and instant information transmission, is a terrific vehicle to challenge the government. Over the past 6 months the people of New Brunswick, and from all areas of Canada, have written many letters to editors, commented on-line about articles printed for and against the decision, and posted comments and proposals on the Government’s website. With email, Googledocs, YouTube, FaceBook, WebPages, Blogs and PayPal, it was possible to conduct research, engage effectively in this debate, and generate funds for a legal challenge. Thankfully, the judicial review was granted and this landmark decision forced the government to reopen this issue. Although grade 3 immersion is not the outcome we were hoping for, without the internet, our “e-voice”, coupled with a huge commitment from so many dedicated people, we expect that we would have been facing a far bleaker FSL education picture in NB than now appears to be the case.

The changes announced today by Minister Lamrock will take us down an uncertain path. Will kids starting immersion in grade 3 still become fully bilingual? Will more or fewer students enroll in immersion at this new entry point? Will streaming be made better or worse? Will having all students take the early years together result in better achievement for struggling learners or make no difference? Will all students do well with Intensive French? Unfortunately, only time will tell. The Minister is asking New Bruswickers to take a leap of faith here, which makes us nervous because it involves the education of children, but we can take solace in the fact that the leap now seems somewhat smaller than it was in March.

On a personal note, when my wife (Diana Hamilton) and I embarked on this incredibly time consuming journey, never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate what would actually transpire. Neither of us is an activist, nor an expert on the use of the internet for this purpose. While this process has been difficult at times and trying for our family, we value what we have learned and the friends we have made. We plan to remain engaged and we hope you will too.

Matt Litvak

P.S. To our friends in Sackville and elsewhere, you are tremendous. Your contributions to the blog have been much appreciated and very powerful.


Raine Phythian said...

Thank you both so much for devoting so much of your time and passion to this.

Andrew Spring said...

Again, thank you for your commitment to making a better future for the children of NB. It looks like your (and all of our) efforts have resulted in better french education for the core students, which is a positive outcome. However, the decision to cut a good program based on no research, evidence or common sense is concerning. It looks as if the decision was made based on the fact that grade 3 is somewhere between grades K and 5, but this is better than not being offered at all. Plus this doesn't seem to address the streaming issue or fix any of the problems with either stream. Our children have been entered into a big experiment and I'm hoping for the best. However, I can't express how disappointed I am in this outcome and I hope that the next gov't will take all of the solid information and research you have provided and build a better system.

Tim Jackson said...

Matt and Diana - the work that the two of you and others (folks in Fredericton, Saint John, other in Sackville, Hampton, Moncton, Miramichi, Carleton Co., etc. - you know who you are!) gave our cause the clear credibility that laid the foundation for a change.

For that, I and many other NBers are eternally grateful.

Having said all that, I agree 100% with Andrew Spring's comments. That our Minister is willing to subject every child in this province to an experimental curriculum is troubling. There should be no doubt that this was a political solution for the Government and Minister. I know that those of us who were involved in the 6-week "process" did not intend to see a new program rolled out Sept 08, knowing it was not responsible to do so. However, we are where we are.

It is incumbent on all of us to not back down at this point. As a person of science (like Matt and Diana), any experiment is almost destined to fail without diligent surveillance, especially when it's execution is put in the hands of this Department of Education. So, we must stay involved and watch every step of the development of this program. Continue to write letters, continue to grill your Superintendants (we know from the Round Table that they will look for every opportunity to water this program down), attend your DEC meetings AND, most importantly, keep in touch with each other. Communication got us this far.

In addition, start talking to your Tory MLA (or candidate or NDP candidate), keep this on the front burner for the next election. Let's make this a platform issue and be sure the bozos who are "thankful" for being taken to court by parents at our expense never get a chance to govern again.