I’m not a French Immersion teacher, but I have experience with the program. I’ve taught at French Immersion dual track schools, I was the husband of a French Immersion teacher for many years (not currently) and I’ve been a parent of kids that I considered enrolling in French Immersion. These experiences have led me to question the existence of French Immersion in Canadian schools. There are many good reasons why public education would be better if French Immersion was discontinued.
1) French Immersion is a form of ‘stealth choice’, a way for parents to get their children into what they think is a ‘better’ school than their local school without appearing elitist, abandoning the public system or spending extra money (I know parents who admit this). This removes families and students who are motivated and care about the education of their children from local schools. It means fewer active parents volunteering their time and advocating for their children in their local school and fewer strong motivated students in the local classroom setting higher standards and sharing expertise with other students.
2) French Immersion uses more resources. Students are centralized which requires board provided transportation. It requires the buying of French only learning resources that can’t be shared with non-French Immersion students and specialized professional development for French Immersion teachers.
3) French Immersion is not an effective way to learn French. This 2005 study surveyed 17 studies and found “…negative effects of immersion programs and did not find a single study that supported immersion over other bilingual programs. It is clear from these findings that immersion is not a very effective form of bilingual education“. This is supported by French Immersion teachers who say the gains of French only, in the classroom, is undermined by using English in the rest of the school and the community. Students quickly see that using French in class is a conceit, a school game, and not a skill they use in their daily lives. It lacks relevance.
4) The importance of student choice. When my son was entering kindergarten we considered enrolling him in French Immersion. It required a long bus ride so I discussed the system with a Peel School Board trustee. She said an internal study indicated ‘exit fluency’ of students enrolled in Extended French (grades 6-8) was equal to those of students enrolled in French Immersion (K-8). Students who enroll in grade 6 are self-motivated and want to learn French, whereas many students enrolled in primary grades are there only because of the parent’s motivation.
5) There is very little or no special education support for students in French Immersion programs. Students in French Immersion who need accommodations or modifications to their program are often told that if they want special education support they will need to switch to an English track school.
I question French Immersion programs. Parents use it as stealth choice. It’s a way to get their children into ‘better’ schools by cloaking it under multiculturalism or bilingualism, avoiding the stigma of elitism. It weakens the rest of the school system by concentrating students with supportive families in a single location and using extra resources. The evidence is that it doesn’t do a very good job in its stated purpose.
In spite of this I don’t expect French Immersion will go away any time soon. The parents of students in French Immersion are committed, vocal and well resourced. This probably explains the existence of French Immersion programs in the first place. But that doesn’t make them right.