French Immersion is broken

A friend recently commented that French Immersion is only effective if the parents are French or you hire a tutor. This got me thinking about the status of French Immersion in Ontario. First off I read “The Shrinking English Classroom”, a Globe and Mail article by Caroline Alphonso. There were a number of details that resonated with me but the following statement stood out:
According to research from the Toronto District School Board, children from less affluent homes are less likely to enroll (as are boys, in general).

My children attend a French Immersion school and we made the decision to pull my son out of French Immersion after grade 2. At the time, this decision was very difficult, but looking back it was the best decision we ever made (don’t get me wrong, I have tremendous respect for the program at his school but my son’s needs come first). A couple of years later and the trend in that class is very obvious, quite a few boys were switched into the English stream. We decided to keep my daughter in English and in her grade 1 class there were only two female students. There is an imbalance here.

Another friend switched their son out at the same time. The school he went to explained to her and her husband that their son was not progressing well enough and that it was in his best interests to switch to English. I have taught elementary and secondary and when I have a student not progressing well enough, my top priority is to determine what I can do to improve my teaching so that I can meet his needs more effectively. Simply switching a student out of a program is not a solution.

Anecdotal stories tell part of the story but my next quest was to see what the data said. Canadian Parents for French and the Ontario Open Data Catalogue both report statistics on French immersion enrolment. Unfortunately there is no data (that I could find) that breaks down the enrolment based on gender, or how many students drop out every year. Here is the enrolment data for French Immersion for 2012-2013.

French Immersion enrolment data
There are over 50% less students in grade 8 than grade 1 (over 80% for grade 12 but I figured not as many high schools run the program).

This rate of attrition would be considered alarming in any other subject. I am very curious as to the breakdown of gender – are more boys switching out? Now compare this to the enrolment of all students in grades 1-8. Our grade 8 numbers are actually higher than the grade 1 numbers – if students were staying in the program the graphs should follow a similar trend, but they don’t.

Total enrolment
What does this mean for you? If you have children that may go into French Immersion, ensure that you research both perspectives. There is a great deal of pressure on parents to do the “right thing”. There are many benefits to French Immersion – but it is also not ideal for every child. Seek out parents that have their child in French Immersion, parents that have their child in the English stream, and parents that pulled their children out of French Immersion. Their stories are important to consider. Good luck!
P.S. – you may want to research tutors!
Works Cited
Alphonso, Caroline. “The Shrinking English Classroom.” The Globe and Mail 7 Mar. 2016: n. pag. Globe and Mail. 7 Mar. 201. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
Canadian Parents for French. “2012‐2013 French Immersion Enrolment by Province/Territory and Grade.” 2012‐2013 French Immersion Enrolment by Province/Territory and Grade (n.d.): n. pag.Canadian Parents for French – Enrolment Trends. Canadian Parents for French. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
Ontario Government. “Enrolment by Grade in Elementary Schools.” Ontario Open Data. Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 16 Mar. 2016. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.