Ottawa

English-track students less privileged than immersion peers, report finds

A new report from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has found students at English-only schools tend to come from lower-income areas than kids attending schools offering French immersion.

OCDSB undertook study over concerns of 'social streaming'

Out of the OCDSB's 111 elementary schools, 15 are English-only, while 64 offer classes in both French and English. (CBC)

A new report from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) has found students at English-only schools tend to come from lower-income areas than kids attending schools offering French immersion.

According to the report, of 27 OCDSB elementary schools where more than half the students came from low-income neighbourhoods, nine were single-track English schools. 

It also found that of the 15 single-track English schools the board operates, nine had a significant proportion of English Language Learners, who are students learning English as a second language. 

Trustee Rob Campbell called for the school board to study the issue — which he calls "social streaming" — earlier this because he suspected the language streams resulted in a two-tiered education system. 

"I really thought it was about time that ... we got some facts on the table," Campbell told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Thursday.

Campbell said the report lends credibility to his concerns, which he said he's also heard from fellow trustees, school staff and parents.

"It showed that there were accommodation issues certainly at some single-track English schools," Campbell said.

Students in English program more likely to come from newcomer and low-income families 8:41

Troubling findings

The report also suggested French immersion students were more likely to take academic-level courses than applied-level courses in Grade 9 compared to students in the English program. 

In the 2017-18 school year, for example, 93 per cent of Grade 8 students in French immersion chose to take academic-level math — compared to 50 per cent of students in the English program.

In Ontario's curriculum, applied courses have been associated with a lower likelihood of eventually going to college or university. 

Zone 5 school board trustee Rob Campbell asked for the report after hearing concerns about 'social streaming.' (Raisa Patel/CBC)

Root cause unclear

A number of the report's findings will require further research to determine why English-only schools are associated with certain student demographics, and how to halt any potential negative outcomes.

There are many angles at play, including the fact that there's no quota for the number of students who attend immersion schools, and the higher number of free spots at English schools.

The report also noted there is "a need to ... dispel program perceptions about superiority of one program over another," and acknowledged there is a "structural inequity" in English schools due to dwindling class sizes.

But the inability to nail down a root cause doesn't mean the report failed in its intent, the trustee commented.

"It sets the stage for a discussion," Campbell said, adding that a "range of interventions" including better informing parents and altering the programs themselves have been proposed.

School board trustees will meet Nov. 5 to discuss the report's findings.

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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