June 7, 2018 | school zones
Let’s face it. For some families, landing the right school is a big deal. Some big spenders may choose the private school route, and some will try their best to land in the top public school catchment areas. In fact, it has become common practice in coveted school catchment areas for some investors to buy houses or condos to rent out to rank-conscious families. These families are often willing to pay above market rent for a house in the right school catchment simply because they cannot afford to buy here, and they must have the top school.
Many parents may not go to such extremes to land their kids in the right school, but it can be stressful to navigate the school systems. In some areas of Toronto where the homes are more expensive than most, it does not necessarily follow that your children will end up at a great school. When some parents are not thrilled with their Fraser School Ranking, they may look to French Immersion so their kids could land at a better ranked school. As an example, let’s take Parkdale. Say your child is in Grade 7. If he or she goes to the English School, he or she would land at Queen Victoria which is ranked 2336/3064 in Ontario with a 4.8/10 grade. If this child lands in one of the available French Immersion programs for Grade 7, he or she could end up at Swansea Junior and Senior Public School ranked 191/3064 in Ontario with a 8.3/10.
Does this mean that those kids who learn French are smarter? Does the bilingualism make these children smarter than other kids who don’t go to French Immersion? Well, not necessarily. French Immersion has become a way for some schools to filter out kids with special needs, behavioural problems or low achievers. So, the scores for the English speaking schools are generally much lower. It’s not because kids are not smart here, but because the English take on kids that bring down their scores. French Immersion schools then have scores that may be inflated. On the other hand, you could look at French Immersion as a place where a child could excel more because he or she is more challenged by his or her classmates.
There is another way to look at this as well. Though some French schools are ranked higher, in Toronto, there is currently a shortage of French teachers. That means that almost all of these teachers are hired. In the English schools, there are many teachers to choose from when it comes to hiring. For that reason, you have much more competition for the English schools leading to highly qualified teachers landing the job. Do you see where I’m going with this? French Immersion teachers are all hired. English school teachers face incredible competition. So, you may find a more highly qualified teacher at the English school. This means lower standards for French Immersion despite their often higher ranking.
I think some parents are so focused on landing their children in a better ranked French Immersion school that they forget why French Immersion schools were brought about: To learn French. Speaking a second language, French or otherwise, has been linked to stronger cognitive skills and a slightly higher salary down the road. Others argue that exclusively speaking French in the classroom may hinder some learning opportunities. More recently, some studies have suggested that French immersion is not for gifted kids. Many French Immersion educators claim that French Immersion kids need more stimulating environments instead of learning about what the French word is fo the English one.
I think we also need to look at who excels in this environment. Currently, the English stream is primarily boys and French Stream is primarily girls. Regardless of gender, it is estimated that half of all GTA students in French Immersion drop out by grade 8. So, the idea of learning French in an immersive school seems to only work for half of the students who join. Again, it does not mean these dropouts are not up to snuff at a French Immersion, but he or she just may thrive more at a different school.
I think if you are considering a French Immersion school, you may want to consider the following:
- HOMEWORK HELP Your child will have a better chance of completing homework assignments if at least one parent speaks French.
- THIRD LANGUAGE Some kids may do better if they already know a second language. On the other hand, many new immigrant children whose native language is not English or French may have a hard time trying to learn both English and French at the same time.
- GO TO THE ENGLISH AND THE FRENCH IMMERSION SCHOOLS It’s not a bad idea to check out a school ranking, but that’s just the starting point. Do your research. Visit the schools. Understand the philosophy of culture of the schools. In your area, you may find the French Immersion to be the best option. Other times, you may be surprised at how well-run your English school option can be.
If you’re a parent, you’re going to feel compelled to place your child (children) in the best school you can. Here’s a French Immersion student who flourished and benefitted greatly from her French Immersion experience. It certainly can be your best course of action. But it’s not for everyone. So, use your judgement wisely. Sometimes its a good idea. Other times, maybe not.