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Edmonton allows school choice, maybe the desire for french immersion is less.

"You might ask: so what? Every public school system in the world has some form of explicit or implicit streaming. Sometimes the streaming is explicit, as with "gifted" programs in parts of Canada."

They call it tracking in the US, and of those states I'm familiar (a few), tracking is illegal. Even in High School, where there are definite tracks, the students assign themselves to the track. The school may do no more than suggest you are more or less suited for a given program of study.

While some individual districts still have vestiges of tracking (gifted programs), those are rare in mixed ethnicity districts. Tracking in those sorts of schools has lead to disparate impact claims--racial discrimination by state actors is forbidden under Federal law.

Hmm, you know, I would put it slightly differently. Not that I know all that much about Canada but.....

In order to rise to the top in either the Federal Bureaucracy or Federal politics it is necessary to be bilingual. Purely and solely because the Quebecois have managed to insist that matters be so.

Thus French immersion classes (as opposed to science, maths or any other subject) are simply a sign of grossly pushy parents convinced that their little darlings have a good chance of running the nation. Or of collecting the rents from being seen to be so....take your pick dependent upon your level of cynicism.

Edeast - Are you suggesting school choice is a alternative method of streaming? Or that it reduces the amount of streaming (by say, hypothetically, raising the average schooling level)?

Jon - I didn't know that. Fascinating.

Tim Worstall -

An aside: Let's stay away from the intrinsic merits of bilingualism requirements in the public service - it's too big a subject for this post. I'll edit out/delete comments that I perceive to be Quebec bashing.

Taking your more substantive claim: "In order to rise to the top in either the Federal Bureaucracy or Federal politics it is necessary to be bilingual."

to the extent that this is true (and to some extent, it is true) one would expect to see an earnings premium associated with using French at work over and above the premium associated with being bilingual. So why don't we?

- possibly there aren't many jobs at the top of the federal bureaucracy so it isn't a large enough effect to show up in the data
- perhaps bilingualism is required to get certain jobs, but isn't actually used in these jobs, which is why there's an earnings premium associated with being bilingual but not actually with using both languages on the job (for anglophones)
- those jobs aren't particularly well paid. There's been a recent decision that supreme court judges must be bilingual. So being bilingual will increase your probability of being nominated to the supreme court. But would involve a salary cut for some lawyers I can think of.
- so being bilingual is about the search for power and influence (politics,e.g.) rather than pay
- a sort of more technical issue with the Christofides and Swidinsky article is that there's a huge variation in the types of jobs that require people to use bilingualism in the workplace. There's jobs in retail, and there's being prime minister of Canada. It would be interesting to say o.k., let's divide the population up into the bottom 20% of earners, next 20% and so on - how does the effect of being bilingual differ across these groups.

I can confirm that French immersion is understood to be a streaming mechanism as you suggest in Prince Edward Island. Aside from better classmates I think there is some suspicion that they get better teachers as well.

My concern, having gone through this with my kids, is whether there are negative side effects of learning a good deal of things in French if you're not quite good enough at linguistics to truly pull the bilingual thing off. Many disciplines are built on (English) jargon that translates awkwardly, and I get the sense that in some areas kids are at a bit of a disadvantage in not having the vocabulary they otherwise might.

So although as Christofides and Swidinsky point out, there may be social/cultural/political benefits to immersion, there might also be negatives. Rather than looking for earnings differences between those who are bilingual or not, how about testing those who took immersion versus those who didn't? (though you'd probably have to correct for a raft of selectivity factors).

Perhaps this is covered in some of your links, but does french immersion also result in a more homogenious classroom in terms of race/country of origin (immigrants or second generation)? I can't see many new Canadians outside of Quebec immersing their children in french schools. Maybe I'm wrong.

I ask this because I was thinking of some introductory mandarin classes I took a few years ago at the community college level (George Brown). So, in addition to learning a foreign language, there were tones to deal with, and then, for whatever reason, they were teaching traditional chinese characters rather than simplified (less strokes) which is the standard used/learned by my China born friends. Mostly we all had the same ethnic/country of origin background (despite being in multi-ethnic Toronto) - a couple of Chinese born Canadians who had not been taught by their immigrant parents. Mandarin immersion schools, it seems to me, were starting to emerge due to the increasing economic significance of China. I think in Australia the second language taught in schools has been Japanese for the same reasons (though perhaps this has changed).

Jim - is there a data set that would allow you to do that? I don't think the NLSCY (National longitudinal survey of children and youth) has adult earnings, and the adult surveys don't have rich info on kids. I had thought that Jane Friesen was doing some work using the Vancouver lottery as a natural experiment to get at the selectivity issues (you could follow the kids who applied for the lottery and weren't successful and the kids who applied for the lottery and got in) but I couldn't find the paper on her web site.

I share your concern about the negative side effects of learning other subjects in English - do the linguistic gains achieved by learning math in French compensate for the costs in terms of mathematics comprehension? Math and language engage different parts of the brain - I can't speak English and do math at the same time, let alone think in French.

This was borne home for me when my little one was in kindergarten. In junior kindergarten (English) she came home brimming with the knowledge that cows had four stomachs. In senior kindergarten (French) she learned "la vache fait la lait" (or however you say "cows give us milk" in French).

I think that there is a regrettable reluctance in this country to discuss whether or not there are alternative approaches to language education that would produce better outcomes - both in terms of increasing the number of Canadians outside Quebec who have a basic working knowledge of French and in terms of improving outcomes in other subjects. After the Willms report that I cite in the post above, the New Brunswick government decided to close its early French immersion programs, but backed down when faced with massive protests.

Hell hath no fury like the middle class in defence of its privileges.

"I could not find any statistics on the proportion of recent immigrants enrolling in French immersion, but I suspect it is not high."

Please remember that
1) Montreal is Canada's 2nd biggest city
2) Like all major Canadian cities, it is culturally very diverse and a major magnet for immigration.
3) In Québec, French education is legally binding on all recent immigrants who want to be educated in the public school system. (Those whose parents were educated in Canada in English are exempted.)

This might be completely off topic but how prevalent are montessori schools in canada and what effects does this type of school also increase academic outcomes for students? I saw one the other day while I was driving around ottawa but I always thought they were an american thing.

I guess my more general question is how private schools in canada compare to the public schools in general. How prevalent are they in our system which I always thought promoted more public solutions to schooling. I know there are private schools in canada but I assume they are heavily regulated. How much are french schools allowed around these regulations given that french is often given more leway due to its minority status in Canada.

JVFM - I think Vancouver is starting Mandarin/English programs.

I can't find any data on the ethnic origin of kids in French immersion, and I suspect Vancouver, say, would be very different from Ottawa. My sense, based on seeing students in early, middle and late immersion programs here is that middle and late immersion programs have a much greater proportion of boys and new Canadians relatively to early immersion.

The thing is, unless someone tells them, a lot of new Canadians will think that French immersion is about learning French, not about getting your kids in with higher achieving peers. If they had full information, they might make different choices.

Simon - I've focused here entirely on the rest of Canada.

The Christofides and Swidinsky study found that, in Quebec, Francophones who knew English enjoyed an earnings premium, but over and above that, Francophones who used English at work enjoyed a further earnings premium.

So, in Quebec, there is enough of a demand for English in the workplace that it is associated with an earnings premium.

But, as you say, students are required to be educated in French. English immersion is not an option.

I'll give you a moment to ponder the irony of that.

Ian L - I don't want to get into that debate here - private v. public schools merits another post. The working title I have in mind was suggested by my son's reaction to a discussion we were having on the subject: "Fire a teacher? Dude, you can do that?"

Well, the reason I asked was because I understood in education, homogeneity matters in terms of efficiency. Take my mandarin classes - we all had to learn the basics at basically the same level (well, us older ones were at a bit of a disadvantage -old dog/new tricks thing) so no inefficiency. Mind you, at the end we all got an A+ - I guess to encourage us to return for the next level. (btw my Shanghai born teacher said when he first came to Canada - he thought we were more the more "communist".)

JVFM - Well, the reason I asked was because I understood in education, homogeneity matters in terms of efficiency.

If that is true, why don't we just dispense with the pretense and go back to good old-fashioned streaming? Like when I was in high school - we all took an IQ-type test at the end of grade 7. In grade 8, the top 1/4 of achievers were put in division 81 and 82, the middle half were put in divisions 83 through 86, and the bottom 1/4 were in division 87 and 88.

I took french immersion in the Windsor area through grade 10 (15 years old). I was the last guy standing who had taken the French continuously from Kindergarten. There were 10 girls remaining, most of whom went on to graduate with the french immersion diploma.

It was definitely a stream and defintely female. Much much higher proportion of eventual university graduates in the class. But the drop out (and, interstingly, drop in) rates were high. It would be interesting to correlate years of french immersion education with various other achievement statistics. I also took one of those gifted class thingies, which was a complete waste of time.

I dropped out of french immersion because we were forced to take two classes per year in french and my (small) high school didn't offer any classes in french that I wanted to take.

Ian; Here in BC private schools are able to get public funding. They get half the per pupil grant given to public schools, about 3500 dollars per student. This has substantially lowered the fees charged by private schools and the percentage of kids in private schools grows every year. In North Vancouver 20 percent of kids are in private schools (and another 600 kids are driven to West Vancouver by their parents to take advantage of the "better" schools there).

Fran; For immigrant families the problem is not just knowing about French Immersion it is managing the logistics of getting your kid to an out of neighbourhood school. And in Vancouver it is not just French Immersion, there is a vast array of boutique programs in the public schools. My friend's daughter is loving her soccer school. This is a public school that charges fees for the soccer tuition it provides, about 700 per year. Unlike learning french, it is hard to imagine much economic benefit in learning soccer though one could become a soccer coach.

Rachel, yup, that's the limitations of school choice. And there's a couple of issues in terms of managing the logistics of going to an out of neighbourhood school.

First, there's transportation. If you're a single parent without a car, do you really have a choice but to go to the neighbourhood school?

Second, there's the logistics of getting onto waiting lists. If you have a secure job then, yes, you can get your name on the waiting list for the better school the moment you get pregnant (or whatever it is that one has to do in Vancouver). If you move to North Van from somewhere else in the province or from outside the country when your child is in grade 4, what are your chances of securing a place at the good school, even if you do live in the catchment area?

B.t.w, what are the demographics of children in the soccer school?

The peer effects is a compelling story. I guess French immersion in Canada is probably the same as high-caliber school sports programs, music concentrations and the like.

But the bigger question is, does French immersion actually translate into actual linguistic capacities when they are likely to be needed in a work setting (likely to be 10+yrs later). One of my former colleagues went to "real" French school in Windsor (he was nominally a French Canadian), but had much better English than French when he decided to move to Montreal. Upon arriving, he found out that his level of French was insufficient to function. I also heard of someone going to the fancy Jonquière French immersion program with Preston Manning (Harper learned his French there too) and forgot everything he learned there because he simply didn't use it enough (I'm pretty sure Manning forgot everything too). This happened with my Spanish, 4 years in high school and I could barely have a conversation in Madrid.

English immersion is not an option.

Outside Montreal, the English public systems in Quebec are de facto immersion programs, but access is determined by birth - the famous 'Canada clause'. Here in Quebec City, some 90% of the kids enrolled in English schools speak only French at home, and many have parents who are unilingual.

In edmonton we have soccer schools, hockey schools, art schools etc, I don't think french immersion is as oversubscribed. Seeing Rachel's comment however it looks like vancouver has the boutique programs as well.
I took french immersion(gr 6+), in ontario. Peer effects huge. High proportion of graduates went on to university. Only 2 guys left. If you can withstand the 'gayness', it's good. For intrinsic value, petit prince was about the highlight for me, and i guess realizing that there is an entirely different way of viewing the world. But I would have preferred my science and programming classes in English. I think it might be a signaling mechanism, like peacock feathers. Take on an extra cognitive load, with only a vary small chance of being useful, prime minister/top levels of bureaucracy.

Guillaume "But the bigger question is, does French immersion actually translate into actual linguistic capacities when they are likely to be needed in a work setting (likely to be 10+yrs later)."

In my discussion of the Christofides and Swidinsky paper I'm implicitly assuming that there is a correlation between answering yes to the bilingualism question on the census (which for Anglophones is something like "are you able to carry on a conversation in French?") and going through French immersion. The two may be unrelated if, as you say, most kids in French immersion end up being functionally unilingual (I'm actually thinking of doing some pseudo-cohort stuff with the census to check this theory out, if it pans out the title of the paper will be "Bilingual today, uniligual tomorrow", a play on the title of a rabid rant against bilingualism published in the 70s). An ability to have a conversation in French may actually be a result of having a well-paying job that permits nice holidays in Montreal, Quebec city or France.

Though, if true, this would be a pretty damning condemnation of French immersion education.

If that is true, why don't we just dispense with the pretense and go back to good old-fashioned streaming? Like when I was in high school - we all took an IQ-type test at the end of grade 7. In grade 8, the top 1/4 of achievers were put in division 81 and 82, the middle half were put in divisions 83 through 86, and the bottom 1/4 were in division 87 and 88.

I wasn't advocating any education system - just questioning your conclusions on french immersion. You seem to suggest it is based upon high achievers being in close proximity. I am suggesting it may also be due to other factors - race/ethnicity - a hidden screening system .

Hey, I was a Dec birth, advanced one grade, and sent to an advanced school on top of that in the middle of a city far removed from my friends after the types of testing you are reminding me of. That lasted one year (my sister remained in the same program one year behind until grade 8). Years later, I thought it was someone's bad social experiment gone wrong when the guy in front of me in grade 9, who was licensed to drive, asked me how old I was. "Twelve is a shoe size, he replied". Of course, it helped in gym class when screening out the "co-ords" vs "non co-ords" based upon age based scores. Think I still have many highschool athletic records in track and field, all these yrs later:)

JVFM - "I am suggesting it may also be due to other factors - race/ethnicity - a hidden screening system ." Agreed. I'm a Dec birth also, I hear you on that one - fortunately students were rarely accelerated, as they used to call it, in the school that I went to.

I can confirm that, at least in one french immersion school in Burnaby, there is a very high proportion of new Canadians. Conjectures about ethnic homogeneity, at least in the school my kid goes to, are wrong.

When I went to the parents' info night before enrolling, the grade 3 class sang a french song. Out of a class of 30, there were a handful of non-Asians. (To be clear, the Asians in that class may have long roots in BC and the non-Asians might be new immigrants.) My kid's class was a mix of backgrounds. The proportions might have been different than the general population in that area, but not noticeably so when I walked around the school yard.

Why are the other kids there? I haven't asked. But I don't think many are hoping and dreaming their kid becomes an MP or senior civil servant. Puh-lease. Love of the language? Not likely. The peer effect story is much more plausible.

"First, there's transportation. If you're a single parent without a car, do you really have a choice but to go to the neighbourhood school?"

Yep - this is exactly it. I remember this being an issue when I was growing up, as most of my classmates had no choice but to go to our local school - it was the only one in walking distance.

Consider transportation - there are two classes of people effectively shut-out of going to French immersion schools:

a. Lower-income and disproportionately single-parent families that lack the transportation
b. People in rural areas, since there may not be a school to go to within 100km.

Isn't all this research just showing that people who grow up poor or in rural areas earn less later in life?

I can confirm that, at least in one french immersion school in Burnaby, there is a very high proportion of new Canadians. Conjectures about ethnic homogeneity, at least in the school my kid goes to, are wrong.

Not ethnic homogeneity - more homogenious. How does the make-up of the school compare to the one next door, or average for the region where the students are drawn?

Getting slightly off topic here, but re: transportation out of district - can't kids take the school bus? When I was in French immersion in Toronto in the early 90's, I went to French immersion out of my immediate school district and all of us who were in the same situation took a classic yellow school bus that picked us up at home, provided free by the board. And I had the general impression that school buses are actually more common in rural areas. But maybe I haven't been keeping up with budget cuts to things like that...

Frances, I enjoy your posts, in part because you always throw a few too many ingredients into the blender before you press the "on" button!

"If we had another kind of streaming - say math immersion, science immersion, hockey immersion, music immersion - different students would be in the high achievement stream. Would that be better? I don't know. But it would be different."

Well, here in Toronto we do have "streaming" for math and science. For example, the Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute public high school.

"French immersion streaming produces students who know more French, math immersion would produce students who know more mathematics."

You are assuming that such programs are effective. I don't know of any rigorous studies of the effectiveness of French immersion programs, but I'm skeptical. I doubt any number of years of a French immersion program while living in an English environment is effective compared to a year or two of living in a French environment. Other forms of streaming, like "gifted" programs are oddly limited, at least in Ontario, by a centralized curriculum that must be followed at a prescribed pace. For example, many Toronto high schools offer "enriched" math classes through grade 11, but these classes cover the same ground as the regular classes. In grade 12 there are no enriched classes, and the students join everybody else for the final year of math ostensibly so that everybody is graded by the same yardstick for university admissions. Based on watching my son go through all of those "enriched" classes, I doubt a lot more math was acquired in the process. On the other hand, some schools offer so-called "Advanced Placement" courses at the end of high school, and there is no doubt that these do involve learning more than what is on the standard curriculum.

"I could not find any statistics on the proportion of recent immigrants enrolling in French immersion, but I suspect it is not high."

While we're speculating, I suspect that a high proportion of immigrants from East Asia enroll in the many other forms of streaming--e.g. enrolling in public high schools whose grads disproportionately enter university, or enrolling in private schools that have even more prestige in the eyes of the universities. In my experience, immigrants from China and Japan are far keener than the average Canadian to see their kids in a streamed program because such distinctions are more important in their home countries than they are here.

"Christofides and Swidinsky's results are compatible with the idea that being bilingual signals that you are a high ability individual, and so you are more valuable to an employer - but actually speaking French is irrelevant."

The results are also compatible with being a spurious correlation. E.g. learning French and getting a higher paying job are both caused by talent and ambition at school.

Even Christofides and Swidinsky concede that it might be a spurious correlation:

"This premium, however, may incorporate the interplay between acquired language skills and certain unobserved characteristics such as assertiveness and ability, or family characteristics, which are also known to yield a labour market advantage; unfortunately, there is no easy method to distinguish between these two alternative interpretations." (p. 143)

Bryan, on school buses - in Ontario, yes, in Vancouver (BC in general?) however you're on your own. I know less about other provinces.

Gregory "you always throw a few too many ingredients into the blender before you press the "on" button!"

Because I know WCI has intelligent and thoughtful readers like you who will take those ingredients and make something good with them. Thanks for filling in some of the gaps.

"The results are also compatible with being a spurious correlation." Yes, I wish I had mentioned those studies that find that people who use pencils at work earn higher earnings. (This was back in the day when computers were first become widespread in the workplace. Some people found earnings premiums associated with using a computer at work, and then other people reran the studies and found earnings premiums associated with using pencils).

"In my experience, immigrants from China and Japan are far keener than the average Canadian to see their kids in a streamed program because such distinctions are more important in their home countries than they are here." I don't know of any stats on this, but I always like checking out the websites of places like, say, Upper Canada College, www.ucc.on.ca and guessing what ethnic background the kids in the photos are supposed to have.

My summary of your post and the background sources, as they apply outside Quebec:

  1. A recent study says that you'll earn more if you learn French. Then again, maybe that's just a coincidence. One thing seems sure: you won't earn more just because you actually use French.
  2. Given that it's a policy objective for everybody to learn French, there's a dumb way, and maybe a smarter way to do it. The dumb way is to have a lot of early French immersion programs. The wise folks in New Brunswick discovered a couple of years ago that these programs do a lousy job for overall French achievement, and have some nasty side effects to boot. These same wise New Brunswickers think a smarter way is to make everybody learn French for a year when they're older, and after that, the ones who want can immerse themselves in French. It's too early to tell if this smarter way actually delivers better results.

I'm not sure these two points have a lot to do with each other! The first point might be a genuine, if modest, contribution from economists to a debate about the merits of bilingualism as a policy objective, however that debate seems dormant these days. The second point belongs to the field of teaching methods, and any decent exploration of that topic would have to drag in all kinds of data from other countries, e.g. European countries, where they do a lot better job than we do.

FWIW, and anecdote: Family is unilingual English from QC. Both me and my younger brother attended French Immersion in elementary school. I'm bilingual, he isn't. I was always the better student in elementary, high school and CEGEP. I went on to get study engineering (which I wasn't good at) and computer science (which I was better at). At best, I was a B student in university. He did some psych thing, which I secretly thought was stupid and easy (what?! no math!?) and got A's. After working for a few years he decided to go back to school and get an MBA. Since he had good grades he got in. I wouldn't have got in with my grades. No way.

My guess is that he now earns at least twice what I do. Probably more. All with no French and a 'stupid easy' undergraduate degree. What an arrogant fool I was.

So I think the correlation may well be spurious.

Geez... *an* anecdote ... my younger brother and *I*

One too many glasses of this excellent Riesling...

As someone who went through French immersion through grade 9, I can definitely testify that the cross-section of society represented in my classes were much smaller than the English programs at the same school. At my all-English high school, though, I found that the academic stream classes had a wider variety of cultural background, but the people were still at the same ability level. So I'd guess that the people who would be successful would be successful whether or not they were in French immersion.

If asked on a survey, though, I'm not sure I would even say I can speak French...I can do some basic stuff if I have to, but it's pretty slow and broken...not much better than my Spanish. 10 years of French immersion versus not a single formal Spanish class has yielded similar results.

Still this article may have convinced me that I should more seriously consider immersion programs for my kids.

@Tim Worstall
If you don't know that much about Canada, I'd suggest you consider verifying your statements. It is to some extent true that bilingualism is required at the top of the federal bureaucracy. But if there's someone that the government wishes to hire or promote, they will send them for language training...there may be a slight inclination to hire existing bilingual candidates, but I doubt it's statistically significant.

Also, high end government jobs don't pay that well compared to their private sector equivalents, so it seems unlikely that government hiring practices are skewing the statistics.

At the lower levels, the government pays a premium for bilingualism, but only in bilingual jobs. My (francophone) wife did not get paid a bilingualism premium when she worked at the Canada Revenue Agency because, being in Alberta, she worked exclusively in English. Since there's no significant difference between the know-but-don't-use groups and the know-and-use groups, again it doesn't seem that government effects are at fault.

After working for a few years he decided to go back to school and get an MBA. Since he had good grades he got in. I wouldn't have got in with my grades. No way.

I wouldn't be so sure about that. There were a couple of guys in my MBA class with no secondary education. One guy was a former CBC reporter on the National, the other a guy from Britain who worked his way up in a Canadian bank. They both had lots to contribute. Work experience/GMAT scores count (the latter being downgraded - there are many GMAT writing coaching schools in China. What to look for in the questions/strategies etc - it works. That in itself might tell you something about rote learning - it has its applications.)

Btw, one of my Chinese friends in their MBA class were amazed at how the Canadian students could go on and on concerning a business case, looking at it from differing views, where they ran out after one obvious point. I suggest it's the type of education system they have there (FW- "efficient" :) memory work- not as much critical thinking.

I noticed this in engineering (this is ages ago). The Chinese foreign students would sit at the front of the class and dutifully take down what the prof would teach, never asking a question. A great deal of deference. On the otherhand, when in a Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning class, the prof, talking about when he was working in a consulting firm, one of his colleagues had completely left out the engineering of a second floor of a two story building (and would have won the bid and lost lots of money). He realized at the last minute, and pulled the bid. One of the smart ass Canadian students yelled out: "So where is he teaching now?" We all had a good laugh, including the prof.

JVFM - a very small point on your comment - The Chinese economic and educational system, to say nothing of family life, has changed so much in the past 20 years that generalizations like this are dangerous - plus see Kevin Milligan's comments above about his children's experiences in French immersion in a Vancouver area school.

Why I prefaced my comments with "this is ages ago" and an anecdote from someone who had grown up in that system. I'm not saying this is the case today. Btw, my friend probably knew the rules of english grammar better than I, and spoke perfect english w/o any discernible accent.

French immersion in a Vancouver area school I would expect would be quite different than being schooled in China in a largely homogenious culture. The end product is different at the end of process. It cannot be any other way. You are living in a multicultural environment with freedom of movement, expression, information, ability to question authority. Yes, that too is changing, perhaps rather rapidly, but it's not the same.

The Asian tigers, Japan and Korea claimed part of their economic success in the 80s was due to their homogeneity. Now, you can suggest that is racist, or it is cultural, or it doesn't apply today, or it is wrong. But, that is what some were saying at the time. And perhaps what contributed to some of their economic downfall as well. I'll leave that to others.

Frances, on today's Macleans.

Who’s the smartest?

A new ranking of European countries places the Nordic nations at the top of the list. As for the bottom . . .

Some criticism in the comments of the methodology (some from HtoH who comments here on occasion). Any comment on these reports?


Just visiting, sorry, have nothing insightful to say on this one. According to MacLeans, this is how the numbers are calculated:

The CLI is based on data from 26 measures, which are grouped into four “pillars” of learning, a framework originally developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The first, the “learning to know” pillar, focuses on formal education, including university enrolment, high school graduation rates and students’ standardized test scores in math, science, reading and writing. The second pillar, “learning to do,” looks at skills acquisition. It considers, for example, the number of vocational schools within driving distance, how cities stack up when it comes to workplace education and training, and—just as importantly—how many workers take up the offer. The “learning to live together” pillar measures a city’s social values: how many in the community volunteer? How many are active in clubs: scouts, a church, a political party? How many socialize regularly with people from other cultures? “Learning to be,” the final index, considers cultural opportunities as well as per-capita spending on books, museums, art galleries and sports and recreation.

As always with these types of indices, it comes down to the question - are these good measures of the underlying concept that you're trying to get at? How are the different factors weighted, e.g., how important are standardized test scores compared to being active in church? I'd need to do some digging to figure out exactly how the numbers are generated and added together.

My recent experience hiring Chineses immigrants (engineers, mostly) is that they often have a hard time speaking either official language well. On paper they have good qualifications, often from Canadian Universities. But if they can't communicate effective with their co-workers or customers then all bets are off regardless of their qualifications.

Is that a commentary on their education system, or ours?

Not sure, actually. If Canadians don't want to study engineering in numbers sufficient to meet demand (I don't have data, but anecdotally it seems like to be the case), then what other choice is there?

What the hot program for smart kids studying these days? Finance?

Patrick, a few observations based on my general experience:

- lots of countries train engineers in large numbers. So there are lots of immigrants with backgrounds in engineering - this says alone says nothing about the number of Canadian studying engineering
- The census data makes it possible to track the average earnings in different professions over time. The earnings of engineers have been falling relative to the earnings of, say, lawyers over the past 30 years or so. Which suggests that the supply of engineers is ample relative to the demand and/or there are good reasons why undergraduates with good writing skills don't want to study engineering.
- my experience with a lot of second generation Canadian students is that they receive parental pressure to study something useful (e.g. engineering or economics) as opposed to something perceived to be less useful (e.g. English). Perhaps for this reason, engineering programs tend to have a higher proportion of visible minority students (visible minority status and immigrant status being highly correlated)
- these days, very few undergraduates can write well.
- at Carleton among the hardest programs to get into are journalism and the college of the humanities. At Queen's kinesiology has very high admission standards. At University of Waterloo, there is a joint program in, I think, biotechnology and accounting that requires a "competitive average" in the mid to high 90s. In fact, in my recent survey of Canadian universities, I would say some of the tightly focused U Waterloo programs and Trinity College at U of T (the place where Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae were roommates) are about the hardest programs to get into in the country.

I'll add a couple of other points to what Frances mentioned.

In the MBA program that I attended (20+ yrs ago) we had the first Chinese MBA student ever, I believe, in our class. Now, I don't know what hoops he jumped through,his family connections, or what his qualifications were - but it seemed to me he was straight out of undergrad. We also had one student from Hong Kong when the British still ruled.

15 yrs later, the same program had 25% China born foreign MBA students, and this was when the tuitions had risen to approx $25k per year. In my day, maybe a few thou. Harvard back then was probably charging $50k, not sure. So, some of the demographic shift was due to the increase in tuition, and also because China was opening up more for foreign travel, and also the demand for individuals with western business experience. And the growing Chinese middle class could afford the high tuition fees for their kids.

Most of the Chinese MBA students that I met, upon landing in Canada for school, applied for landed immigrant status (2 yrs residency) and upon receiving a job offer in Canada, could stay for another 2 yrs (renewable visa upon proof of employment) and then become Canadian citizens (four year req'nt total after applying). I believe the Feds recently (in the past few years) relaxed the job offer requirement/visa extension. So, in some ways, this was the ticket in - the challenge was getting accepted at an MBA program.

Now, if it is undergrad engineering, a 4 yr program, foreign students would qualify for citizenship upon graduation - though I'm not positive about this. And I'm not sure about higher fees for foreign students in this faculty (in my day, foreign students paid double). So, that may attribute somewhat for the changing demographics.

Also to note - Hong Kong born Chinese grew up in a different economic/political system - and many HK immigrants came to Canada (particularly Vancouver) under the economic fast track immigration system leading up to the 1997 reunification when Britain's 100 yr lease ran out. Something to keep in mind.

Today's G&M:

Canadians paying more for education, OECD finds
Study follows report that Canada’s student-loan program is close to its $15-billion ceiling years ahead of schedule

In purely financial terms, the benefits of a postsecondary education to individuals and Canadian society at large far outweigh the costs, a new report suggests.

However, as Canada spends more and more on higher education, an increasing percentage of the cost is borne by students and their families, says the annual Education at a Glance report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.


I'm sorry I just stumbled upon this discussion now. Frances raises a good point. I have a child entering Kindergarten in Vancouver this week and am well versed in school discussions. French Immersion in Vancouver has been popular with native-English-speaking parents trying to avoid having their child in a class that is 50-75% ESL, which is the norm in Vancouver, or trying to avoid having their child in a class with mostly extra needs kids (in gentrifying East Vancouver, $700,000 - million dollar homes sit within blocks of first nations social housing, for example, with the same catchment school). So, it sort of works as an alternative to private school, but in some ways French may be serving the parents desires better since many of the private schools are heavily used by the wealthier, recent-immigrant / new Canadian community who believe in the extra structure of many private schools (ESL is quite high in private schools).

My child isn't going to French Immersion, incidentally, but is in public school. This is mostly because our catchment school offers exactly what I want for my child: low ESL (25%), high achievement on standardized tests (suggesting other parents care about academic performance), notably diverse backgrounds of students matching Vancouver's mix.

Richard Swidinsky sent me these very excellent comments:

Frances alerted me to the existence of this blog only yesterday; I have not had much time to digest all the comments. However, since I’ll be away from my desk for a week starting early tomorrow morning it may be instructive to add the following comments to the ongoing dialogue.

First, many individuals who commented on the G & M piece [another piece on the Christofides and Swidinsky study, published a few days ago] are convinced that our findings were driven by the bilingual language regulations applicable to federal public sector employees. Although we control for the broad public sector in the reported earnings equations that include both occupation and industry variables, the precise role played by the federal sector does warrant closer scrutiny. We estimated a variety of different specifications, including one in which we deleted all observations pertaining to federal public sector employees. For the ROC data, we lost roughly a thousand observations for women and two thousand for men. The re-estimated coefficients and t-scores on the language knowledge/use variables were almost identical to those reported in the paper. We decided to go with the more complete sample. The results for the Quebec sample were similarly unchanged.

Second, there is the issue of French immersion. Since our data comes from the 2001 Census, it is most unlikely, given the history of French immersion education, that older workers who are bilingual could have acquired their bilingualism through this program. We divided the ROC sample into two age groups (under 40 and 40-65), and re-estimated the wage equations for each age group. The results for older men and women and younger women were similar to those reported in the paper. There is a return to language knowledge, but not to language use. For men under 40, both the language knowledge and language use estimated coefficients were very small and not significant. I am not sure what this tells us about the effectiveness of French immersion education. But it seems to be consistent with some of your stories.

Is French immersion a good thing? I don’t know, and our paper does not even attempt to answer that question. Its message is fairly limited; in the ROC there is no added economic return to the use of the French language in the workplace. The economic return to French language knowledge is debatable.

Wendy, thanks so much for your comment. The dynamics of French immersion seem to be very different in Vancouver and Ottawa. Part of the issue in in Ottawa is the sheer size of the French immersion programs - when 20 or 30 or 40 percent of children are in French immersion, the effect on the non-immersion streams is more noticeable. Plus Ottawa lacks many of the other special options that other commentators have described.

The school you've chosen for your little one sounds perfect - I hope he or she has a great experience.

French Immersion in Vancouver has been popular with native-English-speaking parents trying to avoid having their child in a class that is 50-75% ESL, which is the norm in Vancouver, or trying to avoid having their child in a class with mostly extra needs kids (in gentrifying East Vancouver, $700,000 - million dollar homes sit within blocks of first nations social housing, for example, with the same catchment school).

It seems my earlier suggestion that it was "a hidden screening system" were understated if this view is widely held.

btw Wendy has an interesting blogsite when you click on through her name.

Great follow up discussion. Agree with Just Visiting, only I'd say it's a not-so-hidden screening system. Everyone knows what's going on.

Also, for Frances, few people putting their kids in French in Vancouver are thinking about federal gov't positions for their kids. Ottawa is just "so far away." This is not a career path thought about much out here.

Parents are thinking about the issues I suggested, plus the general benefit of knowing a second language (theoretically makes learning additional languages easier). A problem is that there is really no opportunity to practice French outside of the classroom in Vancouver. Speaking it in real life is how you learn and retain a language, so in Ottawa schooling anglo children in French makes more sense because of practice opportunities.

It would be interesting to see a study on Vancouverites who went to French Immersion who are now adults. How has it benefited them? My husband went to French immersion from grades K-4, and feels he retained almost none of the language and it therefore had no real long-term benefit. But maybe those who finished elementary school did benefit in measurable ways.

Alright. First spin. Will put in place his old Schelling Point here.

As we get older our ability to learn anew decreases, and language learning is a major casualty. With me, for sure. Otoh, the younger we are the better we at learning language(s). Simple really. Therefore, rather than put off learning a 2nd language to later, introduce it, informally at least, as early as possible.

What language? Esperanto still appears as the best One as an ideal type – a universal language for children (not necessarily a universal language for all people as Esperantists' believe). For children, it’s an excellent Schelling Point.

I hazily recall a study ages ago from Sweden(?) doing action research with two classes. In one they taught French for two years; in the other, they taught Esperanto 1st year; French 2nd year. Then both classes were tested in French at the end of the 2nd year. Those taught Esperanto did significantly better, if my fading memory serves me right.

All told it gives children a great impression of a whole language: Being wholly consistent, completely phonetic, only 16 rules and most words share roots with European languages. When children know this One, it makes it easy to learn the ins and outs of their 1st language better (especially grammar) as well as other languages.

Heck, that One is probably still on the books at UNICEF as the recommended language to be taught to children around the world. For its educational benefit (and economical education) resurrect it, worldwide, all at once. Team up guys and create a Schelling Point for the world.

Frances, I happened to hear this program Tues am (1:15am) on CBC's "The World" which is a rebroadcast of PRI documentaties. It covers some of the issues discussed. Thought it would be of interest.

English language learners at American schools
By The World ⋅ September 7, 2010 ⋅

The fastest growing segment of the American public school population is English Language Learners. These ELL students, the majority of whom are born in America, sit side by side their native English-speaking classmates, but their test scores lag far behind. The U.S. Department of Education has now launched a civil rights investigation of the ELL program in Los Angeles. Officials say only 3% of ELL students at LA schools are proficient at Math and English by the time they reach high school – but some public schools doing far better than others. Nina Porzucki reports from one of them in Downey, California


Just visiting, thanks, sounds interesting.

Interesting. Economist Kevin Milligan during the Globe and Mail chat about full day Kindergarten yesterday noted that studies show the biggest influence on childhood learning and learning outcomes is the mother's education level.

It would be interesting if one could pull out that variable in the above LA study. What if the issue is not the language spoken at home, but whether mum finished high school or went to college.

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