Elementary Program Review

A family moving to Ottawa recently wrote to ask me, as a Trustee for Capital and Alta Vista, about the programs that Ottawa Carleton District School Board offers. How do I know which program to choose, they asked, and can I choose from any of the schools in the area? A poignant question at a time when the OCDSB is embarking on a review of our elementary programs. As those of you who have a child/children currently enrolled in school know, we currently offer an array of six different programs: Kindergarten with 50% instruction in English and French; English with Core French (grades 1-8, 40 minutes of French instruction daily); Early French Immersion (EFI is 80% of instruction in French in grade 1, then 60% of instruction in French in grades 2-6, and 50% in grades 7-8); Middle French Immersion (MFI begins in grade 4 with 60% of instruction in French, then 50% in grades 7-8); and Alternative programs (cooperative, student-directed learning in multi-age groupings, offered at 4 schools in grades 1-6, 1 school in grade 7-8). Some schools are single track (English with Core French only, for example), some are multi-track (English with Core French and EFI/MFI, for example). We also offer remote learning (OCV), run two special education schools (Crystal Bay and Clifford Bowey), and run 143 elementary specialized program classes in 66 sites (gifted, autism spectrum, behavioural classes, etc.) in 66 sites. In short, if you are a parent, you are faced with a hodgepodge of programs. So how does someone new to Ottawa choose where to enroll their child?

Unfortunately, where a child goes to school in Ottawa, which program they are encouraged to pursue, and whether they thrive in that program does not reflect our commitment to equity, inclusivity, and diversity in public education. We’ve identified significant disparities as a result of our hodgepodge of programs:

First, there is streaming from an early age, with French immersion dominated by populations of higher socioeconomic status. Racialized populations, newcomers and refugees, and students with disabilities are less likely to be encouraged to enroll in French immersion programs. The hodgepodge of programs also results in children who require transportation to get to schools further from their homes, rather than keeping children at their neighbourhood schools. Indeed, some schools (primarily English with Core French single-track schools) are then under-enrolled, while other schools are bursting at the seams.

Furthermore, we have identified disparities in the attrition rate for students in French immersion (data shows that boys, racialized populations, and students with disabilities and students with behavioural dysregulation are more likely to be moved out of French immersion programs, between grades 1-6, into English or Alternative programs).

We have also identified significant gaps in educational outcomes for students in our programs: Our data has shown that students in French Immersion programs are more likely to meet provincial standards in all subjects.

In short, our hodgepodge of elementary programs contributes to structural inequalities in educational experiences and outcomes.

We have a responsibility to address these disparities. It is with these goals in mind that we’ve embarked on an Elementary Program Review. It will not be easy—we are talking about transformational change—but our goal is to conduct consultations with the community, consider other program delivery models, and put something into place for our students by September 2025.

Those whose children already thrive in current programs may be nervous or upset about discussion of change. Transformational change is never easy, but it is very much necessary in our district to ensure equitable access and opportunity. OCDSB has already embarked on public consultations. For more information about our current programs and about the Elementary Program Review, please see: https://engage.ocdsb.ca/elementary-program-review

If you have questions about the Elementary Program Review, you are also welcome to reach out to me as your trustee: nili.kaplan-myrth@ocdsb.ca