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    A Profile of Minority-Language Students and Schools in Canada: Results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2009

    4. Minority-language schools

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    The breadth of the PISA data also allows a profile to be developed for the schools that minority-language students attended in 2009. Previous research has indicated that minority and majority-language school systems can differ in some notable ways. In 2009, principals in schools where the PISA test was administered completed a 20 minute questionnaire on the characteristics of their schools. This more current school level information permits an up-dated examination of school related characteristics for minority-language schools.

    4.1 Schools in their communities

    Community size reflects the geographic distribution of populations within a province. A larger share (28.5%) of minority-language schools were found in communities of less than 15,000 people relative to the majority-language schools (22.8%) in 2009. In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in particular, a full 2/3 of minority schools were in smaller communities. In Ontario, 31.2% of the minority-language schools were in smaller communities, a significantly larger share than majority-language schools (13.9%) for that province (Table 25).

    Nevertheless, according to principals' responses, most students in minority-language school systems had other options when selecting a school, although PISA did not ask if the alternatives were also minority-language schools. The only instance where minority students had significantly fewer alternatives to school selection was in New Brunswick where only 27.2% of minority school principals indicated that there was at least one alternative to their school, relative to 45.4% of majority school principals (Table 25).

    More than nine in ten schools, both minority and majority, were public schools. The only significant difference was in Quebec, which has a strong private school sector. About 86.5% of minority-language schools were publicly funded in that province, relative to 80.5% of the majority schools. Given the high rate of public funding for schooling, there is a low dependence on student fees as a source of revenue. In Nova Scotia, Manitoba and British Columbia all schools depend on student fees for less than 20% of their budget (Table 25).

    Table 25 School characteristics for minority and majority language school systems, Canada and selected provinces, 2009

    4.2 Inside the schools

    In all provinces, except New Brunswick and Ontario, the principals in minority-language school settings were less likely to be male than in the majority-language school settings. In Manitoba the difference was significant, with male principals being much less prevalent in minority schools than in majority schools. In New Brunswick, on the other hand, the minority-language school system had a greater percentage of male principals relative to the majority school system to a significant extent (Table 26).

    Given the higher percentage of minority-language schools found in smaller communities it is not surprising that a larger share of minority-language schools had less than 250 students in their modal grade1 than was found for the majority-language schools. In all provinces, the difference on this indicator was significant, with all provinces having lower registrations in the modal grade for minority-language schools than their majority counterparts. In Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia, 100.0% of the minority-language schools had less than 250 students in the modal grade (Table 26).

    As was found with language spoken most often in the home relative to language of instruction in the school, principals in minority-language schools indicated that they were dealing with language inconsistencies to a greater extent than their majority-language peers. The indicator "Students whose first language is not PISA test language - more than 20% of students in the modal grade" highlights situations where principals are faced with linguistic discrepancies between test language (or language of instruction)2 and the first language of students in their schools. Higher values indicate situations where a greater share of the student population within the school has linguistic differences between the first language and language of instruction contexts. Overall, 44.7% of all minority-language principals indicated that more than 20% of their student populations had a first language other than the PISA test language. This compares to 22.8% for the majority-language principals. The differences on this indicator were significant in all provinces except Manitoba. In British Columbia, almost all principals (94.9%) in minority-language schools were facing situations where there was linguistic inconsistency between the language used for instruction in the school (and the PISA test language) relative to the first language(s) of their student population in 2009 (Table 26).

    Options for streaming of students within a school setting will vary as a function of the number of students enrolled and the particular policies of the Ministry of Education for a particular province and the policies of the school principals themselves. Given the higher proportion of minority-language schools with smaller class sizes, it is not surprising that students in these schools tended to be grouped to a greater extent by level than in the majority-language school system. In Nova Scotia and Quebec, the differences were significant and substantial. Minority school principals in these two provinces used "grouping by level only" significantly more frequently than did majority-language school principals. By comparison, majority-language schools used a streaming strategy that was based on both level and content to a significantly higher degree (53.2%) than the minority schools (41.0%) at the Canada level. This strategy was used more frequently by majority schools relative to minority schools in all provinces except Manitoba (Table 26).

    Access to technology within the school setting is seen as fundamental to the ability to provide an appropriate education and one that has the breadth required by modern society. It can also be a reflection of stretched school resources when there are not enough computers for the students. A ratio of two computers per student for example, could mean one computer per student in the classroom and one per student in the library. About nine in ten minority and majority-language school principals indicated that their schools had less than 2 computers per student. Significant differences existed in New Brunswick, Ontario and Alberta on this indicator. For these three provinces, a significantly lower percentage of minority schools averaged less than 2 computers per student. Thus, a significantly greater share of minority schools in these provinces had more than two computers per student relative to majority schools (Table 26).

    Table 26 School specific characteristics for minority and majority language school systems, Canada and selected provinces, 2009

    Student behaviour in the school setting can be a determinant of school success with regular disruptive behaviour interfering with the accomplishment of curriculum goals. Principals in minority-language schools responded more positively overall then their majority-language peers on the index of student behaviour. However, differences at the Canada level were driven primarily by the very positive responses from principals in minority-language settings in Nova Scotia and the very negative responses by principals in majority-language schools in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario. Significant differences in principals' perceptions of student behaviour were evident in Nova Scotia, Ontario and Manitoba. In all three cases, minority-language students were seen to be better behaved by their principals (Chart 6).

    Chart 6 Scores on the index of student behaviour, minority and majority language school systems, Canada and selected provinces, 2009

    Principals within schools have varying levels of autonomy, which means that decisions on curriculum and assessment and the allocation of resources varies across schools, school systems and provinces according to jurisdictional and school board practices. PISA results have indicated that:

    • Most successful school systems grant greater autonomy to individual schools to design curricula and establish assessment policies;
    • there is a positive relationship between school autonomy in resource allocation and student performance [on PISA assessment tests].

    PISA 2009 Results: What Makes a School Successful? Resources, Policies and Practices. Volume IV. OECD, 2010. (pg.14 and pg.42)

    Overall, principals in Canada, regardless of language of school system, expressed a lower level of autonomy with respect to curriculum and assessment than in the rest of the OECD. As well, minority-language schools were consistently below their majority-language counterparts on this index. In Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia there were significantly lower levels of autonomy expressed by principals from minority-language schools than by those in the majority-language school community (Chart 7).

    Chart 7 Scores on the index of responsibility for curriculum and assessment, minority and majority language school systems, OECD, Canada and selected provinces, 2009

    The same held true for statements of autonomy with respect to the index on responsibility for the allocation of resources within the school. All principals, regardless of language of school system, responded less positively than other countries in the OECD on average. Minority schools had the lowest scores on this index across all provinces. In all provinces excluding Nova Scotia and Quebec, the difference between minority and majority schools was statistically significant on this index (Chart 8).

    Chart 8 Scores on the index of responsibility for allocation of school resources, minority and majority language school systems, OECD, Canada and selected provinces, 2009

    The quality of educational resources necessarily influences the quality of education students receive. While majority-language schools regularly scored above the OECD average on the index on the quality of educational resources, minority-language schools were consistently below the OECD average. Only in British Columbia and Ontario did minority schools score above the OECD average. From a within-province perspective, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta, had differences between minority and majority school systems on this index that were statistically significant in favour of majority-language school systems (Chart 9).

    Chart 9 Scores on the index of quality of school resources, minority and majority language school systems, OECD, Canada and selected provinces, 2009

    Examination of some of the more specific results from PISA helps identify some of the sources of concern minority principals had about the quality of their educational resources when compared to principals from majority-language schools. Significant differences existed in all provinces except British Columbia in terms of teacher shortages in the language arts, with principals in the minority schools significantly more likely to have identified teacher shortages in this subject area. The data for this item split along linguistic lines rather than minority-majority lines. That is, principals in schools where the minority language of instruction was English (Quebec only) had fewer principals stating that teacher shortages were an issue than when the minority language of instruction was French (all provinces outside Quebec). This may be a reflection of the distribution of these two linguistic populations in Canada overall. The larger English population in Canada will necessarily have more teachers in the language arts in general, making a larger pool for minority schools in Quebec to draw on. Of particular concern is the situation of minority schools in Manitoba where only 45.3% of school principals were able to say there were no teacher shortages in the language arts (Table 27).

    In terms of finding qualified teachers to cover other subjects, the differences between minority and majority-language schools were not as extreme as was found for the language arts. Only in Quebec and Ontario were there significant differences. In Quebec, the minority schools again had less problem filling teaching spots in subjects other than the language arts than the majority schools, while in Ontario the opposite was true (Table 27).

    The availability of instructional material in the language of instruction is critical to providing consistency between the classroom oral language and the work students do at school and at home. In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec, school principals in minority-language settings were experiencing significantly greater shortages of instructional material than were principals in the rest of their respective provinces. In British Columbia, the situation was the opposite, with a larger share of minority-language principals stating that they were experiencing no or very little shortage of instructional material when compared to majority-language school principals (Table 27).

    Computer software that can be used for instructional purposes is a necessary component of effective use of this tool in the school setting. For Canada, about seven in ten minority and eight in ten majority principals indicated there was no or very little shortage of computer-related software - a non-significant difference. However, in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick the gap between the two language school systems was significantly wide. It was particularly severe in Nova Scotia, where only 15.4% of principals in minority-language schools were able to indicate no shortage in computer software compared to 87.9% of majority-language principals (Table 27).

    Libraries in the school setting are an important resource for both completing schoolwork and for encouraging reading in the student population. On average, about eight in ten principals in minority schools were able to say that they were not experiencing shortages of library materials within their schools, a figure that was comparable to principals in the majority-language systems. However, it should be noted that this falls to 61.8 % for principals in minority-language settings in New Brunswick. Furthermore, in Nova Scotia the number of principals in minority-language settings indicating that were experiencing no shortage of library materials was so small the data could not be reported – indicating that almost all principals in minority settings in that province were facing shortages of library materials (Table 27).

    Table 27 School resource shortages for students in minority and majority language school systems, Canada and selected provinces, 2009


    1. The modal grade is the one in which the majority of 15 year-olds were registered.
    2. The PISA test language was the same as the language of instruction in the school in which it was administered.
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