Saturday, July 3, 2010

International Program Catches On in U.S. Schools- But Eliminated from the Hoboken Public Schools

Spotlighting yet another questionable educational decision of the current Kids First Hoboken Board of Education majority, the New York Times reports on the growing enthusiasm of the International Baccalaureate Program (IB) around the United States. Unfortunately, in May of 2010 the Kids First majority pushed forward a vote to eliminate the IB program from the Hoboken School District and adopt the Advanced Placement Program (created by the for-profit Educational Testing Service- ETS). According to the NY Times article, "A.P. is great for content-based traditional learning...It’s great for kids who like to memorize. But for more creative kids, who want to make those connections, there’s nothing like the I.B." Hoboken has had IB in the district for the previous 10 years and the new curriculum was written to be consistent with IB objectives as well as New Jersey State Standards. It is somewhat ironic but not surprising that at a time when the rest of the nation is catching up to the initiatives begun in Hoboken, the district is now going in a different educational direction.


The alphabet soup of college admissions is getting more complicated as the International Baccalaureate, or I.B., grows in popularity as an alternative to the better-known Advanced Placement program.

The College Board’s A.P. program, which offers a long menu of single-subject courses, is still by far the most common option for giving students a head start on college work, and a potential edge in admissions.

The lesser-known I.B., a two-year curriculum developed in the 1960s at an international school in Switzerland, first took hold in the United States in private schools. But it is now offered in more than 700 American high schools — more than 90 percent of them public schools — and almost 200 more have begun the long certification process.

Many parents, schools and students see the program as a rigorous and more internationally focused curriculum, and a way to impress college admissions officers.

To earn an I.B. diploma, students must devote their full junior and senior years to the program, which requires English and another language, math, science, social science and art, plus a course on theory of knowledge, a 4,000-word essay, oral presentations and community service.

Here in Cumberland, Greely High School adopted the I.B. this year to make students more aware of the world beyond the United States.

“When our grads would visit from college, they’d tell us that while Greely gave them great academic preparation, they’d had no idea there was a big wide world out there,” said David Galin, Greely’s I.B. coordinator.

To that end, Greely’s I.B. 11th graders read literature from India (“God of Small Things”), South Africa (“Master Harold ... and the Boys”), what is now the Czech Republic (“The Metamorphosis”), Chile (“The House of the Spirits”), Egypt (“Midaq Alley”) and Colombia (“Chronicle of a Death Foretold”).

“Our students don’t have as much diversity as people in some other areas, so this makes them open their eyes,” said Deb Pinkham, the program’s English teacher.

The I.B. program is used in 139 countries, and its international focus has drawn criticism from some quarters.

Many schools, and many parents, see the I.B. partly as a way to show college admissions offices that students have chosen a rigorous program, with tests graded by I.B. examiners around the world.

“I don’t think there is anyone who does not respect the I.B.,” said Panetha Ott, an admissions officer at Brown.

Fewer colleges give credit for the I.B. than for A.P., but dozens give students with an I.B. diploma sophomore standing and some offer special scholarships.

The I.B. is also being offered now in some struggling urban schools where educators say it helps put low-income students on par with their richer peers.

Last fall, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave the program a three-year $2.4 million grant to prepare low-income and minority students to participate in the I.B.

California and Florida have the most I.B. schools, and New England the fewest.

In Cumberland, some parents questioned the I.B.’s cost, but none complained about the program’s content, according to Chris Mosca, Greely’s principal.

“No question, the people who founded the I.B. were sitting in Geneva, post-World War II, thinking about how to ensure world peace, so the clear philosophical bent is that by integrating learning and understanding issues from multiple perspectives, we can promote global thinking,” he said. “But what sold me on the program was that it’s good pedagogy, that it really shows kids how things go together.”

Still, Mr. Mosca has no plans to eliminate the school’s Advanced Placement offerings.

“A.P. is great for content-based traditional learning,” he said. “It’s great for kids who like to memorize. But for more creative kids, who want to make those connections, there’s nothing like the I.B.”

On a spring Tuesday, Greely’s I.B. history class was working in small groups, analyzing the Suez crisis with original source documents from Israel, Egypt, the Soviet Union, the United States and the United Nations.

Emily Hill, presenting a document from the Soviet foreign office’s Middle East desk, reminded the group that it was a secret memo, translated several times.

Emily, who said she was bored with school last year, said the I.B. program had been more interesting and challenging.

Because it is so rigorous, the I.B. is not for everyone. At Greely, only 21 juniors started the full program this year, and three subsequently shifted to a mix of I.B. and regular classes.

But those who stayed with it seemed enthusiastic.

“It’s like a little club of scholars,” said Maggie Bauer, a junior. “It seems more real-world than how we used to learn, and it’s changed how we look at the world.”

The graduates, too, say they feel well prepared.

“In our Theory of Knowledge class, when we debated health care, my role was to takeRush Limbaugh’s position, which couldn’t be further from my own,” said Michael Tahan, one of the graduates.

“I.B. taught us how to think through a position, and support it,” he added. “And while I understand why some parents might worry that the program is international-based, I think it’s good for America for students to learn how others nations think.”