It’s rigorous, it’s holistic and it may be coming to a high school near you.
Starting today, a committee from the International Baccalaureate Organisation is visiting both of Coeur d’Alene’s high schools to determine if they can offer the IB program.
The Geneva-based nonprofit group has created a curriculum that is currently being offered in 1,597 schools around the world, including 474 in the United States.
If accepted, these high schools will be the first in Idaho to offer the prestigious program. Though a handful of Washington high schools offer them, none is in the Spokane area.
So what’s all the fuss about?
The program encompasses various subjects and seeks to teach them in a multidisciplinary way.
“Students are leaving our schools with amazing content (knowledge), but they don’t know the values of research and the values of education. This course of study is designed to do that,” said Mike Nelson, a Spanish teacher at Coeur d’Alene High School who is coordinating the IB program for his school.
To get an IB diploma, each high school student is required to write a thesis on a subject of his or her choosing and complete 150 hours of community service.
“It’s a student-driven way of learning,” said Deanne Clifford, an algebra teacher at Lake City High School and coordinator of its IB program.
Students choose one or two subjects in each of the areas of study:
“Language, both a native tongue and second language;
“Individuals and society, which includes courses in business, history, information technology, philosophy and anthropology;
“Experimental sciences, such as biology, chemistry and design technology;
“The arts, such as visual arts, music, theater;
“Mathematics and computer science.
Having that choice interested Hudson Amaro, a sophomore at Coeur d’Alene High School who hopes to study engineering at MIT. He would likely fulfill the humanities requirement with a lower level class and take higher level courses in math and science.
Doing the IB diploma may limit the number of electives Amaro can take, but he said the benefits outweigh any drawbacks: “I can get a year off college by doing these classes in high school.”
For other students, it’s a thankful relief from test-driven teaching, a product of the No Child Left Behind Act, which holds schools accountable for test scores.
“This is more about education than testing,” said Kayla Leitzke, a sophomore at Lake City High.
Kate Miller, also a sophomore at Lake City, said she sometimes asks teachers why they’re teaching a tedious concept and they’ll respond: “You’ll use it on the ISATs.” Miller hates that answer. “If a teacher says that, I don’t really want to learn.”
She’s looking forward to giving presentations in IB classes instead of filling in ABCD bubbles, something she’s sure she’ll never have to do in the real world.
Students aren’t the only ones happy about the shift in focus.
“That’s what teachers like about it,” Clifford said. “They’re just excited to turn their back on standards and give kids more.”
In order to teach an IB class, teachers are required to undergo training provided by the organization.
Teachers have come back from those seminars “giddy,” said Nelson. They say: “This is what we really should be doing in American education.”
Funding for the training sessions, textbooks and other materials came from the school district’s supplemental levy that Coeur d’Alene voters approved in May.
Students will have to pay testing fees, though, which range from about $657 for a diploma to $195 for one IB subject. Grants and scholarships will be available for students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
Spokane Public Schools is not planning to offer the IB program, said Emmett Arndt, executive director of teaching and learning services. The district has expanded its offerings of Advance Placement courses and is furthering its links with local community colleges to provide options for students who want to take higher level courses.
If accepted, the Coeur d’Alene high schools will start offering IB classes in the fall. The schools should hear about their status in the spring.
Most schools that apply to the program are accepted because the application process is so exhaustive, said Ralph Cline, IB deputy director for North America. Schools are required to present a plan of how they will implement the IB curriculum.
The IB diploma is a two-year course that students take in their junior and senior years. Students who want to take a few subjects, but not earn the entire diploma, can do so.
The International Baccalaureate Organisation has curriculums for younger students as well, which the Coeur d’Alene District might try implementing down the line.
Though colleges and universities differ on whether student applicants get an edge in admissions if they have an IB diploma, they almost invariably offer college credit for successfully completed courses.
“It’s a very well respected curriculum,” said Julie McCulloh, dean of admission at Gonzaga University.
Seeing IB courses on a transcript could be a tie-breaker when deciding between two otherwise equally qualified applicants, she said, because of how rigorous the program is.
“In my mind,” McCulloh added, “if we have students taking those kind of courses, we know they’re well prepared for college.”
Janis Houghton is encouraging her daughter, a Lake City sophomore, to partake in IB programs because she wants her prepared for the intensity of post secondary education.
“It takes a more holistic approach to education,” said Houghton, who liked the idea of exploring why certain math formulas exist, instead of just regurgitating them.
Houghton also liked the multicultural aspect of the program, which incorporates ideas from around the world.
“It will bring more tolerance to differences in the world, which North Idaho could definitely use,” she said. “I think it’s going to produce more critical thinkers in our kids.”