by Lisa E. McLoughlin (the author is a journalist for a paper on Long Island, NY)
Mention IB to your average American and you will probably get the reponse: IB? What's that? Mention IB to the parents of school-age children in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania or Locust Valley, and you're likely to get an earful of passionate opinion, both pro and con. An important civics lesson is currently developing in the upscale suburb of Upper St. Clair (USC) outside of Pittsburgh. In January of 1999, USC became an IB World School. In 2002, the district adopted IBO's Middle Years Program and in 2003, its Early Years Program. USC was one of only seven districts in the entire country that offered all three levels of IB. Of the 4100 students in the district, roughly 650 or 18%, participate in one of the three phases of IB. Despite the larger number of students in the earlier programs, USC has only had 18 students earn the IB diploma in the first eight years and only nine students are predicted to receive the diploma this spring.
The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) is based in Geneva, Switzerland. It was founded in 1968 for the children of diplomats, establishing a common curriculum and form of assessment for students who moved around the world. IBO represents itself as prestigious and offering rigorous courses which challenge students to develop higher critical thinking skills and become global citizens. The cost of becoming an IB school is expensive and estimates as to the true cost of the program will vary depending on who is providing them. For a smaller district like LVCSD with approximately 2200 students, the "official" number given is $65,000 per year. However, this figure does not include salaries for IB teachers or the IB Coordinator. Of that $65,000, LVCSD spent approximately $40,000 in 2005 on teacher training. Almost none of the IB workshops are offered in New York or Pennsylvania, and the average cost is a minimum of $1,500 per teacher for a three or four day training session. In USC, the IB supporters claim the cost is only $85,000, while opponents say the number is over $200,000 per year.
If the cost of the program was the only bone of contention, IB would probably not be making any news. But the issue goes far deeper, raising political hackles, patriotic passion and parental pride.
In the USC district in 2005, five Board of Education trustees were elected to the nine member Board. The five Trustees were opposed during their campaigns by IB supporters. On February 20, 2006, the Board voted 5-4 to end the IB program. As Board members read their statements supporting their decision, they were met with boos, catcalls and jeering from IB supporters in the audience. The meeting became so unruly that the Board President was forced to summon police to the front of the auditorium to ensure the safety of Board members.
The Board was standing behind the majority decision and pledged to see the current 17 diploma candidates through the program and graduation in 2007. But IB supporters wanted nothing less than full reinstatement of IB district wide and filed a lawsuit claiming the Board's action violated due process and denying their children freedom of speech. The ACLU took up the cause of 10 pro-IB families along with the law firms of Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis and Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, Nicholson, Graham.
Tossing more than his two cents into local political governance, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has offered $85,000 of state money for one year to help pay for the program.
But Board President Dr. William Sulkowski said, "$85,000 won't pay for the program over the long haul and right now, unless parents withdraw the lawsuit, all deals are off the table." Ted Brooks, attorney for the school district, was consulted by the Board prior to the vote on February 20,2006. He was asked if any school policy would be violated if the Board voted against IB. He said it would not.
Since the vote, one of the Board members who voted against IB has received death threats and has been labeled a right-wing McCarthyite for expressing his view that IB follows Marxist principles. IB supporters call the claims ridiculous, citing IB's rigorous standards, broad range of subjects and outlook and sound reputation with universities from the Ivy League down.
This is not the first time IB has come under fire. In 1999, Woodson HS in Fairfax, Virginia, dropped IB in favor of a formerly strong AP (Advanced Placement) program, claiming IB supplies a curriculum that promotes, disarmament, socialism and moral relativism, while attempting to undermine Judeo-Christian values and national sovereignty.
Administrators in LVCSD have avoided acknowledging any of the political aspects of IB, preferring instead to focus on the program's reputation for college preparation. Asked for his comment on this statement, LVCSD Board of Education President Ronald Walsh said, "I do not agree with the statement that the district's administrators have not acknowledged that some people feel there are political aspects to IB. That being said, the IB program, when fully considered, benefits the children involved in the program. The Associate Director of IB North America stated to me, when I questioned him about the Earth Charter and its relationship to IB that the involvement with the Earth Charter does not influence our curriculum assessments in any way, nor does it have any connection with our operation whatsoever. Additionally, in 2005, while working on his National High School Reform Initiative, President George W. Bush, speaking at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Fairfax Va., pointed to the fact that this is the type of High School that we need in America. J.E.B. Stuart is one of 9 IB High Schools in Fairfax. It seems obvious that if IB were a politically left wing, un-American organization, it is certain that our President, George W. Bush, would not be endorsing it."
J.E.B. Stuart HS serves a demographically diverse population of 1450 students. It has been an IB school since 1994 and adopted the Middle Years program in 2003. The school is state funded and approximately 14% of the students are diploma candidates.
Nonetheless, documentation exists to substantiate opponent's claims that IB agrees to support and promote a socialist agenda by being a signatory to The Earth Charter, a green-world agreement that endorses "equitable distribution of wealth within a nation, and among nations". The Earth Charter's educational page states: "The Earth Charter provides a unique framework for developing educational programs and curricula aimed at transformative learning for a more just, sustainable and peaceful world." IBO's Deputy Director General, Ian Hill, was the IBO representative to the Earth Charter's educational committee. Mr. Hill is also the co-author of the recently published book about IB titled Supertest, How the International Baccalaureate can Strengthen our Schools , co-written by The Washington Post's educational columnist Jay Mathews. Mathews is the same gentleman who creates Newsweek's list of Best High Schools in America, using a ratio he developed called the Challenge Index which takes of all of the IB/AP tests administered in a given school divided by the number of seniors, to determine a school's ranking on the list. Mathews does not include schools which require more than 50% of their students to have certain grades or scores for admission because the Challenge Index is designed to identify schools that challenge average students. The list may be considered by some to be biased in favor of IB as Mathews grants equal weight to Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL) IB exams in his formula. Most universities do not give advanced credit for stand-alone SL IB courses. Additionally, many of the IB schools which rank in the top ten of Mathews' list are charter or magnet/specialty schools in districts where other traditional general high schools are a choice.
The first full round of IB exams in LVCSD will be given in May. To date, only three SL (Standard Level) IB exams have been administered which yielded mediocre results. The minimal number of IB exams given in 2005, combined with the absence of AP, served the purpose of dropping LVCSD to #840 (adjusted after May 1 to #897) on Mr. Mathews' list, where in years past, the district was ranked at #337 in 2004 and #326 in 2003. USC was ranked at #650 in 2004 and dropped to #930 in 2005. Once some sort of stability is achieved in terms of administering advanced tests, LVCSD should return to the list.
June 2006 will mark the graduation of the first IB students from LVHS. When the program was implemented in 2004, administrators claimed that 40 students signed up for the full diploma program. Recent reports indicate that enrollment now hovers 'somewhere in the mid-20's. The May exams will be sent to international examiners all over the world and constitute 67-80% of a student?s final grade. A score of 24 out of a potential 45 is required to earn the IB diploma, however the results will not be known until late July or August. Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale require a score of 38+ on the diploma to give advanced credit consideration. Even schools like SUNY Binghamton and Towson University require a score of 30+ for sophomore status. Universities have accepted IB students based on projected scores. In the case of one IB student from Ontario, Canada, a university scholarship was rescinded when her actual test scores came in lower than her projected.
In Upper St. Clair, two citizen groups have formed as a result of the controversy. USC Waves, the pro-IB group, issued the following statement: While the five Board members have claimed their action was motivated purely by fiscal concerns, the suit alleges that these reasons are a sham and that members retaliated against parent, administrative and student supporters of IB who were publicly critical of and campaigned in active opposition to their slate's candidacy during the 2005 municipal election.
Citizens for Responsible Education who oppose IB, call the lawsuit frivolous and politically motivated. A Spokesperson stated, "This lawsuit is supported by the same people who lost in November and refuse to take economic realities into consideration. All they want is to foster their own pet program. It is a shame that a small minority in USC is trying to compel taxpayers to fund an unpopular curriculum at the expense of other programs that have a broader advantage and appeal."
Vic Walczak, an attorney for the ACLU who has a child in the USC IB program, said the injunction should be scheduled within a month and a ruling should be reached within six weeks. However, on April 18th, Almanac.net reported Walczak as saying, "Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their federal lawsuit without prejudice in order for the lawsuit to proceed in state court. Plaintiffs voluntarily withdrew the suit from that court in light of the concern expressed by the district court during a March 17 hearing that the issues presented are of great importance to the Common-wealth of Pennsylvania. The court recommended that plaintiffs pursue their claims in state court. Plaintiffs therefore filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County that seeks an injunction to overturn the 5-4 decision of the Upper St. Clair School Board to eliminate the IB program."
Citizens for Responsible Education told The Leader, "We believe that they were unhappy with the assigned judge and concerned that the judge would rule incorrect venue. Therefore they pulled the case and filed in State Court."
The legal battle came to a halt on April 24th when the USC Board of Education convened a special meeting to vote on a proposed compromise. IB plaintiffs agreed to drop the lawsuit if the district reinstated IB for a minimum of two years, subject to a nine month tiered review which will include curriculum evaluation and cost analysis. Additionally, the plaintiffs must contribute $45,000 towards funding IB and the Board will accept Gov. Rendell's offer of $85,000 and funding from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. So far, the plaintiffs have raised $15,000. The settlement, which was approved by a vote of 7-2, also requires public notification of any proposed elimination of the program in the future.
"This was all political rhetoric," said Vladimir Savinov, a resident whose son has an IB diploma. "We had to get this reinstated and we did and it's a win, but it is a small win. We were working against extremists and they are determined that we were not going to win."
KDKA2 television broadcast a segment from the meeting in which Board President Sulkowski said, "Students and community have endured an incredible burden. Nobody stepped up to this office thinking their family was fair game for attacks that can ruin their lives. The politics of personal destruction toward Board members and members of their families must stop. The politics of neighbor against neighbor is destructive to the community."
The cost for the district of defending against the lawsuit came to nearly $300,000 and was projected to run closer to $750,000 if continued.