Friday, September 12, 2008

International Baccalaureate Revisited

Wednesday night, at a District Four school board candidate forum, this maven and one of my opponents, John Lloyd, disagreed on how to define the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Part of John’s platform is to increase the number of IB schools in Richmond. Although John, like me, is deeply committed to the children of Richmond, it was clear from his words that he has not read my description here of the various IB programs, and that he is living in IB’s past.

At the forum, John told the audience that the IB program is only the program for eleventh and twelfth graders that currently exists in Richmond at Thomas Jefferson High School. John is well meaning but wrong.

The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) runs three different and distinct programs—the Diploma Programme (that’s the way they spell it), the Middle Years Programme and the Primary Years Programme.

The oldest program, the Diploma Programme, was originally set up to provide children of diplomats and other government employees working overseas a standardized education and high school diploma so that they could be admitted to colleges and universities around the world. It is the program that operates at Thomas Jefferson High School.

The Middle Years Programme, for students grades six through ten, is the program that RPS has running at Lucille Brown Middle School and at Thomas Jefferson High School. Unfortunately, RPS chose to run the Middle Years Programme as a school-within-a-school program, benefitting only about 80 students at Lucille Brown.* I am convinced that had it been operated as a full school program Lucille Brown would not have had the problems it has had in meeting state and federal standards.

Then, there’s the Primary Years Programme (PYP). For you who have been following my campaign, you know that a key part of my platform is to add funding to the RPS budget for four PYP schools in Richmond—two north of the river, two south. Currently, Richmond has no PYP. As far as I know, none of the other candidates for school board (in any of the city’s nine districts) is campaigning to bring PYP to our elementary schools. So, let’s talk about PYP…

As do all other schools in the Commonwealth, an IB PYP school will teach our children all the knowledge mandated by the state. IB students will be well prepared to excel on the SOL tests. But IB students will get a whole lot more.

The IB teaching method is based on five elements:

Significant, relevant content we wish the students to explore and know about, taking into consideration their prior experience and understanding.

Powerful ideas that have relevance within the subject areas but also transcend them and that students must explore and re-explore in order to develop a coherent, in-depth understanding.

Those capabilities the students need to demonstrate to succeed in a changing, challenging world, which may be disciplinary or transdisciplinary in nature.

Dispositions that are expressions of fundamental values, beliefs and feelings about learning, the environment and people.

Demonstrations of deeper learning in responsible behaviour through responsible action; a manifestation in practice of the other essential elements.

IB’s PYP teaching method is also based on several transdisciplinary themes:

Who we are
Inquiry into what it means to be human.

Where we are in place and time
Inquiry into orientation in place and time – local and global perspective.

How we express ourselves
Inquiry into the ways in which we discover and express ideas.

How the world works
Inquiry into the natural world and its laws, the interaction between the natural world and human societies

How we organize ourselves
Inquiry into the interconnectedness of human-made systems and communities.

Sharing the planet
Inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and with other living things.

Aside from providing our children with the knowledge they will need to compete in an international setting, the Primary Years Programme is also designed to develop the following skills in our children:

Comprehension – Grasping meaning from material learned; communicating & interpreting learning.

Social skills
Resolving conflict – Listening carefully to others; compromising; reacting reasonably to the situation; accepting responsibility appropriately; being fair.

Communication skills
Reading – Reading a variety of sources for information & pleasure; comprehending what has been read; making inferences & drawing conclusions.

Self – management skills
Time – Using time effectively and appropriately.

Research skills
Collecting data – Gathering information from a variety of first – and second-hand sources such as maps, surveys, direct observation, books, films, people, museums and Internet.

Finally, the PYP encourages students to strive to be:

Inquirers : They develop their natural curiosity. They acquire the skills necessary to conduct inquiry and research and show independence in learning. They actively enjoy learning and this love of learning will be sustained throughout their lives.

Knowledgeable: They explore concepts, ideas and issues that have local and global significance. In so doing, they acquire in-depth knowledge and develop understanding across a broad and balanced range of disciplines.

Thinkers : They exercise initiative in applying thinking skills critically and creatively to recognize and approach complex problems, and make reasoned, ethical decisions.

Communicators: They understand and express ideas and information confidently and creatively in more than one language and in a variety of modes of communication. They work effectively and willingly in collaboration with others.

Principled: They act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness, justice and respect for the dignity of the individual, groups and communities. They take responsibility for their own actions and the consequences that accompany them.

Open-minded: They understand and appreciate their own cultures and personal histories, and are open to the perspectives, values and traditions of other individuals and communities. They are accustomed to seeking and evaluating a range of points of view, and are willing to grow from the experience.

Caring: They show empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others. They have a personal commitment to service, and act to make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the environment.

Risk-takers: They approach unfamiliar situations and uncertainty with courage and forethought, and have the independence of spirit to explore new roles, ideas and strategies. They are brave and articulate in defending their beliefs.

Balanced: They understand the importance of intellectual, physical and emotional balance to achieve personal well-being for themselves and others.

Reflective :They give thoughtful consideration to their own learning and experience. They are able to assess and understand their strengths and limitations in order to support their learning and personal development.

Maven, this all sounds wonderful, but what’s it going to cost?

Well, reader, it’s not going to be cheap. First there’s the cost of staff training. Then we need IB program coordinators. If we implement the four PYP schools that I envision we will need one coordinator for the north of the river schools and one for those to the south. Then there’s the annual IB fee that is currently over six thousand dollars per school per year. In sum, it won’t be cheap. But, aren’t our children worth it? Besides, not all the money has to come from the RPS budget. There are grants available (from the U.S. Department of Education, for example) to offset IB costs, and I am sure that many of our local businesses would be willing to bear parts of the expense.

*In the past, the IB organization has given schools leeway to run the MYP as magnet schools, schools within schools, or whole school programs. Recently, however, IB is strongly encouraging programs to be whole school, as the IB teaching and learning methods elevate the learning of all children.

1 comment:

gray said...

I fully support your plan to implement four IB programs, however, from what I heard yesterday from a RPS teacher, there are elements within RPS that want the IB program to fail because they view it as "elitist."

I'm starting to feel that RPS does not want to serve a segment of the population and wishes for us to just go away but still pay their salaries.

The primary IB will benefit all.