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IB Program Ousted in Idaho School District

The International Baccalaureate program—which is growing rapidly across U.S. school districts but sparking occasional pushback—will no longer be offered at an Idaho high school after the school board voted 4-0 for its removal.

The action last week by the Coeur d'Alene district comes two years after protesters in the area began making their case, arguing that the program was spreading an anti-American ideology in public schools. (IB officials and supporters of the widely praised diploma program for juniors and seniors insist such criticisms are patently false.)

Some of those concerns were reiterated by critics before the board voted last week, but that's not the rationale offered by the board's chairman. A story in the Coeur d'Alene Press newspaper said the official, Tom Hamilton, cited limited enrollment, overall test scores, and the cost of the program as among the reasons for phasing out the IB.

"I'm not a believer in choice at any cost. I fully support choice when it can be proven effective, and when the cost is reasonable when compared to the value gained," he said, according to the newspaper. "After the number of years that we've had the IB program, I cannot say that IB is successful by these measurable standards."

Since 2004, the district has spent $1.35 million on the IB program, the newspaper said.

As I noted in a recent EdWeek story, the IB program is fast becoming more widespread in U.S. public schools. In fact, its presence may well expand still more rapidly as the international organization just this fall is rolling out a new career-related certificate program for high schoolers. (IB also offers primary and middle-years programs.)

A recent study out from researchers at the University of Chicago showed promising results for the IB diploma program in that city. It found that participating students were more likely both to attend and persist in college. Of the students studied, about three-quarters were African-American or Latino, and about the same percentage were from low-income families. Most were first-generation college students.

Idaho is not the only place where the program has come under fire. In New Hampshire earlier this year, the state House passed a bill that would have prevented schools from adopting the IB program. Chief complaints were that the program indoctrinates students to be "world citizens" and infringes on local control. The House bill was soundly rejected by the state Senate, however.

The IB diploma program does bring a decidedly global perspective to education, with a mission statement aspiring to "develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect."

In Coeur d'Alene, some teachers pleaded to the board to keep the program.

"This program is an exceptional education system. It is the best I've encountered," said Derek Kohles, a 20-year educator who has taught AP classes and now teaches IB courses, according to the Coeur d'Alene Press story.

The program will be completely phased out by 2014-15. The IB primary program is still offered in a local elementary school, though the article suggests this may well be targeted by the board for elimination.

An editorial published by the Coeur d'Alene Press one week before the board's action expressed mixed feelings about the situation. It made clear that criticism of the program as anti-American was misguided and unhelpful.

"Since a group of citizens just this side of the John Birch Society took lethal aim at IB, worried that the globally acclaimed program for accelerated learners was actually scholastic subterfuge behind which commies and atheists and Cub fans lurked, its life in North Idaho was limited," the editorial says.

At the same time, the newspaper's editorial board raised concerns about the costs and disappointing enrollment figures for the program. "No matter how good a product is," it said, "if consumers aren't buying it, it's doomed. And it should be."

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