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N.H. Foes of IB Program Seek to Keep it Out of Schools

cross-posted from the Curriculum Matters blog, by Erik Robelen

UPDATED

The fast-growing International Baccalaureate program has come under fire in New Hampshire from critics who suggest it indoctrinates students. The state House of Representatives recently passed a bill that appears designed to block schools from using the program. Today, the full Senate is expected to debate the measure, though early signs suggest it won't get the same welcome reception as in the House.

(Hat tip to a reporter at the Bedford-Katonah Patch newspaper for giving me the latest on the bill.)

So, what's all the fuss about? It seems that a group of freshman Republicans in the state House believe the IB program, founded in Geneva, Switzerland, in the late 1960s, would violate the "sovereignty" of U.S. schools.

The bill, approved 209-102, says a school's curriculum and instruction must promote "state and national sovereignty and is not subject to the governance of a foreign body or organization." One way to demonstrate this infringement would be for a participating school to be called a "world school," which just so happens to be a phrase used for schools that participate in the IB program.

For background on the rapid rise of the International Baccalaureate in recent years, check out this EdWeek story on the program, which includes courses of study at not only the high school level, but also middle and even elementary schools. Currently, more than 1,300 U.S. schools offer the IB program.

Supporters of the bill say the IB program promotes an international ideology that they find distasteful, according to a recent story in the Union Leader newspaper.

"Do you want your children to be indoctrinated to be world citizens or do you want them to be residents of this state and this country?" said Rep. Ralph Boehm, a sponsor of the bill, according to the newspaper. (You can watch a video of Boehm speaking in favor of the measure here.)

Supporters of the bill also raise concerns about the IB program's connection to the United Nations. (The Union Leader story notes that according to the IB website, the program has been recognized as a nongovernmental organization of UNESCO since 1970.)

The New Hampshire Tea Party has been a strong backer of the measure. In a recent blog post, it said the bill "will bring back local control. There is no excuse for a foreign political group to be directing education in New Hampshire's schools."

But the IB program, currently used in just two New Hampshire schools, one public and one private, appears to have a lot of supporters, including many students, parents, and educators in the state.

Those backers not only dismiss claims of global indoctrination, but are making the issue one of local sovereignty, an argument that is likely to be especially appealing in New Hampshire, the Union Leader story notes.

"If you would want to strip and usurp the authority of a local school board, ... then we need to come up with a new motto for our license plates [other] than 'Live Free Or Die,' said Bedford High School junior Michael Courtney, at a hearing.

In fact, Courtney, one of the main organizers of a campaign to defeat the bill, has posted a video on Youtube called Save IB in NH.

"This is much bigger than saving the IB ... curricula," he says in the video. "This is about local control. This is about Bedford deciding what is best for Bedford's citizens, not the state."

John R. White, a New Hampshire resident who testified at the May 1 education committee hearing (and whose daughter previously studied in an IB program), offered an impassioned speech defending the program. You can watch it here.

"The opposition to IB would be hilarious were it a skit on 'Saturday Night Live' or a Stephen Colbert comic rant," he said. "But coming as it does from people elected to do the public business in the hallowed halls of Concord, it is frightening. The assertion that the IB is somehow an international plot fomented by the United Nations to undermine national loyalty and cause the disintegration of liberty in the United States is a preposterous notion."

He added: "IB emphasizes critical thinking and writing skills. It insists on scholarship. It offers vibrant programs in language, history, and mathematics, hardly the stuff of subversion."

UPDATE

As my colleague Erik Robelen reported, on May 16 the New Hampshire Senate rejected the bill from the House that would have barred districts from using IB. But will lawmakers in other states pick up the anti-IB banner next year with legislation in their own states? Stay tuned.

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