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Education Reporter

Controversy over IBO's International Education
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The International Baccalaureate (IB), begun several decades ago as an experiment to provide education for children of diplomats and children in war-torn countries, has expanded dramatically, and acquired ardent adherents as well as strong detractors.

In February, the Board of the Upper St. Clair (USC) School District, near Pittsburgh, voted to end all three of its IB programs, covering grades 1 through 12. Since USC's 1998 IB adoption, less than 1% of students have received an IB diploma.

Board members who voted for discontinuation, noting the district "could do better than the IB," explained the added costs of the IB: "The 'hard' cost . . . is $85,355, which includes dues and fees the school district pays for its participation. Moreover, the 'soft' costs are many, including high school IB classes with few students per teacher, extra teacher training, and transporting students to the streams school IB site. We have estimated the soft costs of the program at between $100,000 and $150,000, based on national averages and internal cost estimates. Thus, the overall cost is in the neighborhood of $200,000 annually." (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 2-26-06)

Protests occurred over the Board's decision. Parent supporters of IB sued the school district in Federal Court. The Pennsylvania ACLU and two law firms provided support with a motion for preliminary injunction and request for IB reinstatement. But U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab ruled the case did not belong in Federal Court. Parents have taken the lawsuit to Common Pleas Court.

Public contention with IB will likely grow as IB receives more federal money. Announced by President Bush in his January 2005 State of the Union Address, more federal funds will be allocated to increase access to AP/IB math and science courses for low-income students through training 70,000 more teachers.

George Walker, IBO Director Emeritus, stated in a January 2006 IB World article that since there have been accusations that IB excludes students who could benefit, IBO is looking at a diploma program "more oriented towards people who see their first step after school as employment training rather than academic continuation" and expanding their involvement with distance teaching and e-learning.

In another IB World story, IBO's new Director General Jeffrey Beard is noted as having "concerns that a lack of quantitative research data is hampering the organization's acceptance and recognition of the IB diploma with universities." Beard states: "We are working on the research but it's not there yet." (1-2006)

The article cites ways IBO will meet its goals for planned growth and "higher level dialogue with national governments and education departments." Beard has met with U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings "regarding making Diploma Programme courses more readily available to state schools as part of the US high school reform programme."

IB beginnings

The first international school — International School of Geneva — began in 1925 with an agreement between the League of Nations and the State of Geneva. Other international schools followed. Years later in 1951, the International Schools Association (ISA) was founded at the UNESCO.

According to a 1974 Study by Gkrard Renaud, published by The Unesco Press and titled "Experimental period of the International Baccalaureate objective results," the ISA "had consultative status at Unesco." The "association was given three successive contracts by Unesco to study practical ways of harmonizing curricula and methods for the development of international understanding."

ISA received a three-year grant in 1963 by the Twentieth Century Fund to develop "a common curriculum and examination programme for the international schools." In 1965, the International Schools Examination Syndicate was created, along with "an international board of examiners." The Syndicate later became the Geneva-based International Baccalaureate Office.

Ford Foundation awarded grants for 1966-68. In Renaud's Study, two Ford consultants describe the project "as an opportunity for experiment and research in curricula and examinations which could have an innovatory influence on national systems. The international schools could be used as a living laboratory for curricula or examining innovations. . ."

The project also received support from other groups, including draft resolutions of endorsement from Unesco national commissions. (See the Dec. 2005 issue of Education Reporter for more info about IB.)

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