NY Times IB story
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- Subject: NY Times IB story
- From: "William Cala" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Sun, 22 Jun 2003 08:34:01 -0400
More on IB
June 21, 2003
International Baccalaureate Gains Favor in Region
By JANE GROSS
OMMACK, N.Y. - Deena Khabbaza sounds like any striving high school senior, weary and proud as commencement nears.
Getting to this day has been torture, she tells two dozen fellow candidates for the International Baccalaureate diploma before they are draped in the satin stoles they will wear at graduation on June 29. The diploma marks them as the "top of the top," Ms. Khabbaza says, "the academic leaders of tomorrow."
She spoke at an unpretentious ceremony here on behalf of the second group of International Baccalaureate students to graduate from Commack High School. The only guests, in fact, were administrators from nearby Northport High School, where a group of juniors will begin the rigorous program in September.
The introduction of the program at Commack and Northport signals an awakening of interest in an international curriculum and testing system that was a well-kept secret in New York and the rest of the Northeast even as it thrived elsewhere in the nation.
But New York is now among the fastest-growing International Baccalaureate states, with 24 high schools, including clusters on Long Island and in the Rochester area, among the nation's 396 participating schools. Accreditation is pending for 3 more, and 50 others are exploring the program or are in the early stages of the two-year certification process.
The International Baccalaureate diploma was devised in 1968 to provide a uniform, and thus portable, education to the children of diplomats, military personnel and businesspeople as they moved around the world. The United Nations International School on the East Side of Manhattan was one of the original exemplars of that approach. It was not intended for the public schools.
But the standards-based program found a broader audience in the United States in the 1980's after a presidential report, "A Nation at Risk," condemned an educational system that lagged behind other countries'. The International Baccalaureate program, with a cohesive 11th- and 12th-grade curriculum built on six required disciplines, struck a chord with some educators.
The Northeast's initial reluctance to adopt the program, educators say, reflected an unwillingness among private and suburban public schools to relinquish their autonomy.
"I.B. is of one cloth, a curriculum, not a series of individual tests, so it's more intrusive to the school," said Ted Sizer, a leader in the small-school and charter school movements who tried without success to get Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., to adopt the diploma program in the 1970's. "Plus, it requires teachers to be scholars, and it takes money to make that happen."
Paul B. Campbell, deputy regional director of the International Baccalaureate Organization, agreed that the Northeast had been a hard sell. "The top schools say they're already doing well," he said. "The rest have never heard of this."
"It was a desert here for years," Mr. Campbell added. "Now New York has gone from also-ran to the state with the fourth-most schools."
South Side High School in Rockville Centre, in Nassau County, established its International Baccalaureate program in 1982 as a means of replacing a traditional program for gifted and talented children with a more inclusive college-level curriculum. The program's original coordinator at South Side, David Weiss, brought it to Commack when he moved there as assistant principal.
The program has many prominent educators among its boosters.
Howard Gardner, an educational psychologist at Harvard, said the curriculum is "less parochial than most American efforts." It also helps students "think critically, synthesize knowledge, reflect on their own thought processes and get their feet wet in interdisciplinary thinking."
Professor Gardner and others applaud course work that requires students to make connections within and between disciplines. They also admire exit exams, each as long as five hours, that combine persuasive writing and an oral defense of a portfolio of work; a 4,000-word research essay; fluency in at least two languages and a signature course that explores the process rather than the content of learning - how we know what we know.
Frank Leana, a college admissions counselor in New York City, says he is delighted when the rare International Baccalaureate client shows up. "Colleges love it," he said. "Outside of the East, it's been enormously successful."
Early schools that made the program available were in Florida, California, Texas, Virginia and the Carolinas, some prodded by help from the states to pay for what can be an expensive offering.
Florida, with 40 International Baccalaureate diploma programs, guarantees admission to graduates of the program at any state university. California, with 57 programs, paid for teacher training until recently and continues to subsidize test fees for low-income students. Virginia, with 32 programs, accepts International Baccalaureate tests instead of state exams and also pays test fees.
New York now honors International Baccalaureate exams in English and math in place of the Regents, as it does with certain Advanced Placement courses. The state offers some financial aid to low-income test-takers but does not have a formal waiver system like that for the A.P. exams, which are vastly more popular.
In local schools new to the I.B. program, students often choose to take both sets of tests, fearful that college admission will be compromised without A.P. scores. When Northport first considered the diploma, Linda McGrath, the I.B. coordinator there, said she was besieged by parents who wanted to know, "What does Harvard think? What does M.I.T. think?"
In fact, admissions officers say they view the programs equally, since both offer rigorous course work. "We all know the value of both programs," said William Fitzsimmons, director of admissions at Harvard, which received 102 International Baccalaureate transcripts last year, up from 55 in 1998.
In many schools, the programs exist side by side, despite differing philosophies. International Baccalaureate proponents like John Murphy, the current program coordinator at South Side, boasts that "this is not a testing service; it's a way of learning." Advocates of the Advanced Placement program like Lee Jones, a vice president at the College Board, counter that its tests, administered by the College Board and devised to mimic entry-level college work, are better suited to determine whether a student should get credit.
Many schools that use both prefer the International Baccalaureate approach. In Fairport, N.Y., near Rochester, which just graduated its first diploma class, William Cala, the superintendent, said the I.B. students were "more authentically educated" than their A.P. counterparts, who used "brute memory, not thinking" to get through exams that are generally half multiple choice.
But Michael Riley, superintendent of the Bellevue School District in Washington state, where one high school has granted International Baccalaureate diplomas for eight years, warns of what he calls zealotry. "You can't go wrong choosing either one," he said. "It would be a mistake to turn this into another phonics versus whole language debate."
Some schools shun the program because they prefer the autonomy of homegrown courses. At the Brearley School in Manhattan, Elenor Reid, the college adviser, said that schools with a stable population need to be "freer to develop our own curricula." At Scarsdale High School in Westchester County, Michael McGill, the superintendent, objects to "the potential loss of independence and creativity and distinction."
Recent South Side graduates are true believers, whether they are serious scholars like Rohit Gupta, now at Harvard, or laid-back students like Lauren Koehler, at N.Y.U. Mr. Gupta embraced the program from the start, viewing it "not as a body of knowledge, but as a way to analyze bodies of knowledge." Ms. Koehler began reluctantly, thinking she would take some art courses and later opting for the full diploma. "Not to sound too corny," she said, "but it's not about knowing the right answer, it's about figuring it out."
Ms. Koehler found herself annoyed at friends who were indifferent to their studies. "I'm not going to say I.B. is the reason I stopped going out drinking every weekend, but I did," she said. "I just became more interested in my classes."
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