Though summer is approaching and the school year is winding down, the IB debate goes on in the Sag Harbor. The IB or International Baccalaureate program is one that could replace AP at Pierson High School in the coming years, and while the district is keen to go ahead with the program, there are still many people who are nervous about what it will mean to our students.
On the surface, IB sounds good to us. The program emphasizes a global curriculum with an emphasis on critical thinking skills over rote memorization or “teaching to the tests,” which many people criticize as a problem with education in this country today.
So in principle, we like the idea of IB. But we are worried that with the district considering it for juniors and seniors, it’s being introduced at the wrong time in a student’s academic career.
By the time kids are in 11th and 12th grades, they have a pretty good sense of where their academic strengths and weaknesses lie. For better or worse, at this point in the game many of the skills that have been honed over the previous years are firmly ingrained — those test taking skills, if you will, and the ability to recognize what instructors are really looking for when an assignment is given. Their interests are likely firmly established as well with students by this point knowing whether they are particularly adept (or not) in subjects like mathematics or science, English or languages.
IB differs from AP in that it asks students to be multi-faceted and well-rounded in them all. But what about the students who aren’t — the math whiz, for example, who panics when he has to write a literary essay? With AP, that kid can just choose to take math, but with IB, a student tackles it all as a package.
Which is why we would like to see what IB looks like at the lower grade levels. It seems like this is the time when students are truly multi-faceted in their educational options. They have not yet developed the interests and aptitudes in specific subjects that will come later, so in many ways, elementary age students are blank slates just waiting for inspiration to lead them in a direction.
It also seems like the elementary level is the ideal place to develop the critical thinking skills that IB embraces. We imagine that IB would not just be training them early on to be test takers, but to form arguments and working methods according to how the real world works. By the time they reach high school, they should be well on their way.
There are many different kinds of learners and in their final years of high school, most students have a pretty good idea of where they are on that curve. Perhaps there are students out there who didn’t click with the teaching methods used in their elementary or middle school years and because of that, lost confidence and never excelled as they might have had they been offered an educational alternative. We think IB could be that educational alternative, but if it is offered only at the upper grades, it may bypass those who could benefited from it greatly earlier on. Because it places such emphasis on critical thinking and hands on-learning, is it possible that IB at the lower grades would provide students with a clearer picture of where their future lies? We think it’s certainly an idea that’s worth exploring.