IB Program Elicits Support, Questions

Posted on 11 May 2011

By Claire Walla

The Sag Harbor School Board’s ongoing discussion of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program drew voices from both sides of the aisle at the school board meeting Monday, May 9.

During a scheduled update on the program, school district superintendent Dr. John Gratto brought the board and present company up to speed on the district’s progress. Thus far, only the first phase in a three-part application process has been completed.  And according to Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols, phase two, which includes a 35-page application and a price tag of $9,500, will not have to be approved by the board until sometime this summer.

To begin, Dr. Gratto appealed to board member Ed Drohan’s request for more information on why the program failed to take hold in neighboring school districts.

Both he and Nichols contacted 11 Long Island schools that either currently foster an IB curriculum, or had at one point entertained the idea of implementing one, noting that only three (North Babylon, Hicksvile and Great Neck) abandoned IB, and one (Garden City) chose not to follow through with implementation.

While three schools apparently cited tightening budgets as reason to ditch the program, Great Neck was reportedly apprehensive of external assessments and those at Garden City said the Advanced Placement (AP) program had more support from the community at large.

This argument has been made here in Sag Harbor, where a contingent of Pierson parents worry that the IB program would add costs to the district and threaten the viability of the school’s current AP track.

According to Nichols, the IB program (which would be implemented in 2013 at the earliest) would cut back on the number of AP offerings, limiting the 12-course selection to just three: AP Calculus, AP World History and AP Physics.

“It would not immediately go down to three, there would be a transition year,” he explained.  “But over time, the school would not be able to accommodate both AP and IB.”

Parent Tom Gleeson noted that the AP program is currently in the midst of modifying its instruction and examination practices.  And because the program is already in place, he wondered whether the school might benefit from a revamped AP curriculum, rather than pay for an entirely new product.

“We haven’t had anybody come and do a presentation on AP,” he said.  “In all fairness, we should evaluate this as well.”

Parent Laura Matthers added that, for her, cost is a factor.

“The rigor and the stress of doing a program like this can’t be overstated,” she said.  “You don’t want a failure rate — that’s a lot of money.”

According to Dr. Gratto, the fees for administrating IB on an annual basis will come from four main sources: annual membership, the cost of administering assessments and exams, teachers’ professional development and teachers’ stipends for administering exams and mentoring the extended essay process.  Annual fees are expected to hover around $50,000 for the first three years of the program (2013-2015).  But this cost is currently projected to rise to $121,868 five years down the road, when the school plans to add an IB coordinator position for $60,000.

“You could say that’s a lot of money, and it is,” Dr. Gratto added.  “But those students would go on to do great things.”

In fact, four parents at last Monday’s meeting were on the agenda to say just that.

“There’s no teaching to a test.  There’s teaching and learning for learning’s sake,” said parent Julie Hatfield who participated in the IB program when it was first implemented at Rockville Centre in the 80s.  “Students are taught to ask questions, then support [what they've learned] in a paper.”

Hatfield went on to explain that because she participated in the program in its inaugural years, the program had not been entrenched long enough for Hatfield to be able to take enough courses to qualify for an IB diploma.  Instead, she sat for Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and said she “was more than prepared for them.”

(Principal Nichols has said that any student taking IB coursework would be adequately prepared for an AP exam and would be given the opportunity to take them.)

Parent Faith Diskin also spoke in favor of the program, alerting the board to the fact that she managed to get 385 people to sign a petition urging the board to adopt IB.

Board member Ed Drohan — who spoke briefly at the last board meeting of the program’s benefits before voicing some concerns with the board’s exploration process — addressed the crowd regarding these issues once more.

“The only thing that I still have a reservation about is this being treated right,” he said.  “Is it being analyzed in a deep way that the community can respect?

For board member Dan Hartnett, who had attended IB training as an employee of the East Hampton School District, the choice is clear — though the debate itself is also worthwhile.

“I walked away from [IB training] thinking, why wouldn’t a district like this just even consider IB?” he asked, rhetorically.

“I personally hope we do,” Hartnett confessed, “because IB is not just a diploma or a certificate program, it’s a new vibrant way to teach and deliver instruction.  Information comes to us in so many different ways.  Perhaps memorization is just a tool.  From my perspective, just this conversation alone is going to make us a better school.”

The school board has not formally come to any decisions on the program, nor has it mapped out a time-frame in which to vote on a resolution approving the next phase in the application process (other than the fact that it must come before July 2011).

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2 Responses to “IB Program Elicits Support, Questions”

  1. NOBACKLASH says:

    I cannot use my real name as I still have children in the district and do not want any back last towards them. That being said I also have one in college who graduated top of the class from Pierson having a full class load of AP classes. What an eye opener when my child got there. Totally not prepared, we thought Pierson was at the Top but it is far from it. The only way these IB classes are going to work for the students is to have some top knotch teachers which are not at Sag Harbor, first we need to look at the AP scores our kids are not scoring high infact most kids say the AP history class is a joke and the teacher does not teach. So all I am saying is we need to talk to former grauates at the top of thier classes in Pierson and see how they make out in college. Fix what is there first and they move on to something new.

  2. PiersonAlum says:

    As a Pierson alumnus and a graduate from a top tier liberal arts college, one thing I can say that was sorely lacking in my Pierson education was the amount of instruction in critical thinking. I would have to argue that the ability to think critically is what separates students when they arrive at college; the most noticeable difference between me and my friends who attended private high schools is that these friends had received serious instruction in critical thinking. This eased their transition to college relative to my experience, where I had to quickly hone my analytical skills and shed the memorization/regurgitation that Pierson instilled in me if I wanted to succeed.

    Over the course of my time at Pierson, I took seven AP classes. Of all of these classes only one (AP English Lit) required that I critically assess the information that I had to use. A move toward IB, which would necessarily involve more writing, will not only make Pierson graduates better, more sophisticated writers, it also has the chance to instill a love of learning in students, and will improve students’ critical thinking skills.

    It’s easy to dismiss critical thinking as something that will not show up in quantitative evaluations of Pierson, but if we really want to improve Pierson students’ lives and make them strong students in college, adopting an IB curriculum is one of the best things we can do for them. Also, the ability to write coherently and think critically are increasingly desirable characteristics of employees to employers, so the adoption of IB could be something that has a serious impact on students for the rest of their lives. 

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