HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL RESPONDS TO PARENTS' QUESTIONS AT IB INFORMATIONAL MEETING
December 14, 2013 -- This past Monday evening, for the fifth time in a public forum, North Shore High School Principal Albert Cousins presented to an audience of parents, community members and educators the International Baccalaureate (IB) program that is scheduled to be fully implemented in the 2015-16 school year. The district is currently in the "Candidate Phase" of a multi-year process during which teachers are trained, curricula is developed, and other foundational pieces are put into place. Current ninth graders would be the first class eligible for enrollment in IB courses when they enter their junior year.
Early in Monday’s meeting, Mr. Cousins introduced Candace Brodie, the District’s IB coordinator, who gave a brief overview of the program. She explained that the course of study is divided into six subject areas - English Language and Literature; Language Acquisition (currently Italian, French, Spanish, Latin); Social Sciences ( History of the Americas, Social and Cultural Anthropology, and a course cross-listed with science- Environmental Systems and Society); Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and the Environmental Systems course); Arts (Music, Theater and the Visual Arts), and Mathematics (Math and Mathematical Studies).
Students will have the option of either enrolling in IB courses on an individual (“certificate”) basis, just as they do now with College Board certified Advanced Placement (AP) classes; or students could pursue an IB Diploma, for which they must satisfy certain requirements and follow a more rigorous course of study over two years.
Students who choose the latter course, would be required to take six classes in at least three of the six subject areas - three higher level (HL) courses (240 hours of class time each over two years) and three standard level (SL) classes (150 hours each over one year).
In addition, Diploma students would have to satisfy three core requirements which include a 4000 word research essay, a community service component, and successful completion of the course Theory of Knowledge, which explores the nature of knowledge across disciplines.
Following Ms. Brodie’s overview, Mr. Cousins addressed several “Frequently Asked Questions” that he displayed on a PowerPoint slide. They included “Why are we pursuing IB at this time? Who will benefit from the program, and in what ways? What will be gained or lost as a result of implementation? What is the impact on current programming? What are the key differences between AP and IB courses? How do colleges view and handle IB courses and diplomas? What support will be in place for the first cohort of students and what transition plans are in place for future cohorts?”
Mr. Cousins said that the district is pursuing IB because it is a “systems” approach that “elevates the entire school” and as a result will expose all students to instruction and learning that is “reflective, inquiry-based, meaningful and transformational.” In addition, he stated that it is a program that is heavy in writing and will lead to significant improvements in that area. On a practical level, he said, it is a natural outgrowth of the common core standards that have recently been adopted in New York State.
Distinguishing between the sort of learning that is promoted in IB as compared to AP, Ms. Brodie later in the meeting contrasted the IB History of the America’s assessment with the AP European History exam. In AP Euro, she explained, students respond to 80 multiple choice questions and three essay questions on specific topics. With IB, it is entirely an essay assessment. The teacher, she explained, chooses three topics for Junior year and three topics for Senior year, that the students will study in depth. The school then provides that information to IB, which in turn will then tailor the essay questions to those particular areas. With the AP program, she explained, it is more about "do you know this specific material?" With IB, it's "explain to us what you know about this particular topic or subject."
Mr. Cousins challenged the assertion that the program is for an “elite group.” He explained that regardless of whether a student is an IB diploma candidate, taking courses on an ala carte basis, or not enrolled in any IB course, that the program promotes a common approach and philosophy of teaching and learning that is “in the fabric of everything that the school does” and that “supports a comprehensive and rich learning experience” for all students.
He continued that most students would not choose to enroll in the full Diploma program, just as the vast majority of students today do not take the full complement of AP courses in all 5 core areas and in the arts. Only 6% of students do so now, and he projected that based on current enrollment in AP, 14% of students would enroll in the IB Diploma program (see image of slide to the top, right); and that 78% of students would take at least one IB level course.
The high school will continue to offer two levels of study in each core academic area and IB courses will replace AP classes, except where there is no IB counterpart, in which case the AP class will remain in place. Students who are enrolled in an IB class can elect to sit for the comparable AP exam.
Mr. Cousins conceded that IB is strongest in the humanities, and because of that the school has designed the program to ensure that students who excel in science and math will have the opportunity to pursue the most advanced courses in those subject areas. Students will complete their IB Diploma math and science requirements in 11th grade so that they can enroll in high level AP courses in their senior year.
With regard to mathematics, Mr. Cousins said the sequence and levels “would literally be identical to the way it is now.” 11th grade IB Math SL would be equivalent to honors pre-calculus, and those students would be able to enroll in AP Calculus BC or AB in the senior year. For those students who are weaker in math and whose strengths lie in the humanities, IB Mathematical Studies will be offered, allowing satisfaction of the IB Diploma math requirement without having to take a high level math course. .
As Mr. Cousins presented, parents in the audience asked several questions. The most common concerns that emerged appeared to be less related to the IB’s educational philosophy, and more about how the adoption of IB would impact college admissions, and the pressures that would potentially be placed on students to pursue the IB Diploma and the effect that that could have on their overall high school experience.
One parent asked if students enrolled in the Diploma program would have the time to participate in extra-curricular activities such as athletics and theater; others raised concerns about the perception that colleges might have of students who did not choose to enroll in the IB Diploma program; and another said that it appeared that there were not as many opportunities to receive college credit through the IB route.
Mr. Cousins replied that currently only 13 students are enrolled in “the most rigorous course of study” with the current AP offerings, and that the school is trying to put in place a program that is more advantageous to more students when they are applying to colleges. As for being able to be participate in extra-curricular activities, he said that that depended on the student – that some students within the AP program focus exclusively on academics while others take a rigorous academic regiment and are still involved in other activities.
With regard to colleges’ perception of IB, he said that they view it very favorably because it is “the most rigorous offering a traditional high school can have.” Students, he said, are “viewed as better prepared in terms of time management, research, and writing.” Even for students that are not pursuing the Diploma, he continued, the IB World School designation indicates to admissions officers that the school embraces a particular philosophy that prepares students well for college level work. He added that individual IB certificate HL courses are viewed as the equivalent to AP. And, just as with the AP, different schools and different departments choose whether or not to grant credit for receiving a particular score on an IB assessment.
Mr. Cousins said that he believed the Diploma program is most advantageous for those students that apply to the sorts of schools that are a tier below the elite level - to which large numbers of North Shore students apply. Later, Ms. Brodie identified NYU, American University, and George Washington University as examples.
When pressed by a parent about how the implementation of the IB would affect those who are applying to the Ivies and the "Baby Ivies," Mr. Cousins said that he didn't think the change would have an impact because, he said, he believed those schools are putting the greatest weight on a student’s Grade Point Average and SAT scores. As for the elite schools' view of IB, that was unclear.
Another parent asked if the IB program would limit opportunities to receive college credit. She cited 11th grade AP English Composition and 12th Grade English Literature as an opportunity to get 6 credits where with the IB program a student enrolled in the two year English course would have the opportunity to receive only 3 credits. Mr. Cousins said in that particular case, it would only affect a small number of students. Ms. Brodie added that some universities will award double credit for the IB English course because it is a two year class. Mr. Cousins said that Binghamton offers up to 32 credits for students in the Diploma program.
As the meeting entered its third hour, a parent asked about the faculty’s view of IB. Mr. Cousins called on Andrew Cross, a parent in the district and a Social Studies teacher at the high school, to respond. He said that he was very impressed with the IB workshops, especially compared to some of the AP workshops he had taken, which he said can be “hit or miss.” He continued that everyone he knows who has undergone IB training is very excited about the program.
Mr. Cousins added that teachers are coming back from the workshops "invigorated and renewed." Ms. Brodie said that teachers are coming to her asking to go to training. “The more and more people learn about it,” she said, “the more excited they get.”
When a parent asked whether the district was definitely going forward with the program, Mr. Cousins replied “yes.” The gentleman then asked if the School Board had voted on it. Trustee Maryanne Russo explained that the Board makes budgetary decisions and that it is the Superintendent and educational administrators who decide on what educational programs the district will maintain and implement. She continued that the board does not vote to “ok” IB or any other program - that it is the board which “decides on a budget overall – not on individual programs.” “The board has fiscal oversight, but the academic decisions are made by the Superintendent,” she said.
Dr. Melnick then added that if the Board chooses to cut overall spending, they could direct him to do so, but that in terms of deciding where to make the cuts and what educational programs would be affected –that is the Superintendent’s decision. He said that next year the district will be moving into the curriculum writing phase of the process, and the following year, the program will be fully implemented.
The IB program will once again be a topic of discussion at a School Board meeting in January.
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