Principals to BOE: IB for lower grades a no-go this year
By Kathryn Schiliro
The principals of Morgan County Primary, Elementary and Middle schools are in agreement that, following more than a year of study, now's not the time to try and implement the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in the lower and middle grades, with the eventual goal of making Morgan an IB system.
With the state-mandated implementation of Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS) this year – this 46-state (and Washington D.C.) initiative is meant to establish standards for curriculum nationwide and will replace the state's previous curriculum requirements, the Georgia Performance Standards, which only applied to Georgia schools – local principals and teachers have their hands full with training and rewriting curricula. To throw in the intensive training and probable curricula rewrites – IB requires a completely different method of teaching – that would come with the implementation of IB would be too much for teachers to do, and do well, principals agreed.
MCPS Principal Dr. Betsy Short shared the pros and cons of the required CCGPS.
IB is "inquiry-based," Short said, and utilizes a method where teachers introduce concepts not through direct instruction but instead through asking questions and giving students materials to study and contemplate.
"The focus of CCGPS is different," she said. CCGPS's focus is on direct instruction. Further, CCGPS is meant to provide students with "rigorous skills for college and careers" – i.e. content relevancy – and it's consistent across most of the U.S. CCGPS forces teachers to align subject areas from Kindergarten through fifth grade both horizontally, across a grade level, and vertically, throughout subject areas of different grade levels... and it has to go into effect beginning with this school year. Additionally, with the start of CCGPS, the format of report cards will change and time is needed to educate not only teachers, but also parents of this change.
"We're not even finished writing units and we have to start implementing them," Short said.
MCES Principal Jean Triplett said that while IB "develops the child as an inquirer," she agreed that the timing just wasn't right.
Implementing IB would require developing six units of study while, at the same time, also implementing CCGPS, Triplett said, as well as changing the structure of teaching – IB's inquiry-based vs. CCGPS's direct instruction – and extensive professional development.
IB does require a foreign language, something the lower grades are already teaching, as well as a focus on science.
"I think our children need direct instruction," Short said. "We'd like to continue to look at IB...but not this year. We need to get our units for CCGPS done first."
MCMS Principal Lydia Norburg said that six teachers, two administrators and two parents looked into IB at the middle school level.
The IB Diploma Programme at Morgan County High School kicks in at the 11th and 12th grade levels. Students in ninth and 10th grades can take IB classes, but don't officially begin pursuit of their IB Diploma until they're juniors. So, implementing the IB program systemwide would also require a bridge between the end of the program in eighth grade and the pick up of the IB Diploma Programme in 11th grade, something the middle school would want to address with the high school, Norburg said.
Norburg believes the IB program would mesh well with CCGPS and was excited about the program's encouragement of community service.
All of the principals – Short, Triplett and MCMS Principal Lydia Norburg – said research on IB programs was not forthcoming.
"I don't know that I've seen enough [evidence] that it will take our children to another level," Triplett said.
They also said they wanted time to get a consensus from teachers and parents on whether IB in the lower grades is a good idea. In fact, Short said that the Primary School Council, made up of teachers, administrators and parents, had a lot of questions that remain unanswered.
The goal of becoming an IB system was generated from the Morgan County School System's becoming a charter system, Superintendent Dr. Ralph Bennett said.
"Ideally, what we hope would happen...is that this would be another thread to connect us to the high school's IB Diploma Programme," Bennett said. "Another benefit is that IB in the lower grades would be for all kids; it's not self-selected (like it is in high school)."
The IB program in the lower grades would apply to Special Education students as well.
In a time of budgetary constraints, Bennett said that the system's been awarded $280,000 for being a charter system. That funding is earmarked for advancing the system. Investigating the possibility of becoming an IB system is one of the things the school system promised the state they'd do when the charter was approved, Bennett said.
Bennett also added that many of the schools across the state implementing IB programs are schools much farther in the "Needs Improvement" category than MCPS, MCES or MCMS.
Currently there is one IB system in Georgia.
In other IB news, Assistant Superintendent Debra White appealed to the board for the implementation of an IB Philosophy course at the high school.
This would be the first IB Philosophy course, an IB elective, taught in Georgia. Because it's not been approved by the state before, the school not only has to pass it by its local school board, but also the state Board of Education.
No additional funds would be needed to add this course as the school no longer offers IB Psychology (that teacher has left the system). Brandon York, currently a teacher at MCHS, has both an undergraduate and Master's degree in Philosophy, making him qualified to teach the course.
"We're confident the state board would approve this decision," White said.
The course would attract about 19 students and it's the school's hope to offer it beginning in January.
"Students are excited," MCHS Assistant Principal Pat Lemming said. "Students are interested in that area."
Printed in the August 16, 2012 edition