Schools pursue international curriculum for young students
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 7, 2006

Josh Kelley


Arizona schools are beginning to offer children in Grades K-10 a teaching model used around the world that pushes students to become proficient in at least two languages, think critically instead of regurgitating memorized answers and learn from a global perspective by studying other cultures.

Within the next two years, hundreds of elementary students and young teens in three school districts - Mesa, Paradise Valley and Grand Canyon - could be enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program, which has 486,000 students in 124 countries.

Until now, high school juniors and seniors in Arizona have enrolled in the program to earn college credit and help them gain acceptance to prestigious universities from the Ivy League to Europe, where the IB Organization is based. advertisement




Mesa Public Schools could soon become the first school district in Arizona, and one of only a handful nationwide, to offer an IB program to students from kindergarten through the end of high school.

A new $6.5 million school in east Mesa, scheduled to open next fall, is planned to offer only IB instruction for elementary and junior high students, though it could take at least another year to gain formal authorization to offer the curriculum.

Elementary students in Mesa may be taught in two languages and even learn a third, such as Chinese.

There are 11 Arizona schools with high school IB diploma programs, including Westwood High in Mesa, and hundreds nationwide. The number of programs for younger students has grown rapidly since the programs were introduced about a decade ago.




Breaking new ground
A primary aim of administrators in Mesa is to give children from the city's poorest neighborhoods a chance to attend a public school on par with top private schools.

"Let's not make it based on income, and let's not make it based on their original language," said Gregg Good, IB coordinator at Mesa's Westwood High, which began offering the program last year.

The program is free, but parents, depending on their income, have to pay up to $700 for exams that determine whether a student earns an IB diploma.
There is no formal admission process at Westwood, but Good meets with interested parents and students, whose test scores and past performance in school are reviewed before being accepted.

Good said administrators are still determining the best way to test young elementary students in a "culturally neutral" way to decide which children will attend the new school.

The IB organization, he said, stresses recruitment of students from all demographics.

Mesa administrators want to recruit students at a young age when the playing field is more even.

A kindergartner from a wealthy family who attended the best preschool on the block only has a limited advantage over a kindergartner from a working-class family in a low-income neighborhood, Mesa school officials argue.

The new school, with room for 400 students, may use dual-language instruction, teaching in English half the day and Spanish the other half.

In addition, students would likely learn a third language, such as French or even Chinese or Arabic, Good said.

The Mesa School Board is scheduled to hear and discuss plans for the new school today.


Unique curriculum
Beyond language skills, the curriculum model required by IB differs from
traditional public-school instruction in several ways:


Instead of simply memorizing answers and listening to teachers, students
are asked to think critically and make inquiries. "It's almost like
Philosophy 101 in college with a lot of questioning of what you know, what
you believe," said Sandra Croyle, the organization's North American
marketing and communications manager in New York.


Teachers instruct children from an international perspective, exposing
them to other cultures, languages and viewpoints so "they understand there's
a world beyond their local community," Croyle said.


Taking care of the environment is emphasized. For instance, elementary
students are rewarded for picking up litter at a school near the Grand
Canyon that is in the process of adopting the program.


Community service is required for older students.


Teachers receive extensive training from the organization. They have
common planning periods and map out the subjects to be covered at each grade
level.


Students are given more homework than public schools typically assign,
though the curriculum for younger students is not as rigorous. Instead of
loading up elementary students with work, teachers focus more on broadening
the children's perspective and getting them accustomed to the program's
approach to learning, Croyle said.


Evolving purpose
The non-profit International Baccalaureate organization, based in Geneva,
Switzerland, started in 1968 for children of diplomats stationed around the
world.

"They were lacking a standard high school curriculum that would allow them
to be accepted at many universities worldwide," Croyle said.

In the 1990s, the organization expanded its offerings to include a
primary-years program for ages 3 to 12 and a middle-years program for ages
11 to 16.

"It's really evolved, and right now one of our strategic goals that we are
focusing on is access to all students."

Two Arizona school districts are actually ahead of Mesa in implementing IB
instruction for younger students, but neither one has immediate plans for a
K-12 program.

The Grand Canyon Unified School District in Coconino County expects to soon
be authorized as the state's first district to offer IB primary- and
middle-years programs. The district serves the children of people who live
and work at Grand Canyon National Park.

In the Paradise Valley Unified School District in north Phoenix, Vista Verde
Middle School has started the authorization process to have a middle-years
program.

The application process costs at least $8,800. Districts must pay an annual
fee of $3,720 to remain in the program and $3,500 for a review three years
after becoming part of the program. Reviews follow every five years, and
they also cost $3,500.

In addition, schools pay for teacher training and IB publications.

This semester, 52 seventh-graders at Vista Verde have started taking courses
taught by teachers trained in the program.

Eventually students through 10th grade will be included, which will feed
students into the diploma program for juniors and seniors at North Canyon
High.



Principals at elementary schools in the Paradise Valley district also have
expressed interest in offering the program to their students, said Elaine
Jacobs, principal at Vista Verde.

Jacobs said she's received numerous inquiries and e-mails about the program
from parents around the Valley.


Controversy elsewhere
Despite gushing praise from school administrators, the program has faced
scrutiny from parents and lawmakers troubled by an organization based in
Switzerland that is influencing the education of American students.

The School Board for the Upper St. Clair School District in Pennsylvania
voted to remove the program from schools, prompting a lawsuit and a backlash
from parents and students.

One board member reportedly said the program went against "Judeo-Christian"
values.

With the cost of the lawsuit piling up, the board reinstated the program in
April, a move that frustrated parents who supported the initial decision to
cut the program.

When lawmakers in Texas were considering a bill to mandate state
universities to give credit hours to students with an IB diploma, the
conservative Texas Eagle Forum, the group organized in the 1970s by activist
Phyllis Schlafly, warned legislators about the program's international focus
and philosophy.

But Good, the IB coordinator at Westwood High, and Paul Wright, development
director for Mesa Public Schools, defended the program, emphasizing the
district will maintain independent control.

"It's not as if this external agency is forcing this very tightly defined
curriculum," Wright said. "But given that the world is only getting smaller,
it's not a bad idea to get a global perspective."

Bob Kelso, principal for the Grand Canyon district's 300 students, said he
has encountered concern and much discussion about the program's influence on
curriculum.

"There's misinformation out that the International Baccalaureate agency is
the shadow puppet of the U.N.," Kelso said.

In reality, he said, implementing the program has forced teachers to make
positive changes, such as mapping out what is taught at each grade level for
science and ensuring teachers don't repeat subjects or cover unnecessary
material.

"It's really been a good thing for staff to spend this time working
together," Kelso said. "This hasn't been a bowl of cherries. There's still
some anxiety."

Lawmakers in other states, including Texas, Florida, California and
Colorado, have passed legislation mandating that state universities
automatically give their students with IB diplomas a minimum amount of
college credit hours, Good said.



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Your comments
This probably started out as a great program in 1968...but now it's just one
more tool in the tool bag of the secular-progressive globalists at the UN.
Whether our local school officials believe it or not, this is just one more
process to remove the borders from our nation and chip away at our
sovereignty. Let's take the opportunity when our children are this young to
teach them English and to teach them about our country.....then let's teach
them about the rest of the world. Without that anchor of identity as a
citizen of the US first...in a few years we'll all just be citezens of
Earth, for better or worse. The world is not yet ready for that. (mike8639,
September 12, 2006 08:24AM)
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Well Living here in Arizona seems to push us to focus majorly on learning
Spanish.. I have been to quite a few countries, and noticed, that almost
everywhere I have been, most countries, and people know enough english to
get by... More than some of our immigrants. Now, to perform to Ivy league
specs? Why Spanish? Why not? Why not have an option? Not chinese, cause
there is no Chinese, there are dialects such as mandarin, and cantonese,
etc.. I just dont want Spanish forced down our throat! (Mike3825, September
12, 2006 07:20AM)
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Implementing programs such as the IB is the responsible thing to do. The
world is getting smaller and we have much more multi-cultural contact around
it than ever before. Communication and understanding allow people to work
together efficiently and not merely survive, but accomplish some remarkable
things. It would be a disservice to our younger community to not give them
tools that will allow them to excel in the future. As far as the arguements
against these programs, there is nothing credible... only fear and bigotry.
Calling it against "Judeo-Christian" values demonstrates an extremist
ideology that is not so different from an education program on the other
side of the world which does not teach anything deemed to be against
"Islamic" values. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to get some ideas on how
to improve our education programs from other countries. America hasn't
exactly been at the top of the list for education in recent years, has it?
Or we can keep our egocentric attitude and not make these changes for our
future, because right now it makes 'US' feel safer and it is easier for 'US'
to do than to reform. But will it really help the future generations for
whom it is our responsibility to prepare for the future, or will it leave
them a step behind? The times they are a changin'.... I only hope we don't
wake up one day to see that we have been left blowin' in the wind.
(scott1028, September 12, 2006 06:10AM)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Implementing programs such as the IB is the responsible thing to do. The
world is getting smaller and we have much more multi-cultural contact around
it than ever before. Communication and understanding allow people to work
together efficiently and not merely survive, but accomplish some remarkable
things. It would be a disservice to our younger community to not give them
tools that will allow them to excel in the future. As far as the arguements
against these programs, there is nothing credible... only fear and bigotry.
Calling it against "Judeo-Christian" values demonstrates an extremist
ideology that is not so different from an education program on the other
side of the world which does not teach anything deemed to be against
"Islamic" values. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to get some ideas on how
to improve our education programs from other countries. America hasn't
exactly been at the top of the list for education in recent years, has it?
Or we can keep our egocentric attitude and not make these changes for our
future, because right now it makes 'US' feel safer and it is easier for 'US'
to do than to reform. But will it really help the future generations for
whom it is our responsibility to prepare for the future, or will it leave
them a step behind? The times they are a changin'.... I only hope we don't
wake up one day to see that we have been left blowin' in the wind.
(scott1028, September 12, 2006 06:09AM)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
First, of all--keep doing what you're doing Dr. Good. All kids in Mesa
deserve a rigorous curriculum that encourages critical thinking and a global
perspective.

As to the comments posted by Ernest9221, I am a public high school educator
with specific knowledge of state laws governing second-language instruction,
and your expressed concerns about Mesa "try[ing] to get around the laws
requiring classes to be taught in English" suggests that many Arizonans
still have a misperception of the particulars and the objectives of the laws
involving second-language instruction. I would recommend taking a 3-credit
college course (required for all public school teachers) about SEI and
second language instruction. A particularly adept instructor is Salvador
Gabaldon out of Tucson Unified School District.

As to the question of why spanish? My answer is why not Spanish? Any person
in the valley who is fluently bilingual English-Spanish is in high demand.
Of course, if you've been reading the papers for the past few weeks, Mike
Cowen, an Asst. Superintendent for Mesa Public Schools, traveled to China
over the summer (on the district's dime, mind you), which suggests to me
that teaching Chinese will not be a sidenote for this new pre-IB school.

What's the joke?: What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
multi-lingual. What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
bilingual. What do call a person who speaks one language? an American. Let's
stop being a joke and get in the global game. (Kim3821, September 12, 2006
05:46AM)
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I find it very interesting that the only second language offered at this
point is Spanish, and the students cannot just choose something like Chinese
as the second language from the start. In our ever shrinking world the
country of China is becoming an ever more important player on the
international economic and political scene everyday. What this appears to be
to me is just another way for the Mesa school board to try to get around the
laws requiring classes to be taught in English. I believe if you cannot
select any other language as your second other than Spanish, and that
classes will be taught half the day in Spanish, Mesa will be in violation of
state law, and defying the will of the people. (Ernest9221, September 12,
2006 04:57AM)
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Ironwood high in Glendale (peoria unified district} is using this program.
Students find it challenging but productive. (Elizabeth0822, September 12,
2006 01:51AM)