By Marcy Stamper
In a sometimes-divisive public meeting, some parents said the Methow Valley School District’s proposal to adopt the International Baccalaureate (IB) program would finally make school exciting, while others said it would leave kids floundering.
Some 200 people filled the bleachers in the Methow Valley Elementary School gym on Wednesday evening (March 18) for the second public meeting on IB. After the first meeting in February, district administrators said they plan to formally apply for candidacy for two IB programs, for kindergarten through 10th grade. Applications are due April 1.
Many speakers at last week’s meeting worried that IB, which emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach and teaches students to become good at asking questions, would encourage kids to challenge their parents and “sow seeds of doubt in children.”
The meeting also touched on the cultural differences in the Methow Valley that some believe are at the heart of the polarization over IB — what one man termed “the elephant in the room.”
“Most people who don’t like the program are conservative,” he said. He said many believe IB is affiliated with the United Nations, calling that “a touchy subject.”
Another man said IB would make Methow schools not just good, but great. If the district doesn’t strive for greatness, “we’re not talking about kids going to Harvard, we’re talking about kids who will be cleaning hotel rooms because they don’t do well in school,” he said. The remark provoked cries of indignation from people who said it exhibited a lack of respect for those who work in the service industry.
Lack of choice
In a small district, the stakes seemed very high.
“What options are there for parents who don’t want their kids to learn in an IB school?” asked one parent.
Administrators are hoping that people will understand the program better over the next two years as they see it applied in classes, but several parents said they would home-school their kids instead.
Educators regularly try new approaches, but the community will have to embrace the IB model for the school to move forward to authorization (which typically comes after two years of candidacy), said Methow Valley Elementary School Principal Anne Andersen. “Once we see what this looks like, we want to know what you think.”
While many people came to the meeting with opinions about IB, others said they still didn’t understand what it would be like in the classroom.
“It’s very project-based,” said Liberty Bell High School Principal Deborah DeKalb. Students focus on big ideas and dig deep into a topic, she said.
Another speaker said she had visited an IB school with others from the district and came away impressed. She urged others to list their concerns. “What are the specific, nitty-gritty details that make you so uncomfortable?” she asked.
Process not transparent?
Several speakers criticized the district for not including the public as the staff explored IB over the past year.
The district wanted to give teachers a chance to evaluate IB before introducing it to the community, said Methow Valley Superintendent Tom Venable. “It was not intended to be secretive, but to let teachers see if IB meets their academic goals and the character attributes in the district,” he said.
Some asked the administrators if they had visited or talked to schools that had tried and rejected the IB method, such as in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which abandoned the IB approach in 2013 after a similar debate. Venable said they had decided to focus on schools that had been successful.
Candidacy should not be viewed as a commitment to becoming an authorized IB school, said Venable. He characterized it as a “consideration” phase, although it commits the district to paying a $4,000 fee to the IB organization and to incorporating units based on IB’s organizing principles in classes starting next year.
Several at the meeting asked about the costs of the program and, specifically, whom the district would be paying — and for what.
Venable said the district already spends money on teacher workshops and that those funds would be redirected to IB training.
In an interview after the meeting, Andersen said the annual fees to the nonprofit IB organization entitle teachers to consult materials that help them develop curriculums and that provide innovative ideas for teaching. It also gives them access to a network of teachers around the world, she said.
Under IB, teachers create a curriculum that is passed down from year to year so they don’t have to constantly rewrite the curriculum to accommodate new initiatives. That approach would provide continuity that has been lacking at the school, said several teachers at the meeting.
First-grade teacher Keri Miles said that Methow Valley schools’ high ranking in the state is just one way to measure success. Kids may excel on tests, but they also need to know why what they’re learning is important, she said.
“This framework is the way I like to teach. Students like projects, and my students do really well on tests,” said fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Duguay. She urged people to keep an open mind.
But one attendee wondered if teachers hadn’t done adequate research and had merely “drunk the Kool-Aid.”
Many at the meeting were willing to trust the teachers’ professional judgment. “I don’t go to the bakery to get my oil changed. I go to the person who has that job and ask them to do it for me,” said one parent.
“We will not ever be an IB school unless you think it’s a good idea,” Andersen told the group. “They [the IB authorization team] truly want to know that this is a program that fits the community and the school.”
The district is inviting people to join a field trip to visit an IB school, probably in May. For more information or to sign up, call 996-9205.
For the other two articles published on this topic this week, see The IB framework: how the program is intended to work and International Baccalaureate and UNESCO — is there a connection?
Click to see all Methow Valley News articles about the proposed International Baccalaureate program in the Methow Valley School District .