Monday, December 14, 2009

Bonanza Column 163 – IB – It Will Take a Village

Normally I write these columns because I have an opinion about something and write to express that opinion. This week, though, I have questions rather than opinions.

I've been hearing about the International Baccalaureate Program (IB) as a possibility for Incline's schools for quite some time now – since the Incline Schools Reflective Task Force first gave the program a strong endorsement. Many people whose thinking I respect are in favor of the program as well, and as a proponent of anything that would enhance the quality of education, I have been disposed to support it.

Last week, however, at a public meeting on the subject, some concerns were raised that gave me pause. The most serious of these speaks to the relationship between IB and IHS's Advanced Placement (AP) program, which is an excellent program in its own right. Research cited by Assistant Principal Kevin Taylor seems to indicate that while cooperation between these two programs works in large schools, it does not seem to work as well in small schools like ours.

Another concern is funding. The Washoe County School District has been clear (if not to say adamant) in its refusal to fund IB, even partially. School Trustee Dan Carne seems to think that Incline gets more than its share from the District already, and between his input last week and the former Superintendent's earlier statements, unless the new Superintendent makes a big change in the District's stance (and there is no reason to think he will), Incline will have to self-fund this program. I didn't like it when we had to self-fund an new athletic field when high schools in Reno have, in some cases, college-quality facilities, and I like this even less where an academic program is concerned.

For one thing, while we may be able to raise the $400,000 needed to fund the program over the next ten years, we cannot be sure that community funding will be there later, and absent any commitment from the WCSD, it seems likely that if local funding were to fail or fall short, the program would die an early death.

While there is clearly a community base of support for IB, I really have no idea of how broad or deep that support goes, and it also concerns me that some teachers for whom I have very high regard seem to have serious reservations about the program and/or the timing of implementing it.

Finally, and this will not be a popular view, it seems to me that IB, however good it is, is a program that will bring up the top students, but what about the bottom? If we are going to make a big investment of time, money, and talent, shouldn't we be looking to raise the level of the students who, now, will not be candidates for Harvard, Yale, Cornell, or Cal – those who have the ability but not the motivation or the connection to education to graduate, and those who may be headed for Community Colleges and UNR, and who need the best educational grounding we can give them to succeed there and in life.

Programs like ARC show that with a much smaller investment, those kids can be supported in excelling. I'm not saying that the exceptional, university-bound students don't need better education as well, but will IB be one more program that gives to the haves while ignoring the have-nots? I don't know, but I think it's worth asking.

I want to repeat that I don't have an opinion on this yet – but I do have questions, and I think they are questions that we as a community need to take seriously. A lot of our very good community efforts, from Pet Network to Project Mana, arose from commitments of one or a few individuals who started them and have been able to mobilize sufficient support to keep them going. IB, however, is a horse of a different color – it is a proposal that will affect every family with children in the community and will require support from the whole community. While I respect the commitment of those who have taken up the banner for the IB program, I don't think we can or should depend on a part of the community to carry a program to which others in the community are tepid or even cold toward. This one will take a Village, and we should take that seriously.

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