Editorial: IB dilemma in WJC Schools

It's obvious from Gazette reporter Christine Sampson's story in our June 21 edition that Superintendent Steven Constantino has no interest in expanding the International Baccalaureate curriculum in WJC Schools.

After all, he told administrators to give him the data to shut down clamor to expand IB to the James Blair annex. Allowing an untainted report to make his case instead of directing the outcome before the research would've been a better course, though I agree with Constantino's fundamental stance: expanding IB is too costly, nor is there sufficient proof that its methods are substantially better than what's being taught now.

Perhaps we should ask a more basic question: Why do we still have IB at all?

The back story on the IB curriculum at James River Elementary is that the school was underpopulated. IB was added in 2006, in part with the hope students from across the division would transfer and fill classrooms while relieving overcrowding elsewhere.

It hasn't quite worked out that way. According to central office, for the school year that just ended the migration amounted to 60 students. That's an average of seven and a half children from each of the division's other eight elementary schools, hardly enough to cure crowded classrooms.

Nor does it appear IB has had a terrific impact on test scores at James River. Among the most recent Standards of Learning scores posted on the WJC Schools website, James River ranks third among the nine elementary schools in English, fourth in science, fifth in history, and eighth in math.

IB has found little favor elsewhere in the state. According to the International Baccalaureate website, only 10 Virginia schools offer the Primary Years curriculum taught at James River. Three of those schools are private academie. There are 29 public middle schools and 33 public high schools in Virginia offering International Baccalaureate.

Cost is another hurdle. According to the International Baccalaureate website, the 2014 cost per school for the elementary IB program is nearly $8,000. It's unclear whether that includes training for teachers, which some websites project can cost tens of thousands of dollars in the start-up phase.

IB for the middle school years is even more expensive. For the 2014-15 school year, there's a per subject fee of $725. And the fee for each student is $70. An 800-student middle school teaching four IB subjects to its entire population would face almost $60,000 a year in fees. That excludes teacher training, textbooks and other costs.

Monticello Central School District in New York discontinued its IB program in April 2013, citing the cost against a recent tax cap. A white paper praising IB by former Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel, reveals the division had spent more than $1 million dollars over four years on IB. Bear in mind that Monticello has six total schools compared to 15 in WJC.

There's no guarantee an IB education gives students an advantage for college. That's the opinion of William Conley, vice president for enrollment management at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. The college is one of the nation's most selective, accepting only 18 percent of its applicants.

In a November 2012 column on the American Association of School Administrators website, Conley wrote about the effect of International Baccalaureate courses on a college applicant's chances for acceptance.

"The presence of an IB curriculum contributes to an assessment of quality along with such factors as the proportion of graduates attending four-year colleges and percentage of AP test takers scoring above 4 and IB test takers earning a 5 or better," Conley wrote. "By adopting the IB program, a school does not, in the words of one admission dean, 'somehow become a better school right away.' The best schools are judged to be those that do best by their students."