Requiem for a good program

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Fans of the Coeur d'Alene School District's International Baccalaureate program, that sure does sound like taps in the background.

Since a group of citizens just this side of the John Birch Society took lethal aim at IB, worried that the globally acclaimed program for accelerated learners was actually scholastic subterfuge behind which commies and atheists and Cubs fans lurked, its life in North Idaho was limited. First IB was cut from two high schools to one. Now it is up before the district's Board of Trustees for execution.

Our defense of the program is strong but not boundless. The curriculum itself is outstanding. Top educators across the nation agree that teaching our children to think critically is as vital a mission as any, and IB excels at that. Its Theory of Knowledge class is without peer in North Idaho. But the IB curriculum is challenging enough to scare away many students, and in the final analysis it is only going to be as valuable as its teachers and students make it.

These are difficult times, and members of the school board must carefully weigh the relative value of everything under their economic umbrella. IB isn't cheap. Going back to start-up costs in 2003-04, the district has invested $1.35 million in the program. Last year's cost was $50,630; compare that to the $11,449 spent on the district's Advanced Placement program, which has attracted double the number of students as IB.

Like any other investment, the return is all-telling. And excepting the cure for cancer coming from an IB grad, the local results are disappointing. Only 54 students took at least one IB class this past school year, while AP at CHS drew 110. IB fared better than AP in the number of classes where student test scores improved over the previous year, but the low volume of participation might merit a death blow. No matter how good a product is, if consumers aren't buying it, it's doomed. And it should be.

Sadly, the school board is getting caught up in political nonsense from IB critics, and patrons deserve better than that. The train of critical analysis will careen wildly off its tracks if board members are more focused on what country started the IB program than how our students are impacted by it. The more school board members twitch or gasp when acronyms like UN and UNESCO are invoked, the less likely they are to fulfill their duties responsibly.

If IB is to die, let's bury it because it isn't producing the desired results, not because of shrieking from a paranoid peanut gallery.

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