How to judge IB programs

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Coeur d'Alene School District has a tough enough challenge educating our kids. When its governing board and administrators become consumed with fighting political battles, too, the quality of education is bound to suffer.

For the past couple years the district has resembled a pretzel in its attempts to bend over backward and make everybody happy on the selection of literature for its high school classes. Now the district is being assailed because critics claim it is guilty of collusion or ignorance by offering International Baccalaureate classes through two of its schools.

We put this in the political category because criticism has focused less on curriculum and more on IB's alleged ties to organizations some patrons find unsavory. Fair enough. Parents always have the right to guide their children in different scholastic directions, and in this case they're free to choose different schools, different programs, even completely different educational delivery systems.

What opens the door for broader debate is that virtually every property owner in the district is helping pay for those programs. It's not just a matter of a few dozen parents being mad; this is seen as a broader example of taxpayers' best interests being ignored or misrepresented.

We have our own opinions about IB, based on our own research as well as some personal experience. We believe that public schools should create as many opportunities for their highest achievers as their budgets and scholastic imaginations allow. Just as schools have a legal and moral responsibility to help those with lower abilities reach their full potential, so, too, should they open doors for the highest achievers, students who will go on to improve our world in significant ways.

Classes like IB's Theory of Knowledge have no peer in the standard high school curriculum. Nowhere else have we seen raw critical thinking made razor sharp, with a shine put on it. Many other offerings are similarly challenging intellectually, and yes, in some cases, culturally. An IB education does indeed make the planet a little bit smaller.

The reason many universities and colleges automatically admit IB diploma holders as incoming sophomores is because that education has a tangible value. And we're quite certain that those in charge of these institutions of higher learning are less concerned than some local critics if the IB program has on its body of work a fingerprint or two from the United Nations, UNESCO or some other allegedly un-American organization.

We think the school district and its patrons should focus on exactly what the IB programs offer academically, how much they cost and where those two factors fit into the district's architecture of mission and budget. All that other stuff should be relegated to weeknight committee meetings of politically active citizens.

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