The Coeur d'Alene school board is about to take a credibility test.
The board recently relegated the district's International Baccalaureate program to death row. Despite some strong support for IB in the community, including this newspaper's editorial board, the IB program was sentenced to death because participation was low and cost was high. At least, those are the reasons the board gave in rendering its unanimous verdict.
Now the feeder program for IB is on trial. Called Primary Years Programme, it's offered at just one school in all of Kootenai County, Hayden Meadows Elementary. Like its big sister, PYP's approach relies more on critical thinking and analysis than it does rote memory or some of the other more traditional American instructional methods - traditional methods which, we might add, are being rejected and reformed from sea to shining sea.
Alas, unlike IB's final days, the executioner's mask has come off with PYP and the real motives have been exposed. School board Chairman Tom Hamilton is on the record as saying that one of the chief reasons he disapproves of PYP is because he believes it does not reflect the values he and his family hold dear. While we certainly respect that viewpoint and would understand if Tom sent his children elsewhere, we believe such a pronouncement from the head of the school board ensures that he will not give the matter fair consideration. We also wonder if his judgment has colored the objectivity of other board members, only one of whom has been on the board for more than a few months.
Before another lynch mob assembles, further study of PYP at Hayden Meadows is essential. It should start with the hundreds of parents who are happy with the product. Perhaps it should even end there.
But it won't. Critics who tie PYP and IB to international conspiracies are grasping for anything. Some are weakly pointing to Hayden Meadows' 3-star rating as one reason to shut 'er down. More data about that rating and what it really means will be forthcoming. From our preliminary research, it's possible that the comprehensive data will show Hayden Meadows is not deficient, but in fact is one of the state's most accomplished elementary schools.
Hard evidence supporting continuation of the program exists. Where IB enrollment was sparse and shrinking, Hayden Meadows' enrollment is strong, and growing. Where IB was expensive for taxpayers, PYP is not - in large part because the school's parents and other supporters voluntarily foot most of the program's bills. Unfortunately, the PYP debate is now focused almost exclusively on adults' political and religious ideologies, rather than the academic and intellectual growth of students.
Public school districts have learned a painful but important lesson, that they must offer an array of educational choices if they are to survive in an increasingly competitive learning environment. PYP at Hayden Meadows is just one choice; magnet and charter schools are rapidly filling important voids with excellent programs and instruction.
This is no time for pitchforks and paranoia. There is no wisdom in rushing to any conclusion. Intensive, objective study is the order of the day, and those who can't or won't do that should hand the reins to someone who will.