When an article appeared in The Washington Post on Dec. 19 suggesting that the way to address the underperformance of black students in Montgomery County is to place them all in the International Baccalaureate program, it prompted many questions but few answers.
The decades-old achievement gap between black and white students in public schools has drawn hundreds of proposals, programs and strategies for closing it, some more effective than others. Yet the gap persists.
The IB proposal, columnist Jay Mathews says, is the brainchild of a friend who in 2000, attempted to create a charter school in the county in which all students would be enrolled in the IB program. (The Board of Education rejected the plan.) Obviously, the charter school would have targeted only black students — though this was not specified in the article.
The heart of the proposal described in the article is a call for students to be made to perform; nonperformance would not be a negotiable option. This triggered my first question: Would parents be under contract to participate in order to somehow make the students perform?
The idea of enrolling all black students in the highly rigorous IB program could prove far more harmful than helpful.
For instance, when would students ideally be enrolled? As a kindergartner, in primary school, middle school or high school? Would there be some form of a staggered start in an attempt to allow students to grow into the program? If high school students are to be enrolled, how would significant academic deficiencies in core curricular content be addressed, and when? How would the school system respond to the inevitable student frustrations arising from lack of preparation? How would unmotivated and unfocused students be handled? Would enrolling all black students in IB result in a spike in the drop-out rate among this group?
Further, how would the plan deal with issues related to student discipline and distraction in the classroom? Would it require special education students to enroll? Would these students be required to meet the same academic standards as all others? Would this lead to an inescapable watering down of the curriculum?
This reverse discrimination may result in a torrent of lawsuits by other groups such as Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans.
Additionally, school districts already have Advanced Placement courses designed to accomplish similar goals. If black students are not prepared to engage in advanced curriculum already offered by the school system, why push them into yet another program with such little forethought?
Lastly, has this type of mono-racial program targeting low-performing students been piloted anywhere? Unfortunately, Mathews’s column leaves far too many questions unanswered.
In the end, the larger question becomes: Can we afford to continue victimizing our children with every untested scheme, particularly by those who have perhaps never been educators?
Created in 1968, the mission of the IB program is reportedly to develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people who help to create a better, more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. According to their Web site, there are more than 1,065,000 IB students at 3,491 schools in 144 countries .
The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program is a demanding, two-year international program that meets the needs of highly motivated 11th- and 12th-grade students and leads to a qualification that is recognized by leading universities around the world. To earn an IB diploma, students must take a challenging liberal arts course of studies and pass examinations in six academic subjects. In addition, students are required to take the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course that investigates the nature of knowledge in various disciplines; participate in Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) program to achieve eight learning outcomes; undertake original research; and write a 4,000-word essay. Students successfully completing the program earn the internationally recognized IB diploma.
Criteria used to evaluate candidates include teacher recommendations, written statements from candidates, previous grades, course work and test scores.
Over the past decade, the program has expanded to include students ages 3-19.
Most school systems in the Washington region operate an IB program. Several schools in Baltimore, Prince George’s, and D.C. public schools provide the IB option. These districts are still ranked last, next to last, and chronically underperforming, respectively.
African Americans are a highly diverse group, and enrolling all black students in any single program will do little to address the achievement gap in the long term. Black student performance is more a matter of inferior effort and not low cognitive ability. In other words, they could perform much better if they were more self-motivated scholastically and accepted higher levels of personal responsibility. Parental support is also a key factor in that success.
Watering down the IB program by flooding it with unprepared students is not the answer. Mathews’s suggestions are based on far too many faulty assumptions. The only people who can improve black student performance are the black students themselves.
Alfonzo Porter is a contributor to The RootDC and the author of “More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax.” He is a speaker, consultant, former teacher and school administrator.
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