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Smart idea to bring IB program here

A Times Editorial
Published July 9, 2006


The coming discussion within the Citrus County school district over whether to seek to have a high school here host an International Baccalaureate diploma program will signal to the public just how serious local educators are about making this a world-class school system.

We have heard that phrase used over the years by people seeking the highest offices within the district, but never before has there been such an opportunity to turn those lofty words into action.

At least two current School Board members, Pat Deutschman and Linda Powers, say they want to bring the prestigious IB program here as a way to challenge the highest-achieving high school students. Both are seeking re-election this year, and the hope is that this initiative is more than just a tantalizing campaign promise.

Politics aside, bringing the IB program to Citrus County should be high on the list of priorities for all the system's leaders. Offering this rigorous program is clear evidence a school district really does take education seriously.

The IB program began some 40 years ago to provide a standard curriculum for children of diplomats who moved from country to country. CollegeData.com describes it as "an intense academic experience that challenges students beyond a traditional high school education. The program encourages students to think broadly, beyond the boundaries of their communities and to consider themselves as members of a global society. Colleges recognize that IB program graduates are well prepared not only academically, but also for life."

Students face a number of rigorous classes, exams, essays and work outside of the classroom. It challenges students to meet the bar set by their peers around the world.

What parent would not want their child to have this opportunity? What school district would balk at making such a curriculum available?

In its annual ranking of America's top high schools, Newsweek magazine uses a formula that adds the number of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests taken by all students at a school and divides that by the number of graduating seniors.

In the latest ranking, Vanguard High School in Marion County, which offers the IB program and which attracts Citrus County students, came in at No. 567.

None of Citrus County's three high schools graced the list of the top 1,000 U.S. schools.

Obviously, the formula is not the only way to evaluate a high school. But, as the magazine points out, "It is one of the best measures available to compare a wide range of students' readiness for higher-level work, which is more crucial than ever in the postindustrial age."

Educators agree that the days are long gone when a high school diploma was all a person needed to achieve a successful career. In order to compete in today's global workforce, students need much more.

There are obstacles for districts to overcome in order to offer the IB program. Only one high school in the county could offer it, which could set off a tug-of-war among the schools for their top students.

These students translate into dollars for the schools as their scores on the FCAT go a long way toward determining the school's grade.

There are also significant costs involved in setting up and operating the program. And with all three high schools overcrowded, it will be a tough call to say which school is in the best position to host the IB students.

However, hundreds of high schools across America have figured out a way to offer the program. Clearly, it is not impossible.

There are always plenty of reasons not to do something. The district should make it a priority to get past whatever hurdles exist.

There may be those who grumble that this is yet another example of education catering to top-level scholars and ignoring the needs of the average student. That is a valid concern, as there are many more midrange students and they deserve a proper education, too.

The district does offer a number of programs for underachieving students, and it does offer Advanced Placement and dual enrollment classes for top students.

Bringing in the IB program, however, could have a ripple effect on the entire district by demonstrating to teachers and students that the district really does aim to be among the best in the nation and world. It would give teachers another tool to motivate their students to aspire to higher goals.

Best of all, it would produce better-educated students, which, after all, should be the primary mission of the school system.

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