The South Orange-Maplewood School District unveiled its much anticipated middle school restructuring plan on Monday night — throwing in a twist with the somewhat surprise announcement that the district was recommending adoption of the Middle Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate over the course of the next five years.
The IB program promises more rigor — according to proponents and district leaders — while enabling the district to accelerate . Students would be moved into grade-level courses or Honors, Advanced Honors or accelerated courses depending on the subject and their grade. In all cases, it appears that at least one level would be deleted (if not two, as would be the case in 8th grade science and social studies, for example).
The South Orange-Maplewood School District has a long-stated goal to provide an excellent education to all students. Leveling has been seen as an impediment to "equity in excellence" by district leaders due to the fact that the majority of lower level students are minority students and the majority of upper level students are white.
According to the IB website, the program was started to serve internationally mobile students preparing for university. In its early days, IB consisted of a "common pre-university curriculum and a common set of external examinations for students in schools throughout the world, seeking to provide students with a truly international education." Things have evolved. The website elaborates:
The Middle Years Programme consists of eight subject groups integrated through five areas of interaction that provide a framework for learning within and across the subjects. Students are required to study their mother tongue, a second language, humanities, sciences, mathematics, arts, physical education and technology. In the final year of the programme, students also engage in a personal project, which allows them to demonstrate the understandings and
skills they have developed throughout the programme.
At the Board of Education meeting Monday night, many public comments on the IB plan were positive.
"I'm overwhelmed and speechless for once," said Marina Budhos, a parent in the district and a novelist. Budhos is also a founder of SOMA Parents for IB. Budhos only lamented that the program would arrive too late for her own child.
Board member Sandra Karriem stated, "It begins to address many of the concerns that we have had that we are not meeting all of our students' needs. I like that it is rigorous and that an independent third party is checking."
"This is transformational for our district," added Karriem.
But one Board member and a number of audience members raised concerns about the plan — mostly related to de-leveling.
Board member Wayne Eastman said he saw a "lot of promise in IB," but said he personally had issues about the academic placement recommendations which he said represented a "big, big change."
"We are talking about Levels 2, 3 and 4 into one grade-level course — not just 3 and 4." Eastman worried that differentiated instruction would be difficult in such circumstances. "I hope there is substantive support for IB."
Indeed, the proposal — presented jointly by Maplewood Middle School Principal Jeff Truppo and SO Middle School Principal — calls for "Fixed Support" for partially proficient students whereby each student has a 60-minute advisory period, plus the option to substitute their 50-minute related arts course (every other day) with a "Flexible Intervention" until the student achieves satisfactory performance.
Still, some audience members where not swayed.
Marian Cutler, , said that she had spoken to Board of Ed members in Cherry Hill, NJ this weekend. She reported that they said they had abandoned IB due to cost. Referring to recent controversy over data from the first year of combining Levels 3 and 4 in 7th grade social studies, science and English language arts, Cutler said, "We don't know it worked. Why are we going to do it again?"
John Davenport was aghast that math was being de-leveled. "It's not a complete de-leveling," replied Board President Beth Daugherty. "It's the loss of one net level."
Rusty Reeves thanked the district leaders for the interesting proposal, but said, "I share Mr. Eastman's concern for the collapsing of three levels," especially, said Reeves, "because the data for 7th grade is limited." Reeves asserted that he had realized that the debate was not about data. "It's about religion. We've got some of that going on here."
Perhaps Maplewood Middle School Principal Truppo didn't entirely disagree with this point, getting emotional toward the end of his presentation: "I hope the discourse isn't why we can't, but why we must." He explained the rigor that he and his staff would bring to the new program: "It's all hands on deck."
The IB Middle Years Programme is, as yet, simply a proposal. Daugherty said that further public discussion on the proposal would take place on January 11 after the "State of the District" address. She said that recommendations for restructuring in the high school would be released at the January 18 Board of Education meeting. There would then be another meeting on both middle school and high school recommendations sometime in February — probably before the date of the regular Board of Education meeting on Feb. 22.