FREDERICKSBURG Public Schools’ recent decision to begin phasing out its International Baccalaureate program comes after a challenging academic year for students, parents and teachers alike. FPS tried IB, but in the end found that it was not a good fit.
The lesson here is don’t be afraid to try new educational approaches—and conversely, don’t be afraid to change course if they don’t meet initial expectations.
“IB compliance, training, and management demands are considerable,” a statement released by the school division stated, adding that “it is not feasible to continue to focus on the complex needs and requirements” of the IB program while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic’s educational disruptions.
Fredericksburg first began offering IB in middle school in 2017, and expanded the program to the primary grades in 2019. It is one of just two K–12 programs in Virginia, but one of 7,400-plus offered in 159 countries worldwide.
Founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968, the first International Baccalaureate program was available in the U.S. in 1971. Since then, it has had both its supporters and critics.
Supporters point to IB’s rigorous coursework, which involves “more research, writing, and hands-on evaluation,” as well as the final 4,000-word essay at the high school level that is evaluated by one of 6,000 international testing examiners trained to grade them “alongside work from other IB students worldwide.” The grades give American students a glimpse of where they stand in international competition.
But critics complain that the IB program is too costly for some school districts to implement, requires too much work for teachers, and leaves little time for students to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities.
Some IB programs also have poor completion rates, which one international education consultant said could leave students “in academic limbo, worse off than if they had never started” the IB program.
Even prior to the pandemic, Fredericksburg Public Schools saw “a steady decline” in math and literacy scores over the past five years, according to Deputy Superintendent Matt Eberhart.
This is a wake-up call that the school division needs to use all of its resources, including any available funding and valuable teacher training and planning time, to get back to teaching the basics of “reading, writing and arithmetic.” Those are the foundational skills upon which all advanced academics are based.
No matter how good IB or other curricula may be, they won’t do Fredericksburg students much good if they can’t read or do math at grade level. That’s where the school division’s primary focus must remain.