Friday, August 31, 2012

Update on the exam school/IB school ad-hoc committee

per request and sorry it took the whole week!

The ad-hoc committee on a possible exam or international baccalaureate school for Worcester met again on Monday. As you might remember, we split up over the summer into a (sub)subcommittee on each, with each group to look at potential benefits and drawbacks to their respective school idea based on research and on the discussions each group had. We came back together and each group reported out  their findings. The following are my notes from the discussion:

In brief, an international baccalaureate school, on the positive side, has an already created program. The evidence that we've seen (we need more, as most of what we have is from IB itself) is that students that have gone through such a program are stronger candidates for college admission, do better in college, and have more significant rates of college completion than similar students who do not complete an IB school. It also can be done in a current school.
On the negative side, it is a "off the shelf" purchased program, with associated costs, contracts, and limitations. It also requires a multi-year implementation, with significant required staff training.

An exam school, on the positive side, does improve the perception of the public school districts that have them. They include a "critical mass" of serious students who create a culture of academic success as the expectation. They meet a community need for programs for gifted and talented students. They are wildly popular in the districts that have them. They may also give a boost to the revitalization of the city of Worcester.
On the negative side, there is no evidence that we have seen thus far that exam schools improve the academic success of the students who attend them when compared to similar students who do not. Their demographics are not reflective of their sending districts, but a quota system mires a district in legal issues. Some exam schools have higher per pupil funding due to active alumni networks that are generous to their alma mater. In concentrating academically gifted students in a single school, what is the impact on all other schools and on all other pupils?

We have a number of questions that we've forwarded to administration for further information: a need for more information about the Goddard Scholars program, questions around tracking at the middle schools, a need for more research (if it exists) on international baccalaureate schools. We've also requested visits with Abby Kelley Foster Charter School's IB program, with High School of Commerce in Springfield, and with Boston Latin (and there may be more).
Also outstanding at this point is what other options are out there: are there things above and beyond exam schools that deal with some of the same challenges and benefits? This, as well as the questions needing more research, are what the committee is working on for the next meeting.

We are also pulling together a brief presentation of much of the above as a preface to public hearings coming up in October. We want to give the public a chance to be heard on this, but we also want to give a bit of context to the conversation. We're scheduling those meetings at several times and locations around the city to be as accessible as possible.

The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Friday, September 21 (in the early evening). I will post definite times for this and for the hearings once they are hammered out.

If this is of interest, please plan on attending! Also, public comments are welcome at any time.

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