The Los Angeles Unified School District is considering implementing an academically rigorous program for juniors and seniors that would earn them a high school diploma recognized worldwide.
Last week, the Board of Education unanimously endorsed a recommendation by Westside member Alan Gershman that the district study the feasibility of implementing an International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
Headquartered in Switzerland, the IB program includes two years of study of languages, science, social sciences and mathematics. To receive the International Baccalaureate diploma, the students must pass standardized tests in those subjects, take a course on the theory of knowledge, write an original research paper and complete 100 hours of either a creative or social service activity. The basic curriculum can be taken in any of three languages: English, French or Spanish.
Gershman's proposal was enthusiastically endorsed by district Supt. Leonard Britton. Britton said at last week's board meeting that he was familiar with the program because it had been instituted in a Miami high school when he was superintendent there. "This is a program that I strongly endorse," he said. "It is rather costly per student, but it is more than worth it, I assure you. It's exciting to see."
According to the International Baccalaureate organization office in New York, the program is offered in 400 secondary schools in more than 50 countries worldwide. About 150 high schools in the United States offer the program, including about 15 in California.
The district is considering offering the curriculum as a magnet program. Belmont High School is one of the sites being considered to house the program, which could start as early as January, 1989. Gershman estimated that it would cost the district about $100,000 to offer the program to 100 students for the first two years. Participating schools pay the IB organization an annual fee of $2,500, plus testing and other costs.
Gershman said he had been intrigued by the program since he first learned of it several years ago. Begun in Europe in the mid-1960s, it was conceived as a way of standardizing college-preparatory education in countries with differing requirements, New York spokesman Cassandra Marsh said. Some European and American colleges and universities recognize the diploma as evidence of secondary school achievement, and some give diplomates college-level credit in specific academic subjects, much as they do for successful completion of the Advanced Placement exams supervised by the Educational Testing Service, she said.
"It is very similar to what our students are doing in preparation for the admission to the University of California system," Gershman said of the program, "but it is more widely recognized."
In endorsing the study, several board members said they hoped the program, if implemented, would be available to all students, not just those who have been identified as gifted. Gershman said he thinks the program would be especially apt for the district's multicultural student body, given its international orientation. "We want to establish the maximum number of options so we can meet the needs and interests of every student in the district," he said.
Michael Davitt, principal of Cajon High School in San Bernardino, said the program, entering its third year there, has been successful. According to Davitt, about 400 of the school's 2,000 students are enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program or a pre-IB program for freshmen and sophomores.
"We have dramatically expanded our academic honors offerings because of it, and the nice thing is our students seem to be rising to the occasion," said Davitt, who said the program has had good minority enrollment and is also attracting students from other high schools in the district. Half of Cajon's students are minority, he said, and more than 30% are from families that receive federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
Davitt said students seem to respond to the cohesiveness of the program, which is multidisciplinary in approach and emphasizes the experiences of the Third World.
"It is especially rigorous in math and foreign languages," Davitt said. He noted, for example, that students are expected to demonstrate "a European version of fluency" in a foreign language. They must pass a half-hour oral exam in their foreign language, read works of literature in it and be able to write critically in the language about what they have read.
"You have to be far more articulate and fluent in the language than we are usually expected to be," he said, contrasting the program with foreign language study in most American schools.