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The Contrived Debate Between

IB and AP 

BY LISA BRADY   

 Lisa Brady
Lisa Brady (left) superintendent in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., examines artwork created by International Baccalaureate students.

 

A walk down Cedar and Main streets in the village of Dobbs Ferry is an encounter with an eclectic community tucked along the banks of the Hudson River, about 20 miles north of New York City. It’s home to Broadway actors, Wall Street bankers, advertising executives, artists, psychologists and neighborhood shopkeepers.

Blue collar at its roots, Dobbs Ferry has blossomed into a socioeconomic hybrid of white-collar families drawn to the delivery of education as the pathway to success. The community expects and supports a high level of academic excellence.

It has been 15 years since the Dobbs Ferry Board of Education adopted the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at its 455-student high school. It was a bold move for a small school district at a time when fewer than 200 districts nationwide had adopted the program. The IB culture readily aligned with the community’s diversity of demographics and opinions.

Whether by design or default, the school board’s embrace of IB placed it in opposition to the mainstream College Board’s Advanced Placement program, which was well-established across the country. The Dobbs Ferry board was sold on IB because of the extensive professional development opportunities offered for teachers and the unique interdisciplinary study of subject content that the courses demanded.

The district’s commitment to the globally recognized program and its advanced curriculum remains solid today in spite of lingering questions raised about the merits of IB versus AP.

The community’s allegiance to an International Baccalaureate education stems from its strong belief in the value of diversity. With more than 30 different languages spoken in the homes of Dobbs Ferry’s 1,645 students, the town’s close proximity to Manhattan makes it attractive to international business and United Nations families who can commute to the city by rail, bus or car in less than an hour. The district’s wide range of socioeconomic and ethnic demographics contrasts with its more homogeneous neighbors.

An Unlikely Choice
In New York state, the International Baccalaureate program is more commonly associated with private schools, so it was an unlikely choice for this public school district. With its intensive course work and the district’s fully inclusive special education program, IB looks different in Dobbs Ferry, owing to our fierce commitment to equity and access. No self-contained special education classrooms operate in our three schools, and only a small number of students attend school outside the district.

With 98 percent of our juniors and seniors taking at least one IB class in 2011-12 and 25 percent of our graduates receiving the full IB diploma, the IB program remains a source of pride and accomplishment. Being an IB World School (the official designation of an approved program) offers the best education for our students.

When I came to Dobbs Ferry in 2011 as superintendent, I invited parents and community members to join me in reading Tony Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap. Our PTSA set up a series of book chats in host families’ homes about creating classrooms where all students and all teachers address 21st-century skills.

I found parents shared my sense of urgency, and when examining the IB learner profile we discovered the IB curriculum was closely aligned with Wagner’s all-important Seven Survival Skills. These essential skills are critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks and leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurialism, effective oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination.

What makes Dobbs Ferry’s decision to adopt the IB program especially prescient (it was one of the first in Westchester County to become an IB World School) was the board of education’s commitment to ensure all students had the opportunity to take the most rigorous courses. The board, in partnership with the Dobbs Ferry Schools Foundation, pays for all students in IB course work to take the IB exams. Schools that desire higher-level skills for all students haven’t always made this commitment, so when we adopt an annual budget, we renew our belief in this core value by allocating resources to extend the access to all.

Admissions Pressures
With the ever-escalating pressure to respond to college admissions mania, it is more important than ever for schools to help students gain the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in a 21st- century global economy. Our IB program prepares students to be international citizens, sensitive to other cultures, fluent with world languages and able to be self-directed learners and independent thinkers.

College admissions officers routinely affirm that students who are challenging themselves with the most demanding academic programs available in their schools will be well-positioned in the college process, regardless of whether their preparation is International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement. As such, the contrived IB-versus-AP debate seems like an unproductive conversation when we should focus our energies on what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college and their lives beyond.

Lisa Brady is superintendent of the Dobbs Ferry Union Free School District in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. E-mail: bradyl@dfufsd.org 

 

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