Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Watering Down

International baccalaureate programs are supposed to be a gold standard:
One of the most unusual courses in high school these days is TOK, the initialism for Theory of Knowledge, part of the International Baccalaureate program. Most Americans have never heard of it.

It is a course on critical thinking and how we know what we claim to know. It demands a lot of writing and thus, by the standard teenager definition, is not easy. But most of the IB teachers I have encountered, and many of their students, call it special and deep, a distinctive element of a program now offered in nearly 900 U.S. high schools.

Jeremy Noonan felt that way when he was a science teacher in Douglas County, Ga. He taught Theory of Knowledge for four years, with increasingly good results.

But his is a story of TOK going wrong, something I had not encountered before. When many students began to complain that it was too difficult, Noonan said his principal asked him to make it easier.

Noonan said he learned later this was so that enrollment in IB — a major selling point for the school — would not decline...

Even a sophisticated course such as TOK can be damaged if a school does not guard against softening demands. Noonan said he did not expect TOK to take much time outside of class compared with the main IB courses, but to “get an A in the course, students had to be making progress and perform at an excellent level"...

When he resisted diluting the course, Noonan said, he was reassigned in 2015 to non-IB science courses. His replacement in Theory of Knowledge, according to Noonan, had no IB teaching experience. Noonan said some students told him that TOK had become “the course where you go to catch up on work from your other classes.”

Noonan had assigned several graded essays each year. He said the new teacher assigned none. Noonan said his principal told him that at a regional meeting of IB principals, it was agreed that TOK should be easy and not treated as a serious course.
I have my own stories about watered down courses.  Perhaps I'll share them some time.


Anonymous said...

That's such a shame. I have a couple friends that took the course and raved about it due to the content. Even if it was challenging and a gpa buster, they valued the class because of what it was. Hopefully not all schools will follow

Anonymous said...

I took Theory of Knowledge as part of the IB program at Mira Loma, and it was probably the most worthwhile class I have ever taken. The IB program is (in my opinion) the best educational program out there - as long as it is implemented correctly. Many low performing schools have adopted IB in an attempt to raise test scores, and see absolutely no improvement in student performance. Why? Because the reason IB is successful isn't because students take courses in six particular subjects plus ToK, write a long essay, and complete a CAS project. It's because, done properly, IB is extremely rigorous, emphasizes research and writing, and requires critical thinking. You can't just teach a watered down version and expect results.

Darren said...

What other educational programs do you know of, and on what basis (or bases) do you compare them to IB? Just wondering.

As for your final sentence, I say PREACH IT FROM THE MOUNTAINTOP!

Ellen K said...

Two years ago I had AP Studio courses. I treated the class like a professional studio where students were expected to do their own research and produce written explanations of how their work fit into their portfolio. Two students, who were very skilled, felt that this work was beneath them. They were GT students, but neither of them turned in finished work. This came to head when one had a meltdown and we had to have meetings with parents. In the meetings I tried to explain that I was trying to help students develop a variety of skills because the art industry is highly competitive and knowing how to do more and different things makes someone more marketable. I was told by the parents that their children would be starting at the top and would never have to pay their dues-which is a joke unless your parents own a gallery or publishing house. As a result of these complaints my AP classes were given to a new teacher who has a bad habit of volunteering and campaigning for teacher of the year. Her syllabus was never accepted so at the end of the year students had to submit their work using my syllabus and criteria. The one student who scored a 5 was a student I had had in the AP course as a junior. The rest scored 3 or lower. So what exactly was the point? The point was to make the course easier so that students could artificially inflate their GPA courtesy of a 1.3 AP bonus.