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N.H. Bill to Ban International Baccalaureate Program Is Defeated

By Erik W. Robelen — May 16, 2012 3 min read
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UPDATED: (4:45 p.m.)

The International Baccalaureate program will live to see another day—and school year—in New Hampshire after a legislative attempt keep it out of schools was soundly rejected by the state Senate, the Union Leader newspaper reports. The program has come under fire recently from critics who suggest that it indoctrinates students and usurps local control of participating schools.

But New Hampshire defenders of the IB program insist that the real intrusion into local control was the attempt by state lawmakers to ban an academic program adopted by school officials and popular with families.

The House of Representatives in March approved the anti-IB bill on a largely party-line vote of 209-102, with most Republicans supporting the measure.

But since then, many local students, parents, and educators have staunchly defended the prestigious curricular program, which was founded in Geneva, Switzerland, in the late 1960s. The IB program currently is offered in just two New Hampshire schools.

The House bill said a school’s curriculum and instruction must promote “state and national sovereignty and is not subject to the governance of a foreign body or organization.” One way to demonstrate this infringement would be for a participating school to be called a “world school,” which just so happens to be a phrase used for schools that participate in the IB program.

For background on the rapid rise of the International Baccalaureate in recent years, check out this EdWeek story on the program, which includes courses of study at not only the high school level, but also middle and even elementary schools. Currently, more than 1,300 U.S. schools offer the IB program.

Supporters of the House bill said the IB program promotes an international ideology that they find distasteful, according to a recent story in the Union Leader newspaper.

“Do you want your children to be indoctrinated to be world citizens or do you want them to be residents of this state and this country?” said Republican Rep. Ralph Boehm, the main sponsor of the bill, according to a May 1 article in the Union Leader. (You can watch a video of Boehm speaking in favor of the measure here.)

Supporters of the bill also raised concerns about the IB program’s connection to the United Nations. (The Union Leader story notes that according to the IB website, the program has been recognized as a nongovernmental organization of UNESCO since 1970.)

The New Hampshire Tea Party has been a strong backer of the measure. In a recent blog post, it said the bill “will bring back local control. There is no excuse for a foreign political group to be directing education in New Hampshire’s schools.”

But the IB programs offered in two schools, one public and one private, appear to have a lot of local support, including from students, parents, and educators.

Those backers not only dismissed the claims of global indoctrination, but made the issue one of local sovereignty, an argument that tends to appeal in New Hampshire.

“If you would want to strip and usurp the authority of a local school board, ... then we need to come up with a new motto for our license plates [other] than ‘Live Free Or Die,’ said Bedford High School junior Michael Courtney, at a hearing, according to the Union Leader.

In fact, Courtney, one of the main organizers of a campaign to defeat the bill, has posted a video on Youtube called Save IB in NH.

“This is much bigger than saving the IB ... curricula,” he says in the video. “This is about local control. This is about Bedford deciding what is best for Bedford’s citizens, not the state.”

John R. White, a New Hampshire resident who testified at a May 1 hearing before the Senate education committee (and whose daughter previously studied in an IB program), offered an impassioned speech defending the program. You can watch it here.

“The opposition to IB would be hilarious were it a skit on ‘Saturday Night Live’ or a Stephen Colbert comic rant,” he said. “But coming as it does from people elected to do the public business in the hallowed halls of Concord, it is frightening. The assertion that the IB is somehow an international plot fomented by the United Nations to undermine national loyalty and cause the disintegration of liberty in the United States is a preposterous notion.”

He added: “IB emphasizes critical thinking and writing skills. It insists on scholarship. It offers vibrant programs in language, history, and mathematics, hardly the stuff of subversion.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.