Teachers Ask South Orange-Maplewood District to Stop Funding IB

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Udated 8:25 p.m. to add a comment from 8th language arts teacher and team leader Anna Herstatt.

Eight Maplewood Middle School teachers voiced complaints about the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme implementation at the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education meeting on Monday night and asked that the program be defunded.

The teachers said that they had made good faith efforts to implement the program and even admired its goals, but that ultimately they found that it was bringing no added value, was wasting their time and that of their students, and was bleeding resources from the district that were sorely needed elsewhere.

In March 2012, the Board of Education adopted the IB Middle Years Programme for the middle schools. IB was introduced to the middle schools beginning with the 6th grade class in 2013-14. According to the district website, “IB MYP will help the District ensure that learning in the middle schools is rigorous, based on student inquiry, and what we call trans-disciplinary, which means that the learning is across subjects and transcends traditional content areas.”

Susan Barry, an 8th grade language arts teacher at MMS who has been teaching in the district for 41 years, told the Board of Education on Monday night that while she found many strengths in IB, it was not a solution to the current problems at MMS. She noted that MMS is a focus school with many struggling readers, writers and mathematicians. “What they need most are programs designed to meet them where they are and to move them to the next level and the next and the next. I don’t believe IB is that program.”

(According to the NJ Dept. of Education, “Focus Schools comprise about 10% of schools with the overall lowest subgroup performance, a graduation rate below 75% and the widest gaps in achievement between different subgroups of students. Focus Schools receive targeted and tailored solutions to meet the school’s unique needs.”)

Adding rigor was not a good argument for IB, according to Barry, who said, “Rigor already abounds in the halls and classrooms of MMS,” noting the many advanced ELA and math classes, world languages and expanded electives.

In addition, she said, “Core content standards and PARCC have put great stress on an already full curriculum.” She added, “No one of us can do his best when pulled in several different and often contradictory directions.”

“My purpose tonight is to ask the board to please consider not funding IB any longer” as, Barry said, it is not addressing students most urgent needs. “Please put an end to IB and allow our children to focus on getting off the focus schools list and to allow each child to achieve his best.”

Ryan Varney, a teacher at MMS for seven years, likewise said that IB should be ended: “Over the course of the last three years, the district cut numerous special education teachers and doesn’t have enough funding to purchase the sufficient amount of licenses for successful reading and mathematics programs for our students. We are cutting staff and don’t have enough funding for out most needy students. Doesn’t that concern anyone?”

Varney added, “Our priorities as a district need to shift to support our students in our most crucial areas such as our special education program.” She also said that the district needed to support students who are not classified but who are reading below grade level.

George Mauritzen, an MMS math teacher for 18 years asked, “Is there any evidence of MYP closing the achievement gap?

Eights grade language arts teacher and team leader Anna Herstatt said teachers were “scrambling” to be masters in many initiatives including “Common Core, PARCC, the Danielson Framework, SGOs, SGPs, PDPs, revised curriculums, new technologies, school-wide and department goals, and a plethora of other concerns.” She said that IB was distracting and taking important energy needed for other initiatives.

“Help us help your children,” said Herstatt. “Remove IB from your program.”

Toi Jackson, a 6th grade history teacher at MMS and a South Orange resident, said that she was “upset that my tax payer dollars are going to this IB program.”

Jackson also made a plea to the Board to “open your ears to the teachers in this district who are in the trenches of the classroom.” She said the teachers were not speaking for themselves “but for our students.”

“We have been the first to implement the program as 6th grade teachers. We gave it a chance before we stood here today … and we just ask that you hear what we’re saying tonight.”

Mark Terenzi, a science teacher at MMS 15 years, echoed Jackson’s comments. “We’ve really given this a chance. You haven’t seen us here. We’re been really trying to make this work and we’re really at the point now where it’s not working.”

Ryan O’Dell, a 6th grade LA at MMS for 19 years, said that although teachers were initially excited about IB, the “IB unit planner is unnecessarily complex.” He said that no one was available to answer teachers’ increasing volume of questions about IB and noted that the MMS principal, IB coordinator and “IB-supporting” superintendent had left the district. Utlimately, he said, IB was hindering teachers’ “time and ability to focus on the art of teaching.”

Mary Dugan, who teaches math at MMS, concluded, “[IB] has done nothing for my students and for teaching other than cause frustration, waste a great deal of time and unfortunately the taxpayers’ money.”

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