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Marjorie Cortez: School program needs support, not audit

SHARE Marjorie Cortez: School program needs support, not audit

Our elder child will be a junior in high school next fall, supposing there are no glaring surprises on this term's report card. It's a point in time when students and parents need to get serious about what college their child might attend. Getting into selective colleges and universities is more competitive than ever. Wealthy people hire consultants to advise parents and teens through the admissions process. The rest of us rely on high school guidance counselors, books, Web sites, the advice of friends or relatives with older children and our own experiences.

Newsweek now ranks the nation's top high schools. One of the metrics of the magazine's rating system is whether a school has an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. Many colleges and universities give additional consideration in their admissions processes to students who complete this program.

Salt Lake City's West High School, which has offered the IB program for 20 years, ranked 282nd among Newsweek's 1,350 top high schools list for 2007. West was the highest-ranking Utah school on the list.

If you attend West High's commencement exercises Thursday night, you will observe that a good many of the graduates earned IB diplomas or partial IB diplomas. Taking rigorous classes pays off in terms of higher scores on college admission tests and successful completion of college. As taxpayers, parents and future employers, it's something that we should demand.

Not on Utah's Capitol Hill. When a handful of lawmakers had the audacity to ask the Utah Legislature for a $300,00 appropriation for this program, they got the once over. International Baccalaureate? Sounds anti-American! Quick, let's conduct a legislative audit before this outfit gets more of a toehold in Utah. We can't have school districts and school community councils negotiating contracts with international concerns.


As if it takes an audit. A simple telephone call to the participating school districts or schools would answer any questions state lawmakers might have. Instead of paying for an audit, lawmakers could appropriate the money that would have been spent on an audit on the IB program.

As for entering contracts with international organizations, it's fair to surmise that any school with foreign exchange students, study abroad programs or character education programs that perform service work outside the U.S. enter into legal contracts with people in other countries. Does the Legislature want to micromanage that, too?

Implementing an IB program is a school-based decision. The faculty has to buy in, of course, but the local school board has the final say. It's a textbook case of local control. Most of us want the people closest to our schools governing our schools.

Another thing, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this newspaper, is an international church. Young men and women are sent worldwide on church missions. Youths who have had the opportunity for an international education — not to mention rigorous assessment — would likely thrive in the mission field given the cultural understanding cultivated in the IB program.

The days of isolationist politics and protectionist trade are behind us. Businesses compete on a global playing field. Young people who speak foreign languages fluently and are culturally aware will have a leg up on their peers, whether they are applying to top colleges or competing for jobs upon college graduation.

Ask any of the IB diploma candidates who have or will soon graduate from Bountiful, Clearfield, Hillcrest, Hunter, Provo, Skyline or West high schools about the program. They'll tell you that they committed two years of their life to a rigorous curriculum recognized worldwide. To earn that IB diploma, they've undergone difficult assessments, written a 4,000-word essay and performed a good deal of community service.

Then ask those students where they will be attending college. For a good many Utah students, an IB diploma has opened the door of the some of the most selective colleges in the nation, if not the world.

If lawmakers are bent on conducting an audit, perhaps they should investigate what more can be done to facilitate these programs in more Utah schools. If our nation is to compete globally, our kids will need more educational rigor.

Marjorie Cortez, who believes that the paltry $100,000 appropriated to the IB program by the Utah Legislature comes with strings like no other, is a Deseret News editorial writer. E-mail her at marjorie@desnews.com.