SALISBURY, N.H. — Parents and taxpayers upset that Merrimack Valley schools are using a program linked to the United Nations to train teachers plan to voice their opposition at a March 8 meeting to approve the district’s education budget.
The International Baccalaureate program, used in about 1,300 American schools, was established in Switzerland in 1968. At the high school level, it allows students to earn college credits by taking rigorous courses that emphasize global issues, though the Merrimack Valley program isn’t at that stage.
Instead, it has applied to the nonprofit organization’s primary and middle-school programs and has been spending about $58,000 a year to begin using the program’s teaching methods and instructional framework, which emphasizes in-depth investigations into ideas and a high level of student involvement.
“We’re trying to provide the type of education that students will need in the future,” said Assistant Superintendent Christine Barry. “We have found that the traditional method of teaching where the teacher is in the front of the room providing information to the students isn’t working. The children aren’t engaged.
“Everything we read, and what people in the business world tell us, is that students that are going into the world — either into careers or college — need 21st century skills. They need to problem solve, they need to think critically, to analyze situations, to work in groups. So we’re looking at providing our teachers with the skills they need in order to provide that kind of education, “ Barry said.
That has been enough, however, to stir up opposition from critics who accuse the program of being “anti-American” and of promoting the United Nations’ agenda. According to the program’s website, it is part of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, but the relationship with the U.N. does not extend to curriculum development or assessment.
“To me, I.B. is the U.N.,” Salisbury resident Heidi Martin, who has two children in the district, told the Concord Monitor. “The I.B. program frightens me. It frightens me terribly.”
State Rep. Greg Hill, R-Northfield, who represents several towns in the school district, said he has heard from numerous parents who feel the school district hasn’t been upfront about the program and how much it will cost in the future.
“Parents didn’t seem to understand there was a new program going in that has some controversy attached to it,” he said Wednesday. “In seeing some of the estimated costs, they started wondering how they were planning on paying for it.”
Barry said the program’s cost is covered by federal grants. She said school officials have been open about the program.
“I think the district has been very transparent. We’ve had public meetings, we’ve had articles in the newspapers, we’ve had our own publication,” she said.
As a member of the House Education Committee, Hill said he worries about how the I.B. curriculum might be at odds with the state’s education standards.
According to the program’s website, the I.B. curriculum focuses on international perspectives of learning and teaching, while insisting that students fully explore their home culture and language. It also emphasizes traits such as being principled, open-minded, risk-taking and reflective, while mastering academic material including math, history and science.
Bedford High School and New Hampton High School are the only New Hampshire schools that offer the I.B. diploma program, according to the program’s website.
The program has previously attracted criticism in other states, including Idaho in 2010, Utah in 2008 and Michigan in 2005.