Learning globally

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The Bush administration has begun issuing grants to help spread a United Nations-sponsored school program that aims to become a “universal curriculum” for teaching global citizenship, peace studies and equality of world cultures.

The goal is to devise a curriculum to teach “a set of culturally neutral universal values to which all people aspire,” based on human rights, equality of the sexes and “open-mindedness to change and obligation to environmental protection and sustainable development.”

The U.S. Education Department has issued its first $1.2 million grant to implement the European-based International Baccalaureate (IB) program in middle schools that are to become “feeder schools” for the IB’s high school diploma program in low-income school districts.

“We are ever mindful of the lessons of September 11, one of which is that all future measures of a rigorous K-12 education must include a solid grounding in other cultures, other languages and other histories,” Education Secretary Rod Paige said a year ago as he announced new global-education initiatives in U.S. schools.

“In other words, we need to put the ‘world’ back into ‘world-class’ education,” he said.

Some educators are skeptical. An official in the Reagan administration says he was “a wee bit put off” by the program’s approach. An education adviser to the current Bush administration calls the approach “an educator fad,” and a retired official of the National Science Foundation says many of the peer reviewers in the program are “hard left-leaners.”

The Education Department grant will expand the IB program initially in Arizona, Massachusetts and New York.

The IB curriculum has been adopted by about 1,450 schools in 115 countries, including 502 schools in the United States. The program is in 55 primary, middle and secondary schools in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

U.S. schools that have committed to the European program spend an estimated $85 million to $100 million a year beyond regular school expenses for teacher salaries and other costs, according to government records. Fairfax County schools alone spend $1.8 million a year in additional costs for the IB program.

The major additional costs are teacher development and online courses, which the federal grant supports; IB fees; and expenses to send U.S. student tests and papers for scoring and evaluation by IB officials in Europe.

An IB regulation accepted by participating American schools requires that all tests and written papers of American students sent to Europe for grading or evaluation “become the absolute property” of the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) in Geneva.

The program was originally devised in the mid-1960s for children of globe-trotting European diplomats, who wanted a standard curriculum that would lead to admission for graduates to any top-flight university in the world.

“With the advent of international schools and their population of students from diverse cultures came a curriculum problem,” Ian Hill, deputy director-general of the IBO, told a 2001 conference convened by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.

“Teachers were concerned about the inappropriateness of national curricula for providing a truly global dimension and international experience in the academic program,” he told the conference titled “Education for Disarmament.”

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