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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

January 24, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Debating IB and other Big Questions at Rainier Beach High

Colin Pierce, coordinator of the International Baccalaureate program at Rainier Beach High School, conducts an information meeting before IB began at the school in 2012. Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times.

Two years ago, when Rainier Beach High School announced that it would be offering a slate of academically rigorous  International Baccalaureate courses, reaction was — to put it kindly — widespread disbelief.

Kids at long-maligned Beach, where 40 percent of ninth graders drop out and only half of those who remain passed state math exams in 2012-’13, would not be able to handle the college preparatory curriculum, said IB students at other Seattle schools.

But 95 percent of juniors at Beach are now taking at least one IB class, exactly the mark that educators there had hoped to hit in their first year. Earlier this week in Theory of Knowledge, a dozen of those students spent an hour throwing around terms like “utilitarian argument” and “inter-textualization” during a debate about the ethics of physician-assisted suicide.

Is it ever OK to take a life, even one’s own? asked their teacher, Colin Pierce.

“This is exactly the ethical framework of Kantian moral theory,” answered Tavares Tagaleo’o, 16. “It goes right back to the essential dilemma.”

Every student in Theory of Knowledge — required for all students pursuing an IB diploma — had agreed to attend the class after school, since Beach runs on a six-period day and IB is designed for seven. Every student said that the curriculum required far more work than they’d ever attempted before. None appeared to regret the decision.

“I feel like if I don’t do this, I’m losing opportunities,” said Aaron Lee, 16.

Most Beach students taking IB courses are not pursuing the full International Baccalaureate diploma. But interest in the program is growing — such that the school’s long-dwindling enrollment has grown by 19 percent over last year, which is exactly what parents envisioned when they pushed administrators to import the curriculum.

Often, students who aren’t even on the roster show up, just to listen.

“They like to talk about the big ideas,” Pierce said.

0 Comments | More in News | Topics: curriculum, International Baccalauerate, Rainier Beach

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