Monday, June 13, 2011

International Baccalaureate: Friend or Foe?

Robo, one of my readers, had some questions about IB (International Baccalaureate) programs. Since this blog is about all things education, I thought it would make for a good post. From robo:
"My questions are basically the same as the issues in the TFA post: does IB detract/distract from the goal of providing a quality education for all students? Does IB draw an inordinate share of the resources from the 'mainstream' program? Finally, does it actually offer something better?
Obviously, we believe the last to be affirmative or we would not have enrolled both of our kids in this program. The only anti-IB material I've seen is from some obviously nutty fundamentalist/ conservative corners, but I'm sure your readers must have some knowledge on the topic."
I'll start with what I know, which isn't much since there weren't IB courses at my school--in fact, there were barely AP courses, I never taught IB or AP, and I have younger children. I've heard that IB courses are excellent--they're rigorous, multi-dimensional, and full of essential content. I've heard many educators and parents alike declare the approach and curricula to be superior to that of APs.

As for ethical considerations, from what I've heard that depends on how the program is implemented. In the county where I currently live, no school has a dedicated IB program; there are only IB courses. That means  there's no application process and that anyone can take an IB course, especially if recommended by a counselor or teacher. Also if one county high school has a program that another doesn't, the county will bus students who want to participate in that program to the school, so no matter which neighborhood a student lives in, they can take advantage of any program the county offers. Some other districts have magnet IB schools or programs (schools within schools) where it's an all or nothing thing. Usually the kids who get into the programs are the ones with parents most likely to be able to advocate to get them in or who advocate to bring a magnet program to their neighborhood school in the first place.

As for IB programs taking away from "mainstream" programs, I think that only happens if the school or district lets is happen. If IB courses include best teaching practices and offer great curricula, I don't see what good it does anyone to NOT offer them. A district would have to make sure, though, that IB is not offered at the expense of best practices and great curricula for students in other courses as well as make sure IB courses are accessible and encouraged for ALL students who are academically capable or prepared. (And yes, Michael Lopez, if you're out there, I know this gets us into the capable vs. prepared discussion. I need to learn more before deciding where I stand.)

Readers, what do you know about IB? Do tell below.

UPDATE: Since composing this post, I found two relevant posts from other blogs that I regularly read. This one is from Joanne Jacobs, about tracking, and this one is from a school principal named Mel Riddle who blogs for "The Principal Difference."


  1. I graduated from an IB program and am thankful for the knowledge and skills I acquired. My wallet was extremely appreciative of the 24 college credits I acquired from the rigorous testing.

    At the school where I currently teach, all students are allowed to take IB classes (and AP), a controversial policy. I can understand both perspectives- higher level classes raise the bar for all students, but, on the other hand, with the open-door policy, some students really struggle with the material. This then results in either lower grades (I know, I know, grades aren't everything) or teachers bringing the material to a inappropriately lower level.

    Nonetheless, IB is a great program if implemented correctly. We constantly hear criticism regarding the state of our education system, and when we try to implement a program to challenge our students there should be no backlash.

  2. Rachel, thanks a million!

  3. I teach at a school that has offered the IB Diploma for about six years and is currently implementing the IB Middle Years Programme. Here are some thoughts:
    -While, in general, IB high school courses require more depth in LIMITED areas, they lack in breadth. AP requires more breadth as well as some depth.
    -IB requires many of its courses to be two year courses. This is wasteful as schools are stuck offering two year courses such as Psychology. Such is overkill at the high school level.
    -My students have been almost unanimous in reporting that colleges much prefer (and give credit for) AP to IB.
    -Unless a school has VAST resources, I don't think it's feasible to offer both AP and IB courses. They compete, rather than compliment each other. My suggestion, if the goal is to increase rigorous offerings at a high school, would be to increase the number of AP courses and teach them at a high level.
    -Regarding MYP- it has some good aspects, but nothing that makes it worth the costs (monetary, time commitment of teachers, bureaucratic frustrations, etc.). Look at the program and adopt what you like in your own manner at without tying your hands by becoming an IBMYP school. My contention is that MYP does siphon resources from the 'mainstream' program (it becomes THE focus)

  4. Christine and anon., thanks for your thoughts.

  5. In a world where education is considered a commodity to be bought and sold in the marketplace, IB is glitzy and has a good PR machine. It has significant costs to districts and seems to appeal more to suburban districts who want to boost their "elite" images. I have siblings who have taught in IB schools-- nothing particularly wrong with it but like every franchised version of education, has some prescriptions that teachers and administrators have to buy into. They also felt it was imposed by administrators looking to expand their image as "great instructional leaders" who didn't have the substance to do anything on their own.

  6. Hi, I'm a few months from finishing my IB course - my school is a 100% IB school, so we are completely immersed in the program. I have to say that, despite the increased rigour of the program, I am glad to have done IB. As a student, I really think that doing IB helped me to study with a more global perspective, and helped me to develop myself as a person. As generic as it sounds, the IB truly does meet all its objective - TOK made me think about my learning, CAS helped to get me out of my comfort zone, EE taught me to work and research independently, and I have enjoyed all my subjects overall.

    I think the key thing that sets IB apart is the focus on the whole student - the program gets us to study across a wide range of areas, and the nature of the course means that we develop and deepen our understanding of our subject over the full two years, giving us a broader perspective on our learning.

    I feel much more prepared for university and life in general having done IB, because I have been pushed to my limit: mentally, physically andemotionally, and have proven to myself that I can survive it, and survive it well. Personally, I would recommend the IB to anyone who is looking for a curriculum that will make them a better student and person, not just get them a certificate to get into university.

  7. I appreciate the comments, and am quite encouraged by IB Screwed's story. That outcome is just what I'm hoping for with my kids.

    BWilson, thanks for the heads up on how IB is susceptible to bureaucratic constraints. Something to watch out for, to be sure.

    Thanks again to Rachel for opening this topic.