Monday, June 17, 2013


IB, you be, we all be...

The Wall Street Journal had an article on schools going International Baccalaureate by By Caroline Porter and Stephanie Banchero. Joan Smith, a good family friend is a former principal of IB schools (including having started one) and now travels the country training teachers in schools that are becoming IB. I sent the article on to her and she had cogent comments. (As you would expect.)

The article is behind a soft pay wall. (My access came through ASCD's SmartBrief (free sign up), which is often worthwhile.

Some salient points and figures:
  • Houston, Chicago, Tampa, Fla., and other cities are embracing the International Baccalaureate program
  • there are 1,651 IB programs in the U.S.—including 1,493 public schools—up from 503 in 2003. About 90% of them are in public schools
  • IB programs emphasize individual and group projects governed by a philosophy of "international mindedness."
  • some parents are concerned that IB programs are too theoretical. "It's frustrating to see that instead of doing spelling bees or history reports, they are spending about six weeks of time focusing on poverty or saving white tigers"
  • Schools typically incur a cost of $150,000 or so to prepare for the program, which could include expanding lab or library space. They also must pay the IB group about $10,000 in annual fees plus $700 per student for tests given in 11th and 12th grades, as well as teacher-training fees.

Joanie responds:
This is true--the programs are growing very, very rapidly across the US and Canada. It's a pretty good interview, though the reporter misses the reality that the content of the curriculum is dictated by the district; the IB teaches teachers how to deliver it through inquiry and higher level thinking so that kids actually learn. I have never found a state or district curriculum at odds with the requirements of the IB, which are broad expectations in all subjects and the Primary program and the Middle Years program do not have outside assessments like the Diploma does.
Any news on GV engaging in this? I'm glad to help in any way you need.

The parents who complain about not having spelling bees and other things they remember from when they attended school are pretty clueless about how little is learned from those activities. The kids who excel and enjoy those are the linguistic learners, who represent about 15% of any classroom! The rigorous expectations of the IB programs raise test scores without the rote memorization, mindless skill and drill, etc. that is happening in so many of our failing schools today.
I would add that the costs incurred vary by program. The fees are most expensive for the Diploma Program (11th and 12th grade) because there are external as well as internal assessments over the two years of the program. The assessments are balanced with 50% of the final mark dependent on the exams in May of each year. The papers set are usually two or three separate exams including essay, multiple choice, etc., not unlike A.P. exams. The beauty of the program is that teachers are involved in the marks on internal assessments. The Primary and Middle Years Programs are less expensive but are amazing programs! (added here from the comments)

What I often see in successful professional development is a vision that is shared by the teachers and an increased sense of agency, that they have the authority to make changes that result in deeper learning. IB isn't magical, but it does connect to what we know about motivation and learning.