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What is International Baccalaureate?

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By Gail Robinson

What supporters say

  • IB looks at the whole picture. "IB brings everything together,” says Yonkers High School Principal Jane Wermuth, so kids understand the “philosophical underpinning of knowledge."
  • Students seem engaged and interested. Many IB students say they enjoy their classes, citing teacher involvement and the sense of community. "Teachers are interested in us as people," one high schooler explains. It gets students ready for the next step: "Our kids are prepared for college," says Yonkers IB Coordinator Marcella Lentine. A recent study of IB diploma programs in Chicago backs that up: graduates of such programs were 40 percent more likely to attend a four-year college and 50 percent more likely to attend selective colleges than graduates without IB diplomas.
  • IB fosters global citizens. "[What we learn in class] opens our eyes to what goes on in the world," one teenager says. Their mission is to “create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”
  • The program can succeed in a variety of settings. In a book on IB, Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews discusses how IB transformed a Virginia high school once described as a place "no one wanted to go to … if they didn't have to" into what Matthews recently described in a Washington Post article as “one of the strongest college-level programs in the country, with improved scores and 35 percent of the participants from black or Hispanic families.”

What critics say

  • The diploma program takes too much time. At least one high school dropped IB in favor of AP after receiving complaints that IB left students too little time for extracurricular activities. The extensive requirements also can conflict with other academic demands.
  • Students are losing out without lectures. Skeptics cite studies indicating that students excel when they receive traditional teacher-led instruction, though these studies do not directly address or compare lecture-based teaching with IB’s inquiry-based model.
  • IB's costly. Students may have to pay hundreds of dollars to participate in a school’s IB program and to take IB exams; for example, some schools ask students to pay a one-time fee of $145 plus $100 for each IB high school exam they take, and the full IB diploma program costs, on average, $745 per student.
  • It's too global. Critics have targeted IB for its international approach. In particular, some object to giving taxpayer dollars and control of U.S. schools to a Geneva-based organization with ties to the United Nations.
  • AP may be a better GPA boost. Many schools give extra weight to AP courses, weighting, say, a B in an AP course as 4.0 rather than 3.0 in an applicant’s GPA to reflect the course’s rigor; but IB course grades don’t always get the same weight. GPA weighting is handled at individual schools, so you can find out when you visit.
  • AP may offer students more college credit. Most colleges give credit for a passing grade on AP tests, but some colleges don’t award credit for passing exams in IB courses. As a result, many IB students take the relevant AP test (but not the class) to secure college credit. Your best bet is to ask the school how their IB classes and diplomas are evaluated by various colleges.

A final word of advice

Since IB is offered in different forms in public, private, and religious schools, you need to decide what type of school and IB program best suits your family. Then visit the school and check out the IB offerings for yourself.

Gail Robinson is a Brooklyn, NY-based freelance writer specializing in education and other public policy issues. Her work appears in many publications, including Inside Schools and the Huffington Post. She has two children who went through the New York City school system.