Wednesday, July 21, 2010

To I.B. or Not to I.B., That Is the Question

I've been reading that International Baccalaureate programs may be coming to Washtenaw County. I wrote about the programs before here.

Take, for instance, this article from Dexter's Squall newspaper, written by Brittany Martini (Squall co-editor) and featured in on March 13, 2010--it features the process that Dexter High School is going through in preparation for switching from a school with AP classes to a school with an IB program.
Tentatively, in the fall of 2011, juniors and seniors will have the opportunity to either enroll in International Baccalaureate classes or enter an IB program and eventually receive an IB diploma... Dexter High School currently offers Advanced Placement (AP) classes to upperclassmen, but, according to [social studies teacher Susan] Walters, there is a definite difference between the two.“In terms of students, IB classes offer an opportunity for them to earn college credit, just like AP.... Also, the more challenging and greater variety of courses we can provide for students, the richer our curriculum will be.
"Students who take individual IB classes can test for college credit; students who only take IB classes during their junior and senior years can earn enough credits to enter college with sophomore standing or close to that.”
Besides a different approach to the test, IB and AP classes differ in price as well. 
According to Pam Bunka [Fenton English teacher]... Fenton recently adopted the IB program and has seen elective enrollements fall because of this adoption...The IB test is approximately $224 dollars, which is significantly more than the AP test.”...“The IB program allows students no room for electives,” Bunka said. “The electives a student in the diploma program has to take must be IB-approved classes. This means they can not take a band class; they have to take a band theory class instead. This applies for art classes as well. A student would have to take an art theory class instead of a regular art class."...
The IB diploma program forces students to take only IB classes...Regardless of the potential benefits and drawbacks from the program, whether DHS will become an IB school is still up in the air.
 At the same time, the WISD is looking at creating an IB program in East Middle School.  [Sarcastic side notes: 1) The WISD apparently doesn't have enough to do with taking on the "countywide" transporation; and 2) isn't it so convenient that Ypsilanti happens to have an empty middle school that could be used. Oh, but "no decisions have been made." OK, sarcasm over.]
Seriously, I am open-minded about the IB program, and I don't know much about it, but I want my questions answered.

According to this June 30, 2010 article by David Jesse,
"The Washtenaw County Superintendents Association has been talking about adding an IB program at the high school level for much of the last school year.
“This spring, they voted to move ahead with the planning of a countywide magnet high school using the IB Diploma Program, beginning with a target of 150 students with a goal of up to 600 students by year four,” Allen said."
 It happens that this article sparked a lot of comments, which I will get to in a minute. My basic problem is that I still didn't know what this program is/was.  Luckily for me, the New York Times posted an article a few days later that at least explains the details. 
The lesser-known I.B., a two-year curriculum developed in the 1960s at an international school in Switzerland, first took hold in the United States in private schools. But it is now offered in more than 700 American high schools — more than 90 percent of them public schools — and almost 200 more have begun the long certification process.
Many parents, schools and students see the program as a rigorous and more internationally focused curriculum, and a way to impress college admissions officers.
To earn an I.B. diploma, students must devote their full junior and senior years to the program, which requires English and another language, math, science, social science and art, plus a course on theory of knowledge, a 4,000-word essay, oral presentations and community service. (Emphasis added.)
Translation: devoting their full junior and senior years means no electives.

According to the New York Times article, the most common opposition comes from a belief that it is too internationally-focused (follows a "United Nations agenda"),  and the cost.
Others object to its cost — the organization charges $10,000 a year per school, $141 per student and $96 per exam — and say it is neither as effective as the A.P. program nor likely to reach as many students.
 Side note: I like the idea of a United Nations agenda.

 The Times article also looks at a school implementing the program in Maine:
Because it is so rigorous, the I.B. is not for everyone. At Greely, only 21 juniors started the full program this year, and three subsequently shifted to a mix of I.B. and regular classes. But those who stayed with it seemed enthusiastic. “It’s like a little club of scholars,” said Maggie Bower, a junior.
 In the comments on the article, I thought there were some really good questions, which I will aggregate here:

Will the teachers at the IB program have to move from their current school district in Washtenaw County to the ISD? Will there be countywide busing available? How will students be selected for the program, using standardized tests or recommendations and grades? And, will students who attend the program be able to play sports at their "home school" or will the IB program also offer a sports program as a comprehensive high school? Is this just another way to funnel resources to elite students? How would this compete with the new High School program the Ypsilanti district is planning for the former Ardis elementary building? Will teachers remain employees of their home districts? How will districts fund this, and what will it cost them? How is the WISD going to be held accountable to the local voters? Will this program "cream" the most motivated students from each district, leaving fewer options for those left behind? How much money for renovations to a school building, and what will that cost/where will the money come from?

And I have a few more questions:
What kind of impact would this have on electives--music, art, gym?
What kind of impact would this have on after-school activities--theater, sports?
What kind of impact will this have on smaller schools in the county--for instance, Manchester, Willow Run, Whitmore Lake--will it mean they have to cut sports programs because they don't have enough enrollment to support them? Will this support disinvestment in local schools?
How do we keep the Washtenaw Intermediate School District accountable?
Why is the IB program preferable to AP?
We already have the Early College Alliance, connected to EMU (as well as the charter school, Washtenaw Technical Middle College). With both of those, students end up with actual college credits. Why is the IB program preferable to expanding these (ECA and WTMC) programs? 

Is there anything that I missed? Add your questions below.


  1. My son just graduated from a public high school that offered both IB and AP courses; often co-seated. Both were superb programs with excellent teachers. He took many of the AP courses and he also earned an IB Diploma. IB offered an opportunity to learn about other countries and cultures, a tied together various subjects in an interdisciplinary manner. It was a lot of schoolwork. He also played 2 musical instruments, played on three sports teams, varsity captain of one of them, and participated in Boy Scouts, several school clubs and religious activities. Not all students can do all that, but for those who can and want to the benefits are enormous. Result, a well-balanced high school graduate who was accepted into 5 Ivy League colleges and MIT, plus a few others. He is going to go to Harvard in the fall. Whatever your community chooses to do, be sure to provide exceptional students with exceptional opportunities and let them choose to work hard and achieve. As a society we will all be better off for offering them AP and IB courses, both have their merits.

  2. Does AP have a per school charge, or just the cost of the exams? It seems like $10,000 per school is a pretty hefty price tag, particularly if enrollment in the program is low. I'm not sure where the $ for this would come from in this era of everything being cut.

    That said, it sounds like it could be a good program for gifted students and, since Ann Arbor has no designated program for gifted students (and please, spare me the "all students in Ann Arbor are gifted!" garbage), it might be a way to keep up enrollment for kids who aren't being challenged by the present curriculum. I've heard that the WTMC charter has been making in-roads with this subset of the high school population so if you add in the per pupil funding that the school districts lose when kids switch to charters, maybe that lessens the costs.

    I'm curious who would pay the per student fees for the IB--it doesn't cost a student anything to take an AP class, just the exam to try and earn the college credit. Does IB require a fee per student to take the courses and if so, is this something that families will be responsible for paying? Will there be scholarships?

    One more thought--the IB program sounds good for those "Renaissance" kids who are good at everything but doesn't sound like it would necessarily serve well the student who is really strong in some subjects and weak in others. For that it sounds like the AP program offers a lot more flexibility.

  3. Anon, Thanks for sharing your experience. What does it mean to have co-seated classes? Are they taught together but some kids take the AP exam, and some kids take the IB exam?

    Kate, I'm not sure (hopefully someone who KNOWS will answer), but I believe that the only cost to families would be for the exams.
    By the way, I'm not sure if you are right about the idea that students who are strong in one area and weak in another would not be well-suited to the program, because I understand that one of the strengths is a cross-subject, project-based learning program--and that tends to even out strengths and weaknesses.

  4. Anon, Thanks for sharing your experience. What does it mean to have co-seated classes? Are they taught together but some kids take the AP exam, and some kids take the IB exam?

    Co-seated does mean taught together. Students then take, AP and / or IB tests or neither as they wish. At our HS the students paid for the AP and IB exams, perhaps something more but I do not recall.

    FWIW-I was opposed to the IB program for a few years leading up to it because of the deserved reputation for significant school work and home work. Then I spoke with IB students, administrators and teachers and learned about the IB approach to education through cross-cultural perspectives and that I fully support. The workload for IB would not have been much of a burden for my son and other highly gifted and motivated students if they were not involved in so many other activities. My younger son will probably do IB for many of the same reasons.

    The AP classes were equally as much school and home work.

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  6. I received an IB, but in a different situation. I was a scholarship kid at an international boarding school, the United World College-USA (

    A few notes:
    1. There were elective tracks. For example, for your social science, you could choose history, anthropology, or economics.

    2. The curriculum is very well-rounded, and at my school there were also essentially "mandatory extra-curriculars" in both culture and sports. Culture could be watching foreing film, sports could be salsa dancing, but you had to be active in those areas.

    3. One problem with the IB as it was administered in my school: The classes were 2-year classes with a final grade after 2 years, a large part of which was determined by a final test. Talk about high-stakes testing! I had one friend sleep through his econ final. He still received a high school diploma, but no IB credit for that whole class.

    4. The content of the classes is very international. Part of the English curriculum for native speakers includes reading literature in translation to promote cross-cultural understanding.

    5. Within the courses of study, there is a range of intensities. You could take most classes either higher or lower-level. Not good at math? You can take that at a basic level. Awesome at Spanish? You can take that higher-level.