For decades, many AMERICAN secondary schools have a range of college-level Advanced Placement courses allow high performers to shine than a standard diploma. But there is a different standard that many schools have adopted the International Baccalaureate.
“There is definitely an increase of the IB diploma in the United States, and is considered the gold standard in the college admission officials,” says Shellee Hendricks, director of college counseling at the French-American School of New York in Mamaroneck, which recently started offering the IB diploma.
Colleen Duffy, marketing manager of the International Baccalaureate Organization in America, says IB diploma programs have the largest presence in California, Florida and Texas schools, but there are also many in the Middle-west and other parts of the country.
“The biggest misconception people have about the program is that it is a study abroad program. That it is not. It was started in Switzerland for the parents who are often transferred from one country to another, and wanted a curriculum that would be more internationally accepted. But we are in the public schools in nearly every US state now,” says Duffy.
In contrast to the board of Directors of the AP program, which offers single subject courses and is still the most common national level, the less well-known International Baccalaureate program is more comprehensive in the subject.
Duffy says that it is a more rigorous preparation for college-level work, encourages in-depth, independent research, and teaches students to embrace a diverse world.
“It is much more holistic than a few AP classes here and there,” she says.
The two-year IB curriculum, developed in 1968 at an international school in Geneva, is now offered in 931 American high school — 87 percent of them public schools — and dozens of others have started the long process of certification. The number of IB schools around the world exceeds 4,700, spread over 150 countries, and is expected to exceed 7,000 in the next five years.
To earn an IB diploma, students devote their junior and senior years in the program, for which the English plus one other language, mathematics, sciences, social sciences, arts, a course on the theory of knowledge, a 4000-word essay, oral presentations and 150 recommended hours of community service.
“The essay is a very intensive and extensive research piece on a topic of the student’s choice,” Hendricks says.
While some schools start the IB curriculum in the primary school, and others do not start until middle school or high school.
Critics say that the IB program is not for every student, or every community.
“I was one of a number of high school teachers in our district who believed in the IB program, but fought against it tooth and nail, because it was too much to abide by the state mandates, simultaneously with the execution of this program,” says Kelly Osterhout, who taught at the high school in the York County School District in Virginia for four years.
“We had the feeling that there are not enough resources available to teachers to do in the way it should be done, and we had to deal with parents who are angry about parts of the program such as education, global tolerance and respecting the opinions of others. Just with the mention of the LGBTQ movement, for example, caused a stir.”
The teachers at her school voted to get rid of the IB program at the high school level, she said, but it continues to the high school level.
Some people are uncomfortable with the program’s ties with the United Nations. The program received funding from UNESCO from 1968 to 1976, and still be associated with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Others object to the costs of the organization costs $11,650 per year per school, $172 per student and € 119, – per exam — and say it is also not as effective as the AP program nor likely to reach as many students, because it is too strict for most.