Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Let’s Talk IB

Yesterday’s Times-Dispatch article about International Baccalaureate programs in the Richmond area (A world of satisfaction ) was enlightening but it only looks at a part of the picture. It looks at IB only as an honors program for gifted children and therefore misses what is best about IB.

The International Baccalaureate Organization offers three different programs. The Diploma Program, for high school juniors and seniors, is the program that generally gets the most attention. The Diploma Program offers college-like courses for students and, like AP courses, its students often receive college credit for the IB courses they complete. Certainly, the Diploma Program should be considered an honors program. It requires students to complete an extended essay project, to study the interdisciplinary Theory of Knowledge, and to participate in creativity, action, service (CAS), which “encourages students to be involved in artistic pursuits, sports and community service work.”

The IB Middle Years Program (MYP) is designed for students in middle school and the first two years of high school. Although in Richmond Public Schools the MYP program is viewed as an honors program, that is not its intent. The MYP uses a different approach to learning that exposes students to eight different subjects taught through five areas of interaction. The MYP encourages students to be “independent thinkers” who


can recognize relationships between school subjects and the world outside, who can adapt to new situations and combine relevant knowledge, practical and social intelligence to solve authentic problems alone or in groups.

I am most familiar with the MYP at Langston Hughes Middle School and South Lakes High School in Fairfax County. Unlike the MYP in Richmond at Lucille Brown Middle School, all students at Hughes are IB students. There are no admissions tests, comparison of SOL scores, teacher recommendations. Enrollment is not limited to 50 students. There is no separate school-within-a-school. Every child living in the Hughes school zone becomes an IB student upon enrolling at Hughes. They remain IB students through the ninth and tenth grades at South Lakes High School. Because of this “whole-school” approach, all students in the Hughes-South Lakes MYP benefit from the IB program. It seems clear that the MYP is working quite well. In the five years since the MYP has been fully functional for all students at Hughes-South Lakes student achievement, especially among minority students, has improved considerably.

I understand that the whole-school approach to implementing the MYP is the way things will go in the future. The school-within-a-school model, like that at Lucille Brown, is no longer favored by the International Baccalaureate Organization.

The third IB program is the Primary Years Program (PYP). The PYP is intended for students in kindergarten through the fifth grade. The PYP


curriculum framework consists of five essential elements: concepts, knowledge, skills, attitude, action. The knowledge component is developed through inquiries into six transdisciplinary themes of global significance, supported and balanced by six subject areas.

The six themes are 1- who we are, 2- where we are in place and time, 3- how we express ourselves, 4- how the world works, 5- how we organize ourselves, and 6- sharing the planet. As is the MYP, the PYP is intended to be a whole-school rather than an honors program.

Last summer I was fortunate to share dinner with faculty of an elementary school located in Athens, Georgia. Their description of their school population closely resembled the populations of many of Richmond’s elementary schools. They told me that before becoming an IB school most of the children in the school were not meeting state-mandated standards. Under the PYP, student achievement in the school improved significantly. So, at least in that school, the PYP was successful.

None of the IB programs are cheap. For the PYP, as of the beginning of this year, the fee for the first two years (when the school is in the application process) is seven thousand dollars per year. After that the annual fee is five thousand dollars per year so long as the school is a PYP school. In addition to the fees, the IB school must bear the cost of faculty training and of a program-coordinator faculty position.


Thank you to TD reporter Zachary Reid for his wonderful article. Now you know the rest of the story.

For more information on IB, see ibo.org.

1 comment:

Gray said...

This is exactly what I have been saying we need at Bellevue elementary. The east end needs a top specialty school. And thank you once again Maven for pointing out it should be for all. I believe the cost of the IB would not be more expensive than this New Direction plan, nor as impossible. The New Direction plan calls for administrators, counselors, teachers, and parents to meet periodically to form an individualized educational plan for the student...hell they can barely handle this now with the students with disabilities and you can only guess how few parents actually show up for parent teacher conferences. Several teachers have told me that individualized plans for each and every student would be impossible. IB is the way to go.