What exactly is an International Baccalaureate school? A primer.

A primer on Chicago International Baccalaureate schools

By David Gregg

The Internation Baccalaureate is an internationally renowned continuum of educational programs based on best teaching practices and a commitment to developing internationally-minded global citizens. All IB programs help students see themselves as integrally linked to the world they are exploring through an inquiry-based curriculum that emphasizes real-world contexts for learning. 

In order to offer an IB Program, a school must complete an intensive 2-3 year application and authorization process, after which they must engage in formative evaluations in 5-year cycles in order to continually improve program fidelity.

IB in elementary
In pre-k–5th grade, the Primary Years Program (PYP) offers a transdisciplinary approach to help younger students broadly understand the world and their place in it while introducing them to the ways in which knowledge can be differentiated across subject areas.

The Middle Years Program (MYP) for grades 6–8 (and grades 9 and 10 in high school) has a more interdisciplinary approach that provides students with some disciplinary grounding while emphasizing learning skills (e.g., communication, thinking, self-management, etc.).

Both the PYP and the MYP are widely accessible to all students. That is, the curriculum should be differentiated with appropriate accommodations and modifications where needed so that all learner needs are met. A significant goal of these IB Programs is to teach students to become self-directed learners—it should not be an expectation that they already are!

IB in high school
The IB Diploma Program (DP) for high school juniors and seniors is an especially rigorous program of study that serves as a gold-standard for university preparation around the world. More than the other IB Programs, the DP has a strong disciplinary focus. DP Candidates must take college-level IB courses in 6 subjects as well a unique interdisciplinary course called Theory of Knowledge, and they must complete other core requirements including a 4,000-word research essay. Due to the level of rigor and quantity of work, the DP is not realistically accessible to all learners. However, in many schools, particularly in CPS's so-called "wall-to-wall IB schools," students can pick IB courses in particular subjects for individual course credit instead of seeking the full IB Diploma.

The quality of the IB curriculum framework is unparalleled in most U.S. schools, which is why it is one of the fastest-growing education improvement models around the world. It is an especially powerful model for parents who want their kids to have a healthy global perspective. But it is also true that the quality of implementation may vary widely from school to school. Your best bet is to check out the individual school. If you can, visit classrooms in action to look for student engagement. (Is the teacher doing most of the thinking/speaking or are students engaged in exploration?)

However, when you cannot get into a school for a peek, the 5Essentials for CPS schools is arguably the best single metric by which you can measure the likelihood of quality implementation of the IB. The University of Chicago survey is a well-researched, proven method for determining school quality. Look for schools that are labeled "Organized" or "Well-Organized" for improvement. Updated 2019 ratings will be available by the end of October.

David Gregg is the IB Career-Related Programme Coordinator at Nicholas Senn High School, a CPS school in Edgewater. 

Searching for an IB school? Find all Chicago public and private IB elementary schools and high schools in NPN's School Directory.

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Posted on October 10, 2019 at 2:40 PM