The International Baccalaureate, or IB, is an international education foundation with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The IB offers three educational programs for children between the ages of 3 to 19: the primary years program, the middle years program, and the diploma program. In 2006, Time magazine called IB “a rigorous, off-the-shelf curriculum recognized by universities around the world.”
When high school students speak about the IB, they’re probably referring to the diploma program, which is a demanding two-year curriculum leading to final examinations. In fact, when I was in high school, I briefly dated a guy that had been accepted to the International Baccalaureate school in our district. The acceptance itself was a pretty impressive feat, but he dropped out of the program after a few weeks and returned to classes at our “normal” high school. I also remember another one of my classmates decided to participate in the IB program, only to decide it was too difficult to deal with. She also left after a few weeks.
At the time, I didn’t know much about the IB program, other than “it’s really, really hard,” which was the common description circulating around my high school after two people that we all knew had already quit.
The article in Time explained that in order to earn an IB diploma, students must prove written and spoken proficiency in a second language, write a 4,000-word college-level research paper, complete a real-world service project and pass rigorous oral and written subject exams. That definitely sounds difficult to me!
The IB does not own or manage schools in the United States or elsewhere across the globe; instead, it works cooperatively with the schools that share the IB commitment to international education. Schools that have been authorized to offer one or more of the three IB programs are known as IB World Schools.
Authorization to become an IB World School is an intensive process that typically takes two or more years and includes site visits by an IB team, and a regular process of evaluation is undertaken by schools that have been authorized. According to the IB website, IB World Schools all have a few things in common. They:
Some students assume that IB programs are comparable to Advanced Placement (AP) classes and exams, and some high schools are even offering both AP and IB programs. The IB diploma is difficult to earn and supposedly a qualification that is welcomed by leading universities around the world, but critics of the program claim otherwise. Some college freshmen are receiving more college credit from their college for AP exams than students who earned an IB diploma, which is a much more rigorous program to complete.
Jay Mathews, of the Washington Post column Class Struggle profiled a young college student named Alexis Robertson in his February 7, 2010 column. Alexis passed six college-level IB exams, did 150 hours of community service and received the IB Diploma, one of the highest honors bestowed by American high schools, yet the University of Virginia gave her only nine college credits when she began school. She said a friend who had taken a similar load of AP courses received 39 credits.
Whether or not students receive credit for any type of courses taken before enrolling at the school is up to each particular college, but a 2008 Washington Post article explained a “catch” of the way some colleges award credit to IB program graduates: “Students usually can’t get college credit for one-year IB courses, even though they are similar to one-year Advanced Placement courses, which are eligible for credit. In another complication, students can get credit for passing tests after two-year IB courses, but that credit is equivalent to one year in AP.”
What’s crazy is that most university officials have no real explanation regarding these discrepancies, and some IB teachers fear that this college credit dilemma will discourage some students from seeking the challenge. It’s ironic, because IB courses are supposed to be more like college-level courses than AP classes are. Student Anthony Cruz-Martinez told the Post, “I have found that it is nowhere near as difficult as any of my IB classes or exams."
I have no first-hand experience with the IB program, other than those kids I knew who gave it a shot and dropped out back when I was in high school. Based on that, I’d have to guess that it really is extremely difficult which is why I can understand the frustration that students feel when they don’t receive the college credit that they were expecting to earn.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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