The number of schools joining the International Baccalaureate consortium in the United States has tripled in the last 10 years. The worldwide growth rate over the last five years is 12% overall and over 20% for the primary years program.
So, what exactly is IB and why is it growing in popularity?
The IB program is a non-profit based out of Geneva, Switzerland. It began in the 1960s as a two-year specialized diploma for secondary school students, primarily for the children of diplomats and international organizations. It used to have a reputation as schools for the elite.
Two areas of emphasis:

  • critical thinking
  • international mindedness

Part of the mission statement:
“The International Baccalaureate® (IB) aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”
Why is it growing?
The program set explicit goals and made plans for expansion and accessibility for lower socio-economic students about a decade ago — which could explain why we see an increase in schools. Another likely reason for growth is globalization. As the world becomes more interdependent, ideas of “international mindedness” and “critical thinking” become more relevant.
Another reason for recent growth especially in the United States could be due to positive press from education researchers.
In 2006, education correspondent for the Washington Post, Jay Matthews, published Supertest: How the International Baccalaureate Can Strengthen Our Schools. It traces the history of IB with a school that adopted the program, Mount Vernon High School in Virginia.
In 2008, college readiness guru David Conley published College Knowledge, which praised the IB program and advocated its adoption over Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The primary reason seems to be the IB’s emphasis on improving the quality of student thinking, a key skill Conley says college professors repeatedly claim is lacking with incoming college students.
Last summer the University of Chicago published the results of a rigorous quantitative study citing the benefits of IB on college entrance and persistence rates, even for low-income students.
“When compared to a matched comparison group, CPS students in the program were 40 percent more likely to attend a four-year college, and 50 percent more likely to attend a more selective college. In addition, those students who attended four-year colleges were significantly more likely to persist in college for at least two years.”
There are some naysayers or worriers:
From a recent Wall Street Journal article: “Yet some parents are concerned that IB programs are too theoretical. ‘It’s frustrating to see that instead of doing spelling bees or history reports, they are spending about six weeks of time focusing on poverty or saving white tigers,’ said Kelly Mann, a parole officer in Waco, Texas, whose two daughters are in IB programs.”
Why study poverty when we have more important things to do like history reports and spelling bees?! We’ll let you infer our take on that by reading the title of this blog! 🙂
Seriously, why can’t we do both? Have students write a report on the history of poverty. Choose spelling bee words like extinction, endangered, irreconcilable, coelacanth, hippopotamus and rhinoceros.
Anecdotally, I have heard teachers especially in the Primary Years (PYP) and Middle Years (MYP) Programs admit that the curriculum lacks specificity and is too, shall we say “loosy-goosy”. Many schools especially in the Asia Pacific-Rim are turning to the concept-based curriculum work of Dr. Lynn Erickson, which emphasizes the interplay between facts and conceptual understanding. We can’t have one without the other.
The primary years curriculum contains unit of inquiry w/ emphasis on transdiciplinary central ideas.
The secondary or Diploma Program (DP) requires a 4,000-word essay as the result of a supported independent study.
How much does it cost to become an IB school?
From the Wall Street Journal: “Schools typically incur a cost of $150,000 or so to prepare for the program, which could include expanding lab or library space. They also must pay the IB group about $10,000 in annual fees plus $700 per student for tests given in 11th and 12th grades, as well as teacher-training fees.”
IB is certainly a trend worth keeping an eye on. Let us know what you think of it below!