APS is a Veteran of IB Curriculum, Adding More

International Baccalaureate Programs Grow
Posted on 06/18/2018
Image of Students in IB Course(Beth Thomas Hertz reporting for Crain's Cleveland Business)

Offering International Baccalaureate programs is a way for schools to provide a top-notch, globally based education while allowing them to differentiate themselves in today's competitive educational world.

Marking its 50th anniversary this year, IB's programs are offered in more than 4,000 schools across more than 150 countries. They are known for offering a challenging, well-rounded experiential education. For example, testing typically involves responding to writing prompts instead of answering multiple choice questions. Instead of presenting subjects as stand-alone topics, the curriculum weaves them all into interconnected ideas. Courses are filtered through an international lens, not one centric to the United States.

The program, available worldwide to public or private schools that are willing to go through a rigorous accreditation process, is clearly resonating with many educators and families — it grew 39% from 2012 and 2017.

In Northeast Ohio, the most recent private high school to incorporate IB into its offerings is Beaumont School in Cleveland Heights, which began offering students in 11th grade the option of participating in the two-year IB Diploma Programme this past school year. St. Edward High School in Lakewood has offered IB diplomas for the past six years. Montessori High School at University Circle offered it but is closing its doors this month due to financial difficulties.

A number of public schools offer IB as well, for the same reasons as private schools — to deliver a quality education in a way that attracts students to enroll in or remain in their district. In fact, many of them now offer IB beyond just the high school program, incorporating IB's Primary Years Programme (for ages 3 to 12) and Middle Years Programme (ages 11 to 16) into their curriculum. Beaumont just finished its first academic year with an IB option after completing a three-year accreditation process. The decision to move in that direction was spurred by a desire to attract high-achieving students whose goals go beyond good grades and high test scores, said Wendy Hoke, president of Beaumont.

"The students this attracts are really looking for that education that enables them to do good in the world. For Beaumont, that really aligns quite nicely with our mission as an all-girls Catholic school in the Ursuline tradition that educates young women for life, leadership and service," she said.

About 15% of this year's junior class took advantage of the opportunity to enter the two-year program, she said, and another 35% chose to enroll in at least one IB course.

Hoke said that although it is too early in the program's adoption to see a significant impact on enrollment, some families have already come to Beaumont specifically for it.

"It is definitely an attractor for that high-achieving student," Hoke said. "When an IB diploma student's application comes across a college admissions counselor's desk, they know what that means."

At St. Edward High School, a private all-boys Catholic school in Lakewood, the fifth group of IB students graduated recently.

"The process took us two years to get authorized, so we've been in an IB mindset and building the program for seven years and offering it to students for six years," said Matthew Stepnowsky, director of the program.

He said that just over 20% of St. Edward's juniors and seniors are pursing full IB diplomas, but, like Beaumont, students who want to take just a few IB classes are given that option.

"A student might really want to take an IB film class, for example, and so that's the only class that he is taking from our IB course offerings," he said.

He said that St. Edward's adoption of IB was one of the several factors that led to a significant bump in enrollment several years ago. Some of the other reasons including winning a state football championship and getting a new president and a new principal.

"It was a perfect storm, and IB was part of it," he said.

This increase — about 130 students overall — has been sustained, Stepnowsky noted.

Public buy-in
In the Akron Public Schools, enrollment has started to increase in recent years after quite a few years of declines.

Ellen McWilliams-Woods, the district's deputy superintendent, said the turnaround is due to the many innovative programs the district has added — and IB is a big part of that. While the diploma program has been offered at Firestone High School for about 25 years, IB has been integrated into the middle school and one of the elementary schools that feed into Firestone over the last few years, and the district is in the process of getting authorization at the other three elementary schools in the cluster. Unlike at the high school, where students must opt in to the program, younger schools adopt the curriculum for all students when they become IB Primary Years or Middle Years programs.

McWilliams-Woods said the move to get the pre-high school buildings involved began in the 2013-14 school year at the request of many teachers. She said the district, and especially those teachers, were drawn by the IB's whole child and whole world philosophy.

"It really aligns with what we are doing in the district, focusing on student-centered instruction and students having a voice, building their communication skills and critical thinking, and pushing risk taking," she said. "It really lets students take control of their education."

Other appealing factors for educators that she cited are the requirements for foreign language in the elementary years, for the arts to be employed throughout the curriculum and for students with disabilities to be fully integrated.

"It all resonates incredibly with the students and the families. It is a lot of work, but when you see the impact on the kids and the families, everybody is willing to do it," she said.

She said the district expects the high school program will need to grow in future years as these younger kids move up.

"It's a great problem to have," she said.

The Shaker Heights City School District began its diploma program in 2010 and has since expanded to all of its schools. Three elementary schools were authorized in 2012, and the other two elementary schools and the middle school joined in 2015.

"We are one of eight all-IB districts across the country, which we are very excited about," said John M. Moore, the district's IB coordinator who himself is a Firestone High School IB graduate.

"One of the values of offering the primary and middle years programs is that we are equipping more students for the diploma program, which then equips them to be highly successful in whatever college or university they decide to go to," he said.

The trickle-up effect of starting younger is being seen already — the high school will have 57 students entering the diploma program in the fall, an uptick from the 38 who graduated this school year.

"At 57, it is our highest number ever, and I am particularly excited because it is also our most diverse class ever. That represents a 44% increase in enrollment, and our students-of-color enrollment has increased 130%," he said.

He said Shaker believes that IB is a way to guarantee that all students receive an excellent, equitable educational experience. He also noted that IB can also enrich students financially, as many Shaker IB graduates have received lucrative scholarship offers.

He noted that IB is promoting the tagline "It's education for a better world" as part of its 50th anniversary this year.

"We are seeing that is true," he said.
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