High school students in the U.S. increasingly have a new option to challenge themselves: the International Baccalaureate, or IB. The program is a demanding two-year curriculum. It aims to prepare students for college-level work, support independent research, and teach the value of a diverse world.
To earn an IB diploma, students must spend their third and fourth year of high school in the program. It requires the ability to use English, as well as the study of another language. It also requires classes in math, science, social science, art, a class on theory of knowledge, a 4,000-word paper, presentations and 150 recommended hours of community service.
Colleen Duffy is the marketing manager for the International Baccalaureate Organization in the Americas. She said what many people do not understand about IB is that it is not a study abroad program -- students do not travel to a different country to study. Rather, it was created in Switzerland for families who often moved from one country to another and wanted an internationally accepted curriculum. The program began in 1968.
“But we’re in public schools in almost every U.S. state now,” says Duffy.
Currently, IB is offered in more than 900 American high schools. As Duffy noted, the majority are public schools, and the program is most common in the states of California, Florida, and Texas. But many more schools across the U.S. have begun the long certification process.
However, it is still much less common than another option for high-performing students in the U.S.: Advanced Placement classes. AP classes are single-subject classes that permit students to earn college credit if they do well enough on a final test.
But Colleen Duffy argues that IB better shows how subjects are related. She says, “It’s much more holistic than a few AP classes here and there.”
Not for every student
Critics say the IB program is not for every student, or every community.
Kelly Osterhout taught middle school in Virginia for four years. She says she believed in the IB program but still fought against having it at her school. She thought it was too difficult to follow the state school requirements while still running an IB program.
She said, “We felt that there weren’t enough resources available to teachers to do it the way it should be done, and we had to deal with parents who got upset about elements of the program like teaching global tolerance and respecting the opinions of others. Just mentioning the LGBTQ movement, for example, caused a stir.”
Teachers at her school voted to remove the IB program at the middle school level but it remains in place at the high school.
Other people feel uncomfortable with the program’s connection to the United Nations. The program received money from UNESCO from 1968 until 1976, and continues to be linked with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Others object to its cost. The organization charges $11,650 a year per school, $172 per student and $119 per exam. Critics say AP classes are less costly and likely to reach more students, since the IB curriculum is too difficult for most.
Yet IB is gaining popularity in the U.S. and around the world. Currently, IB schools total more than 4,700 among 150 countries. About 2,000 more schools are expected to add the program in the next five years.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
This story was originally reported by Katherine Roth for the Associated Press. Phil Dierking adapted this story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
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Words in This Story
diverse - adj. made up of people or things that are different from each other
diploma - n. a document which shows that a person has finished a course of study or has graduated from a school
theory - n. the general principles or ideas that relate to a particular subject
certification - n. official approval to do something professionally or legally
holistic - adj. relating to or concerned with complete systems rather than with individual parts
tolerance - n. willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own
LGBTQ - n. The acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer