Although T.C. offers around two dozen Advanced Placement courses, it does not have an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. This could change.
Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) is working on implementing the Middle Years Program (MYP), a form of the IB program, for children between grades six and ten in Alexandria City Public Schools.
Benjamin Hammond, a T.C. Williams Minnie Howard Campus Social Studies teacher was on an exploratory committee two years ago that looked into MYP. “It’s a completely different framework,” said Hammond. “The whole idea is to try and think across curricula and think critically about the world.” Instead of having individual subjects taught to students, MYP blends classes. The idea of MYP is to incorporate all subjects together and have teachers across various areas of study co-plan instruction together.
Hammond said that while the current honors program offers more rigorous work, MYP focuses on having multiple ways to solve a problem. Hammond was not sure if the IB program would come to T.C., although “there is no immediate plan to apply the diploma program in the near future,” said Jodie Peters IB/MYP Coordinator for ACPS.
ACPS Executive Director of K-12 Educational Programs Margaret Walsh said that MYP is “in the consideration phase [but has not been] brought to kids yet.” Significant training is required, and can take a minimum of three years. Since December, 120 educators have been trained, and there are plans for more training over the summer.
“Each campus must have [a] certain number of teachers in each subject area trained,” said Walsh. “MYP will be implemented next year [which] gives us time to implement and begin interdisciplinary units of study.” She mentioned one possible MYP course next year, Biotechnology and Forensics, which would combine science with career training. At some point, the T.C. Vision and Action Committee may recommend the diploma program.
Currently, MYP is in the proposed budget, which was approved in May. Walsh said the three main pillars of MYP include the IB learner profile, IB areas of interaction, and IB approaches to learning.
Many Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), including South Lakes High School and George C. Marshall High School have an IB diploma program.
Eston Melton is one of two IB coordinators for Marshall High School. “IB is an academically rigorous and internationally-minded curriculum intended to prepare young people to be responsible global citizens,” said Melton. Melton compared AP and IB, saying “[IB and AP] both offer intense academic rigor, preparing students for college-level expectations.” When it comes to college readiness, Melton said students cannot “go wrong” choosing IB over AP or vice versa. He did note some differences between AP and IB, saying that IB courses have a final at the end of the year, but these finals are usually “open-ended, essay-based exams [with] virtually no multiple choice anywhere.” While the final exam usually counts as 50 percent of the final score, this score is also influenced by other assessments.
The IB program gives students a chance to receive an IB diploma, which “calls upon students to challenge themselves in six core disciplines: their primary language, a second language, social studies, science, math and the arts,” said Melton.
Students who want to obtain an IB diploma must also write a 4,000-word independent research paper, complete over 150 service hours, and take a Theory of Knowledge course. This course is mostly a student-driven discussion related to issues of acquiring and acting upon knowledge. “The IB diploma challenges students beyond solely their academic pursuits,” said Melton.
He said that some students only take one or two IB classes instead of getting the IB diploma. “They might want to take only IB science classes because they’re definitely going to engineering school,” said Melton. “Receiving the full IB Diploma is pretty much the only way an American can be admitted to a European university.” He said that even a regular high school diploma with lots of AP credits is generally not considered acceptable for schools like Oxford or Cambridge.
Shruti Kupa, a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University attended South Lakes High School and is studying engineering and public policy. She said IB taught her “the caliber [her] work needs to be.” IB was challenging to Kupa, and even though she did not receive an IB Diploma, she completed all the work needed to do to obtain one and received many certificates.
T.C. Math Teacher Susan Kaput participated in an IB introductory workshop and said while she does not have preference between AP and IB, she thinks switching to IB would be expensive.
“Schools can follow the philosophy and pedagogy of IB without being an IB school,” said Kaput. “Alexandria is currently rewriting much of the curriculum under the guidance of John Brown and it appears to me that what [he] is proposing is in line with the objectives of the IB program. “ Kaput said it is important to note that there is a difference between taking IB courses and being in the diploma program. “Most schools do not have many students receiving an IB diploma, but rather taking courses much the same way they would take AP courses.” Kaput likes what she is hearing about MYP. “[It] focuses on reading, writing, and higher level thinking as well as student ownership for learning.”
Abby Reed, a junior at South Lakes High School is an IB diploma candidate. “[IB] is extremely difficult sometimes, but is still interesting because it challenges you in different ways,” said Reed. “We don’t learn the material [to] simply memorize facts; we seem to spend much more time on analysis.” Reed took AP government her sophomore year and noticed a large difference between AP and IB tests. “The AP exam was a series of multiple choice questions, followed by essay questions,” said Reed. “However, on an IB test, there are more requirements than just regurgitating facts. IB essays require organization and style…the tests often require analysis of data, not stating this or that, rather why or why not.” Reed thought that the IB courses she took will help her in college with budgeting her time. She noted the IB diploma requires a lot of hard work in core classes, but also many Creativity, Action, and Service hours (CAS) and an arts aspect.
World Languages Chair Adam Levine said the IB program had a couple advantages over the AP program but said, “I’m not sure if it’s worth reconfiguring our entire program of studies to make it happen. We have a very strong AP program and I’d like to see that continue.”
Levine said he has seen some schools with both an AP and an IB program, but is a bit skeptical of this approach. “We need to be careful not to become a jack of all trades, but a master of none.”
Levine said that if T.C. were to add an IB program, he thought most teachers would adjust fine, but the problem would be with some students, since IB schools require two years of a world language to graduate. He also thought it would be a challenge financially. “In order to go IB, we would need to retrain the entire T.C. staff, and that [would] cost lots of money!”
Levine seemed to side with Melton saying that IB programs are more accepted internationally at major universities in Europe, and he added that AP courses are more widely accepted by the American University system.
South Lakes Principal Bruce Butler thinks the IB program has transformed South Lakes. “We are now an academic destination. Each and every year, the percentage of kids stepping into honors and IB classes has risen.” Butler said that there were 236 IB diploma candidates in the 11th and 12th grade classes. He compared someone with an IB diploma to someone taking six AP classes for both junior and senior year.
Butler said that although AP classes are challenging and require a great deal from students, “If I were to open a school myself, I would want it to be an IB school. Year after year our graduates speak about their preparation for university work [and] the work I see each day [from students] is very humbling…the depth of the students’ work and thinking is amazing.”