IB Middle Years at McPherson Credit: Jason Reblando

During the past seven years, a dozen Chicago schools have become members of the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), earning authorization to offer the prestigious International Baccalaureate program and diploma. And preliminary results from a study at DePaul University shows students are reaping the benefits of IB’s intensive program.

This summer, a 13th school, Collins High in North Lawndale, expects to join IBO as well.

“No large-city school system has embraced the IB as Chicago has,” says Ralph Cline, head of school services for International Baccalaureate North America, based in New York City. “Chicago presents to us an opportunity to offer our programs to a very large number of students, some of them students who are underrepresented in rigorous pre-university programs.”

Teaching ‘what to expect’ in college

DePaul University officials tracked 26 former IB students from CPS and found those students performing better than expected, given that the students had lower ACT scores than the average freshman, according to Brian Spittle, assistant vice-president of enrollment management. Twenty of the 26 are black or Latino.

So far, the group has earned an average GPA of 3.1 and has a retention rate of 100 percent. That’s higher than DePaul’s overall rate of 82 percent; for African Americans and Latinos, retention is 79 percent and 83 percent respectively.

“You’ve got a high proportion of minority students doing extremely well,” Spittle says. He sees expanding access to IB programs as a way to offer colleges a pool of diverse applicants who have been prepared to handle college-level work.

“There’s an old problem in higher education: access versus equity. IB cuts right through that,” Spittle explains.

DePaul student Fiona Jackson, a Morgan Park graduate, has a simple explanation for why she and other former IB students are doing well: “Persistence. We’ve already worked hard and we know what to expect.”

Jackson did not score high enough on the IB exams to earn an IB diploma. But she did earn college credit for an IB course in philosophy and says taking IB courses prepared her for higher education.

“Most of the kids who took history had to remember dates and specific events,” Jackson explains. “In my history class, we had to analyze why the events took place, who was involved with it, see how it really affected America or whatever region we were studying. Now, when I come to DePaul, it’s just like that: How can you analyze the situation?”

Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the IBO offers a curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking and exposure to a variety of cultural viewpoints. Students who have taken IB courses can earn credit at about 800 American colleges and universities; 150 of those schools accelerate students with IB diplomas by as much as one year.

To join IBO, schools must complete a demanding, multi-year application process. Among other requirements, teachers complete intensive training and develop detailed course outlines that must be approved by IBO, which make s site visits to determine whether the school has earned authorization.

Overall, Jackson explains, the IB program taught her to analyze material, write essays and manage a heavy workload. “I can look back and say, wow, that was really college work.”

To contact Maureen Kelleher, call (312) 673-3882 or send an e-mail to kelleher@catalyst-chicago.org.

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