A career-related certificate administered by the International Baccalaureate Organization—more widely known for its advanced, rigorous IB Diploma Programme—is the cornerstone of CPS’ efforts to expand its high school IB offerings in new “wall-to-wall” IB schools.

There are skeptics who say the new program is unproven—it was first offered in fall 2012, too recently to gauge its effectiveness. When the career certificate began to take off in Britain, The Guardian (of London) reported that some educators viewed it as a diluted version of the well-known Diploma Programme. 

The IBO, for its part, says that it created the career certificate because “the Diploma Programme has been and continues to be the primary offering for university-bound students [but] we also realize that students in the 16-19 age range want more choice. … We believe the IBCC bridges the gap between academic and career-related programmes, allowing highly motivated career-oriented students to also have the opportunity to take advantage of an IB education.”

The program is currently offered in 63 schools around the world, according to the International Baccalaureate’s website. Of those, 36 are in the U.S., including schools in Minneapolis, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Salt Lake City and cities in Maryland, California, Virginia, Georgia, Wisconsin, and a number of other states.

Students must take two of the same challenging IB classes that diploma students take in order to earn the certificate, plus a sequence of career-related courses and a two-year seminar on ethics and career choices that culminates in a final project about an ethical issue in their chosen field.  Ethics are also an emphasis of the Diploma Programme. 

The seminar, called Approaches to Learning, brings together students from different career clusters to hone in on their future directions.  As part of the seminar, students also spend one class period per week developing basic conversational skills in another language. Since CPS already requires two years of a second language for students to graduate, those in the Approaches to Learning class are learning their third language.

Students complete several presentations on their career choices before planning the format and content of the final reflective project on an ethical dilemma. The project can take one of a number of formats, such as a presentation, a film or a written paper. 

So far, Prosser is the only school in CPS whose IB Career Certificate program has been approved by the International Baccalaureate Organization. Lincoln Park, Morgan Park, Back of the Yards (a new magnet school), Taft, Hyde Park and Clemente high schools are all in the process of applying for approval.

Maria Rivera’s Approaches to Learning seminar at Prosser offers a glimpse of how the program uses work-related scenarios to help students unravel complex ethical issues.  In the process, they gain skills in research and a more concrete understanding of their chosen fields.

One student who is studying manufacturing poses a question: How does machine-produced medical technology affect those who rely on the material? He ties the question to ethics by pointing out that workers on a crowded shop floor—a situation that is common—cannot do their job as well as those with adequate space, possibly putting patients at risk by manufacturing substandard or flawed technology.

Rivera guides the student to do more research—specifically, by talking to someone in the medical technology manufacturing sector. 

Another student, who is in culinary arts, tackles the question of what the requirements should be for labeling cosmetics products as “natural.” Yet another considers the impact of negative advertising.

Rivera says that her students are up to the challenge of completing projects about sophisticated ethical dilemmas. “The biggest problem is just for them to jump in and feel confident,” she says.

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