International Baccalaureate (IB) started in the 1960s as an attempt to create a high school curriculum that would meet the standards of countries across the globe (the baccalaureate is the European equivalent of a high school diploma). In the U.S., public schools have adopted IB as a way to add quality and credentials to their curriculum. Since it started in 1968, IB has spread to 126 countries and 2,268 schools. “We double our size every five years,” says Ralph Cline, IB North American regional director.

Primary and Middle Years Programs

In IB, learning is inquiry-based, meaning that the focus is on how students learn rather than what they learn. “Most of the content we teach kids now will be irrelevant by the time they reach their 10-year high school reunion,” says Cline, “but the process by which they learn it won’t.” Added to that is a focus on international mindedness or the idea that students are constantly working to solve global problems and understand other cultures.

In the Primary Years (age 3-12) and Middle Years (age 11-16) programs students learn the state or local curriculum using the IB model (visit to learn about the primary years program, curriculum, learner profile, and overarching themes, and for information about the middle years program).

In addition to the general curriculum, all IB schools teach a second language, and require some community service, whether that’s learning about friendship and sharing in kindergarten or working on a public garden in middle school. Students are assessed using a portfolio that includes class work, information about extracurriculars and achievements, and a self-assessment.

High School Diploma Program

In Europe, an IB diploma is a substitute for college entrance exams, in the U.S. the IB track is on par with Advanced Placement classes. Often, IB is a school-within-a-school and students apply to be admitted. “I think our students gain tremendously in preparation for college,” says Ed Vetter, principal of the IB school at Bartow High School in Bartow, FL, they’re also well-rounded in terms of the variety of courses they take and their involvement in the community. It is a challenge, says Vedder, IB students “have more expectations than a traditional high school student.”

During the two-year high school diploma program, rather than just having final exams, students are assessed six times: two research papers, two timed writing tests, and two oral reports. “Our aim is to prepare the student for college,” says Cline, and that includes having experience with every type of assessment. In addition to what they’re learning, says Vedder, students “get the personal satisfaction of completing one of the most rigorous curricular options available to them.”

Choosing IB

With more schools joining IB each year, know that before a school becomes an official IB school, all its teachers are trained in the IB framework, and the school completes a rigorous application process. After they’re authorized, they receive ongoing training, support, and regular evaluations.