What started as a curriculum for children of diplomats and leaders of multinational corporations is being adopted in an increasing number of Michigan schools.
The International Baccalaureate Programme — “IB” as it’s commonly called — has special emphasis on internationalism.
At the high-school level, a world language is a requirement. Those students also write a 4,000-word essay and have a community service requirement. Middle-school students complete a project over a year that incorporates original research and presentation techniques.
“It’s very student-centered,” said Harold Marok, assistant principal at Adrian High School. “It certainly is a different style than one would think of in a traditional classroom.”
Michigan currently has 62 authorized IB schools, with 37 more in development. That’s more than any other state, and more, in fact, than in any other country except the U.S. and Canada.
Worldwide, about 4,100 schools use the program in 30 countries. Among its successes: High school graduates with an IB diploma have a 22 percent higher college acceptance rate.
Michigan’s first IB program was Detroit Country Day School, which adopted the program in the mid ’90s.
IB is what educators call an “inquiry-based model,” meaning instead of teachers prescribing reading lessons and question-and-answer worksheets they provide, the students, in part, drive the learning.
Before studying the Cuban missile crisis, for example, teachers would lead a discussion or give a pre-test of what students already know about the 1962 event. Then students would determine the questions they wanted to answer through research about the incident.
Throughout Michigan, schools are at different stages of implementation and adoption of IB:
* At Eagle Creek Academy in Oakland Township, Chris Culp, director of student services, calls the program “fledgling.” The staff started training last year and found IB was a natural fit to the school’s existing educational philosophy.
“This school has always taken a project approach to learning and tries to integrate different subject areas so learning become more real for the students,” Culp said. “IB seems to encapsulate that for us and it gives us a direction, a way to focus our direction.”
* The Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District is working with four local districts to bring the IB elementary and middle school programs. Elk Rapids High School has adopted IB at the middle school level.
* Near Kalamazoo, Portage High School adopted IB in 1997 after Upjohn Co. moved 2,000-member research team to the area that included many international executive-level employees, said Superintendent Richard Perry.
With the area’s relatively heterogeneous population, Perry knew there was opportunity for IB. “We thought for our students to appreciate the world, they needed to step outside Kalamazoo County and southwest Michigan,” he said.
* At Adrian High School, students have had the IB diploma option for three years. Some obtain the official diploma, while others select certain classes, Marok said. Before the school adopted the program, which costs $6,000 annually in a “franchise” fee, Marok and other administrators sought “buy in” from students, parents and teachers.
* Andover High School in Bloomfield Hills is in its sixth year of IB for middle school students, which is sixth grade through sophomore year of high school. Administrators made the decision to switch from teaching prescribed subject matter from textbooks to the problem-solving approach of IB.
“Compared to a survey-type class that might cover a lot of topics, (IB classes) cover fewer topics, but go into them in more depth,” said Principal Robert Durecka.
IB teachers need for IB classes
With demand for IB comes demand for those who can teach in it. In January 2008, Oakland University in suburban Detroit began offering a graduate certificate in IB.
About 100 students have graduated or are currently enrolled in the 20-credit program. Some students come directly from college to earn more credentials before job hunting. Others are veterans updating their credentials for IB’s sweep across the state.
“When you look overall at education and the international-mindedness of education, that’s one of the main things driving” IB’s popularity, said Lisa Reeves, executive director of professional development and education outreach.
IB is credited with giving students a more worldly view and the ability to apply alternative and multicultural viewpoints to situations.
Perry, who is also president of the International Baccalaureate Schools of Michigan group, uses the example of teaching about the United States’ development and use of the atomic bomb to end World War II as another strong example of how IB differs from traditional lesson plans.
“When I learned about that, it was basically we were in this world war. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. We developed a nuclear bomb and bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war,” he said. “From the perspective of the IB program, that isn’t the history. You look at both perspectives of what happened.”
Students read from the novel “Black Rain,” written by a Japanese author, about the long-term health and other effects of the bombs on the Japanese people.
"It gives students a greater depth of understanding about issues,” than traditional learning, Perry said.
But IB does not “teach to a test,” and that leaves some question about whether its adoption will lead to sacrifice on standardized test scores.
“I don’t think that’s a bad question to ask or even a bad spin about IB,” Jeffrey said. “We’re not going to be giving up the teaching of the most important standards. But it’s going to represent change. We want them to be givers to the world. I think that’s much more important than how they perform on the standardized tests.”
Sandra Svoboda is a Grosse Pointe Park-based freelance journalist and formerly a staff writer at the Metro Times in Detroit and The (Toledo) Blade. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and history from Indiana University and a master’s degree in public administration from Wayne State University.