Sunday, February 26, 2012

International Baccalaureate Program, Pros and Cons

A friend asked me about the International Baccalaureate program. I will share my thoughts and research with you. I will consider (1) what is the IB program, (2) why one would or would not enroll a child in the program, (3) is it better than the AP program, and (4) which local districts have an IB program.

What is the IB program?

The International Baccalaureate Program is run by a group in Europe. The IB program has its own curriculum, so your child will not be taking the regular classes that are part of the Texas curriculum. That might be appealing to some people, but unless you have had someone close to you go through the IB program you cannot know what the program will be like.

The best description is in Wikipedia:

Read the description of the IB math curriculum and you will see that the description for math is practically meaningless. There seems to be no way for a parent to evaluate the IB curriculum. Look at the International Baccalaureate Program website:
Listen to the video provided by the IB program and you can hear someone talking about turning your child into a citizen of the world. Some parents will like that, some will dislike that, but turning your child into a citizen of the world is a political goal, not an educational goal, in my opinion.

Technically, the IB program is 2 years long, but there is a pre-IB program that is 2 years long, so the pre-IB and IB program together are a separate high school program.

Why one would or would not enroll a child in the program

There are a couple of reasons to enroll a child in the IB program. One might agree with the political goal of creating a citizen of the world. The IB diploma will distinguish your child from others with regular diploma. One might believe the IB program provides a superior education, but that is only an opinion and might be wrong, as we will see soon. One might appreciate a more rigorous program of study available from the IB program.

A significant number of parents put their children in week-end school or provide private tutors. If you as a parent providing private tutoring for your child believe the IB program is sufficiently rigorous, you can quit paying for private tutoring and trust the IB program to do its work. If your child is already doing more work than the average student, then your child will be a good fit for the extra work in the IB program.

Many children who are not used to the level of work required by the IB program do become discouraged and disillusioned. Just Google "International Baccalaureate sucks" and you can read negative reviews of the program written by children who have quit the program.

Is the IB program better than the AP program?

One cannot say one program provides a better education than the other, but we can compare some numbers and decide which set of numbers you prefer as a parent.

First, let's compare the number of National Merit finalists from recent results:
Plano Senior High: 37 Finalists
Plano West: 32 Finalists
Plano East: 21 Finalists
Allen High School: 12 Finalists

Now let's compare the number of IB diplomas at Plano East:
2011 = 76
2010 = 60
2009 = 44

So recent results show 76 IB diplomas at Plano East and 21 National Merit finalists.
Compare this to 32 National Merit finalists at Plano West, and no IB diplomas.

I interpret these numbers thusly: if your child can stomach the work for an IB diploma, your child can work for and obtain an IB diploma, but that IB diploma seems to reduce your child's chance of being a National Merit finalist.

Becoming a National Merit semi-finalist and finalist is subject to chance. It is a competition and the element of chance lies in not knowing how many students will rank above your child in the year your child is tested. The rigors of an IB diploma do not seem to advance your child's chance of a National Merit, but rather seem to divert your child away from a National Merit scholarship.

There is certainty in an IB diploma and there is an element of luck in the National Merit competition. But the certainty of an IB diploma hurts in the competition for a National Merit scholarship. Parents have to make the trade-offs and decide.

The AP (Advanced Placement) program is complicated. One needs to judge individual AP classes. Some AP classes are worth avoiding, like AP Biology. Scarsdale, New York, has one of the most prestigious high schools in America and they dropped the AP program in its entirety. Read this article from the New York Times: Rethinking Advanced Placement by CHRISTOPHER DREW, January 7, 2011.

In the Plano ISD a child must take some AP classes (or be in the IB program) to have a chance of being in the top 10%. That is a fact. If a child gets a 4.0 average taking "regulars" classes, then the grade point will be too low to be in the top 10 percent. This is because an A in an honors class earns more grade points than an A in a regulars class.

Which local districts have an IB program?

The Plano ISD has an IB program at Plano East. The Allen ISD has an IB program at Allen High School. The Frisco ISD does not have an IB program. The Richardson ISD no longer has an IB program because there was not enough demand for it. Read:
and search the article for "International Baccalaureate."


Deciding for or against enrolling a child in the International Baccalaureate begins with considering the amount of work your child will do for the program, including free service hours. If your child is willing to do the work, then you and your child have do decide if the vague descriptions of the IB program sound exciting enough to commit to the program, realizing it might diminish the chances of earning a National Merit scholarship, but hoping for other scholarships because of the distinction of having an IB diploma.

I hope this helps you in making an informed decision.

Robert Canright
One of the comments below lists this URL for info on the PISD IB program.

Post Script in 2016
McKiinneyMom  made this comment in 2016: "I just don't see how there is any possible relationship between IB diploma and odds of being NMF."  I like logical arguments.  Here is another way to reword her statement:  "Why would the IB program, which was not designed to support the American National Merit exam (the PSAT/NMSQT), provide any significant advantage to the IB students?" I agree.  I do not see any reason to believe that enrolling in the IB program would provide any advantage in the PSAT/NMSQT exam.  Most likely being in a Texas school has a more positive impact on the National Merit exam than the IB program.  Here is a quote from the College Board about the positive impact of the Texas TEKS and the PSAT/NMSQT exam:  "There is a strong alignment between TEKS and PSAT/NMSQT in mathematics. There is a good alignment between TEKS and PSAT/NMSQT in reading and writing." URL 

Probably the most significant influence for a non-IB Plano student to excel in the PSAT/NMSQT would be parents who "place their chips" on SAT prep schools instead of the IB program.  I recall visiting the Karen Dillard school in Plano and seeing articles about Karen Dillard alumni with perfect SAT or PSAT scores.  I think this indicates a parent who hopes for a National Merit Scholarship might use an SAT prep school instead of relying on an IB program.

Many parents are pleased with the IB program.  If it appeals to you or your child, go for it!  Here is the URL for PISD IB:
Here is a URL from the IB program about their middle school program (MYP).  Maybe Plano will adopt it.  Here is a list of IB programs in Texas: Locally, Plano and Allen still have IB programs.