student success

Who Needs Selective Enrollment When Your Neighborhood High School Has an IB Program

This is a stressful time for many urban eighth-grade students and parents who are considering high school options, and hearing from public schools about acceptances into selective or other specialized programs. In New York, families are scrambling for spots in schools that are more competitive than top universities. In Chicago, with selective enrollment cut scores going up (an otherwise encouraging sign that our children are performing better), comes greater anxiety for those who are achieving more, but not making the cuts. For families worried that without selective options, their child’s education is doomed—and even for those with additional alternatives— statistics show that neighborhood public high schools with International Baccalaureate (IB) programs are not only competitive, but sometimes better options for our kids. Over the last five years, Chicago is betting on that. As a former local school council member and Chicago Public School parent of twins who attend an IB middle-school, Middle-Years Programme (MYP), I’ve seen what goes into an IB-focused education. To prepare students for high school, MYP’s rigorous framework connects students’ studies to the real world and aims to develop analytic, creative thinkers who are comfortable discussing different perspectives. Recently, a blog went viral sharing that the daughter of a well-respected Chicago education journalist chose a neighborhood IB high school over a popular selective enrollment one and thrived. I can relate.

IB Prepares Students for College and Career

I believe that curriculum promoting collaboration, critical thinking and evidence-based learning (discerning fact from fiction) is essential today, and that the future will require our children to be equipped with these skills. These are the core tenets of IB. A 2013 national survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that top business and nonprofit leaders think graduating college students need better preparation in areas most emphasized by IB programs. Over 75 percent said they wanted more education for students in critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication and applied knowledge in real-world settings. Over 90 percent sought strong intercultural skills and the capacity for new learning. Additionally, results from a 2015 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey showed similar skill-set preferences, including a capacity for teamwork. These skills are at the heart of the IB curriculum. Prior to 1997, IB programs served primarily White, affluent suburban communities in the US. In 1997, Chicago started 13 IB programs within city schools. In 2012, Mayor Emanuel committed to greatly expanding IB programs in neighborhood schools following an extensive comparative study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research which analyzed IB education and college outcome. Of the Chicago IB students, 75 percent were Black or Latino, with most being first-generation college students compared to the mostly White and Asian students at selective-enrollment schools. Findings showed that CPS students completing four years of an IB program were 40 percent more likely to attend college, 50 percent more likely to attend a selective four-year college and significantly more likely to remain in college than those who didn’t attend IB, including selective-enrollment kids. Additionally, IB increased not only students’ academic performance, but also their confidence and self-worth. In contrast, students taking AP courses at selective-enrollment schools didn’t show the same positive results. The consortium’s subsequent studies found that elite public schools with admissions criteria did not improve academic benefits, test scores, grades or college selectivity, and for lower-income students, these actually worsened. Today, CPS has the greatest number of IB programs in the country with 22 high schools and 21 elementary schools providing IB curriculum and more on the way. Preparing our children for college and the world is our greatest gift to them. For worried Chicago families and for cities looking to improve their children's education opportunities, IB provides another first-rate option.
Alana G. Baum
Alana G. Baum is a Chicago Public Schools parent, a clinical psychologist and an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, where she is teaching a seminar on the psychology of hate.

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