The International Baccalaureate was originally created as a common standard of coursework for children of diplomats as they hopped from country to country. Today, the IB program serves as Amundsen High School‘s ambassador to the community, the bait to lure students who might otherwise opt for selective enrollment or private schools.
“We understand the competition,” Brian Rogers, assistant principal, told attendees at last week’s inaugural meeting of Friends of Amundsen. “In this building is a program that matches Lincoln Park [CPS' IB standard bearer], that matches any school with this program. It’s the best pre-university, college prep curriculum out there.”
A recent study conducted by the University of Chicago bears out Rogers’ claims. Findings showed that students in the IB Diploma Program were 40 percent more likely to attend a four-year college and 50 percent more likely to attend a more selective college. In addition, IB DP students from CPS who attended four-year colleges were significantly more likely to persist in college for at least two years.
Indeed, DePaul University will waive ACT requirements for Amundsen’s IB graduates, so confident is the university of the quality of IB students.
Noted the report’s authors: “Never before in our work in Chicago have we seen coursework have an effect on college persistence. The fact that it has an effect two years after students graduate speaks to the kind of powerful impact the IB DP program can have on students’ trajectories.”
The results are all the more impressive given that IB programs at neighborhood schools such as Amundsen, while selective to a point, accept students with far more average test scores than, say, Northside College Prep.
Amundsen, which received IB authorization in 1999, annually enrolls approximately 90 students into the IB program; the school’s total student population is 1,500. McPherson Elementary, 4728 N. Wolcott Ave., with an IB Middle Years Program, feeds students directly into Amundsen. “That pipeline gets preference,” explained Rogers. “It creates a partnership” – one that he would be happy to develop with other elementaries.
For other students, who must check the “IB” box on CPS’ basic application form, “we allow stanine six or higher,” said Rogers. (The stanine scale ranges from a low of one to a high of nine, with five being average.) “That’s not very high, but that’s access and opportunity that we encourage.”
The IB curriculum, in which students explore six to eight subjects in depth, is flexible enough to accommodate students of varying abilities – courses are studied at either higher or standard level. “That stanine nine kid will thrive,” said Rogers. At the same time, students in the 60th, 70th or 80th percentile are exposed to rigorous coursework and encouraged to achieve.
As parents increasingly look to neighborhood schools for their students – particularly as the bar has been raised nearly to the point of perfection for admission to selective enrollment high schools – Amundsen’s IB is an ever more attractive selling point. As opposed to academics heavy on test prep, IB curriculum promotes the education of the whole person – intellectually, personally, emotionally and socially. Its stated philosophy is “to develop inquiring, knowledgeable, internationally minded and caring young people.”
Recognizing the potential of IB, CPS recently announced an expansion of the program to 10 additional high schools, nearly doubling the current number of 13. Which begs the question, if IB is so successful why not just make it the school system’s default mode of instruction?
“We agree,” said Rogers. “Let’s make that happen.”