College & Workforce Readiness

IB Program Adds Career-Pathway Certificate

June 12, 2012 9 min read
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The International Baccalaureate organization, best known in the United States for its prestigious two-year diploma program for juniors and seniors, will enter new terrain this fall as it formally rolls out an initiative centered on a variety of career pathways that includes engineering, culinary arts, and automotive technology.

The move comes as the IB presence in U.S. public schools rapidly grows and as the organization has made a concerted push to expand access to a more diverse student population.

Billed as blending academic and practical skills, the IB Career-related Certificate has been piloted at eight U.S. schools. They include Binghamton High School, in New York state, which this month is graduating its fifth group of students to complete the program.

Principal Albert Penna said he believes the new offering may eventually eclipse the flagship IB diploma program in popularity.

“Every public high school in the United States has large cohorts of students who could be potential IBCC candidates,” he said. “It prepares kids very well for the world beyond their school and community, very well for the 21st-century world of work, and gives them opportunities to advance to postsecondary education.”

Binghamton High offers two career pathways for its pilot program, business and engineering.

Starting this fall, any school offering the IB diploma may seek approval for the career-certificate program. Seventeen U.S. high schools are in the pipeline, awaiting final approval from the IB. Eventually, schools without the diploma may be able to seek permission to offer it as well.

“We developed the IB Career-related Certificate to hopefully broaden the attractiveness of the IB to more students,” said Drew Deutsch, the director of IB Americas, a regional office based in Bethesda, Md., that covers the area from Canada to Argentina.

He said the career certificate will help schools “capture the students ... who may not have thought of themselves as IB students.”

Reflective Project

The IB diploma program, developed in Switzerland in the late 1960s, was originally conceived as a way for diplomats’ children to get a high-quality education around the world to prepare them for top universities. In recent years, it has caught on in the United States, especially in public schools, which now account for about 85 percent of all IB schools here.

“It was never really designed for the U.S., and then the U.S. market just started to kind of explode, and it was being put in not so kids could go to Oxford or the Sorbonne, but so they could get into their local university,” said David T. Conley, an education professor at the University of Oregon in Eugene who has studied the International Baccalaureate and also has consulted for the IB organization.

The separate IB primary-years program and middle-years program (grades 6-10) are also building steam. Those programs, intended in part to help build the pipeline of ib diploma students, are quite different in design from the diploma program. They are offered schoolwide, and do not involve a fixed set of IB-designed courses for students to choose from.

Career Pathways

The new International Baccalaureate Career-related Certificate program aims to prepare high school students for a variety of career paths. To earn the certificate, students must complete requirements in three areas:

Diploma Program Courses
Take at least two IB diploma program courses offered in the high school. (This compares with six courses for IB diploma candidates.) Students take written exams at the end of these courses that are graded by external IB examiners.

Approaches to Learning
This course, developed by schools in keeping with IB guidelines, introduces students to life skills, with an emphasis on thinking critically and ethically and communicating effectively. Community and Service
Participate in a service-learning activity approved by the school involving at least 50 hours over the two-year period of the IBCC. Language Development
Study a second language and develop a language portfolio to be assessed by the school. Reflective Project
Based on the chosen career pathway, undertake a project to identify, analyze, critically discuss, and evaluate an ethical issue.

Career Pathway
Complete a two-year course of study in a specified career field that is accredited or certified by a local, state, or national authority, including a higher education institution or a professional organization. A range of fields may be pursued, including engineering, biomedical science, automotive technology, culinary arts, business management, and building construction, among others.

SOURCE: International Baccalaureate

While the diploma program in the United States has roughly doubled over the past decade, to 782 schools, the middle-years program has grown more than sixfold since 2002, to 452 schools. The primary-years program has climbed from 15 schools in 2002 to 316 today. IB officials say hundreds more schools are in the pipeline.

The IB’s presence also has mushroomed globally, with schools in 141 countries participating.

The IB organization brings a decidedly global perspective to education,with a mission statement aspiring to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

That global perspective has sparked pushback at times, including in New Hampshire, where Republicans in the state House of Representatives this year pushed through a bill to block schools from offering the IB. Chief complaints were that the program indoctrinates students to be “world citizens” and infringes on local control. But many local educators and families rallied in support of the IB, saying those claims were ill-founded, and the bill died in the state Senate.

Several years ago, the IB rolled out an online program, which currently is limited to providing additional offerings for students attending IB diploma schools. But through a pilot, several schools allow outside students to enroll in online IB courses.

The IB Career-related Certificate program includes several dimensions. Each student must complete a set of career-related courses that are certified by an outside body. At Binghamton High School, the engineering pathway brings a curriculum designed by the nonprofit group Project Lead the Way.

Students also must complete at least two IB diploma courses, and then take an IBCC “core” based on guidelines determined by the IB. That core features: a school-designed Approaches to Learning course emphasizing ethics, critical thinking, and communications skills; study of a foreign language; a “community and service” component; and a “reflective project” each student produces that analyzes the ethical dimensions of an issue arising from his or her career studies.

John D. Karluk, a graduating senior at Binghamton High in the engineering track, focused his project on the U.S.A. Patriot Act and the weighing of privacy concerns with a need to combat terrorism.

Nicole M. Caricchio, another graduating senior in that track, examined the environmental and economic impacts of hydrofracking.

“I wrote a 1,500-word essay, a research paper, then put 10 [PowePoint] slides together and presented it in front of our class,” she said.

The design of the IBCC program differs from the diploma program in some important ways, as not all components involve curricula developed by the IB or final assessments graded by IB examiners.

One key area that is different is the career-related coursework.

“It would be almost impossible for us to develop career curriculum for whatever schools might be interested in,” said Mr. Deutsch of the organization.

Despite the differences, IB officials and some educators say the program is no less challenging than the diploma program.

“I don’t see it as ‘IB lite,’ I see it as IB different,” said Deborah S. Munk, the principal of Rockville High School, in Maryland, whose school is an IBCC candidate.

“This is for students who are not less smart, but are smart in a different way,” said Gloria McDowell, the senior head of school services for the IB Americas office. “It’s more practical; it’s for students who are more doers rather than theoretical, abstract thinkers.”

Still, several students who just completed the program at Binghamton High said they don’t see it as being as intensive and time-consuming as the diploma program.

“I would say the courseload is less, but you still have to do a lot of work,” Ms. Caricchio said.

“I know I definitely have less work to do than [diploma students],” said Nicholas R. Holbert, another graduating senior in the school’s IBCC engineering program.

In any case, he believes the program will help him.

“It’ll show schools how unique we are, trying to perhaps pioneer through things ourselves, kind of explore the unknown,” he said.

Global Viewpoint

One dimension of the IBCC that the students especially valued was how it broadened their horizons.

“Something I like best was the international viewpoint, being shown views beyond those of the United States,” said Mr. Holbert, who plans to study computer science at Broome Community College, in Binghamton, in the fall and eventually transfer to a four-year college.

“Right after the Japan earthquake [last year], we got to email a teacher from Japan and connected with her students, got to know what life was like for them,” said Ms. Carrichio, who plans to study environmental science and engineering science at Broome and eventually attend the University of Maryland.

Robert M. Gazda, the IBCC coordinator for the 5,500-student Binghamton district, said the program, which included 11 graduating seniors this year, has been transformative.

“This is a program where kids actually become more ... confident and secure over a two-year period than anything I’ve seen,” he said.

While the program is intended to help students go straight into the workforce or college, he said most Binghamton participants go on to either a two- or four-year college.The University of Oregon’s Mr. Conley is encouraged by the IBCC, though he raised some questions.

“Fidelity of implementation is going to be a huge challenge,” he said. “It will be interesting to see if IB uses the same level of scrutiny of this as with the diploma.”

He said the initiative involves some “letting go” by the IB organization in comparison with the diploma program. In addition, Mr. Conley said, it remains to be seen how widely the certificate will be recognized: “Who is going to value this, and for what purpose?”

“It definitely takes IB in a different direction,” given the blend of academic and career skills, said Leslie Santee Siskin, a research professor at New York University who has studied IB programs. “It’s a direction that I think many schools are beginning to turn toward now.”

She added, “What we have done for a long time is create very separate pathways, so that you are either aimed at career—usually vocational—skills, or college-bound, and it’s difficult in a high school to have access to both.”

Chicago Research

The initiative comes as the IB organization has made increasing the diversity of students served a central pillar. And it appears to be making some headway.

U.S. data on IB diploma candidates show steady growth in the proportion eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch, climbing from 12 percent in 2006 to 21 percent this year. About 11 percent of students are African-American, and nearly 15 percent are Hispanic.

As of May, about 120,000 U.S. students were enrolled in the IB diploma program overall, while across all its offerings, the figure was nearly 500,000.

The IB organization has gotten some financial help to diversify its student population. In 2009, for instance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided a $2.4 million grant to better prepare low-income and minority students for the diploma program by increasing participation in the middle-years program and developing tools and resources for student assessments in grades 9 and 10 that align with the IB diploma program. (The foundation also provides support to Education Week.)

In March, the University of Chicago issued a study showing promising results for the IB diploma program in the 404,000-student Chicago school district. The research found that participating students were more likely both to attend and persist in college. Of the students studied, about three-quarters were African-American or Latino, and about the same percentage were from low-income families. Most were first-generation college students.

“We saw very big effects on college retention,” said Melissa Roderick, a co-director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, at the University of Chicago. “They walked onto campuses, were problem-solvers, knew how to write.”

On the heels of that research, the district announced plans to expand its IB offerings to 10 more high schools. The district also is aiming to add the IBCC component, with one high school awaiting IB approval to do so this fall, and others likely to follow suit, said Kyle P. Westbrook, the director of magnet, gifted, and talented programs for the Chicago district.

“It really gets students the best of both worlds, gives [them] the career certification they would need but also provides them with what we know to be the rigor of the IB program,” Mr. Westbrook said.

Students who complete the program, he said, “would truly be college- and career-ready, not just in rhetoric but in fact.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2012 edition of Education Week as IB Offering Certificate For Careers


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