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What is the International Baccalaureate?

I read an article on the Principal’s blog by Mel Riddile talking about the changes the AP is implementing and how these changes will make it more like the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. He asks a teacher who has been fortunate enough to teach both programs for a long time. Her response kind of irked me because she focused almost entirely on what I consider to be the logistical set-up of the IB as compared to the AP, rather than the major philosophical differences, which at least Mel touched upon.

She said:

"The IB requires laboratory work but the instructor can choose which labs will be performed and they must be at least partially developed by the student."

I left a comment on his blog that the IB was about so much more than just a few labs.

There is more of a philosophical difference between the IB and AP as well which Sherry seems to miss. The IB is not about the courses or the content, it is primarily about their mission statement.

"The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right." (from their website:

The IB is about developing a whole student. You can’t just take an individual course and consider yourself an IB student, it doesn’t work like that. Teachers have to frame the curriculum from the perspective of the 10 learner profile traits of the IB (see and watch the video).

Students also do a self-directed course as part of the IB where they all write an academic essay of about 4000 words on almost any topic they choose. They have to show a commitment to learning outside of school in the form of the CAS program.

The IB program is about so much more than just some instructor choice in what labs students do.

Almost all of Sherry’s explanation of the differences between the AP and the IB is about the ways courses are structured and what information was given to instructors in order to prepare them for teaching the course. Only one sentence in mind spoke out to the really big difference between the two programs.

"Obviously, the benefits to the students working in this kind of laboratory situation where problem solving was critical transformed lab days for me and my students."

So the IB is about critical thinking but also about a host other important skills. It is a complete program, not a small part of a larger high school curriculum. A much wider range of students will be successful in the IB program than a full complement of AP courses. The IB is not just the AP dressed in different clothing or wearing a different skin.