The Washington Post

IB critic versus me

John Eppolito, father of four and former teacher, was active in a successful effort to keep the International Baccalaureate (IB) program out of the public schools of Incline Village, Nev. He asked to share what he learned from that battle. I said fine, as long as someone who knows IB at least as well as he does (me) critiqued his points.

By John Eppolito (with my comments in italics.)

An IB Diploma from any school is a great accomplishment, but at what cost? The problem with most school districts is that they do not share all aspects of IB.

1. IB will increase college costs for most graduates compared to their fellow AP students because AP is much more accepted for college credit than IB. Most colleges that do give credit for IB only give credit for the IB Higher Level classes (two-year courses).

Eppolito is right about the problem but wrong about its effect. Colleges are changing their policies toward IB, and those that still wrongly deny credit for some IB courses will often allow students to take higher tier courses at their campuses and rarely inflict greater costs.

2. For the IB Diploma over the course of two years students must take: three SL (Standard Level) classes, three HL two-year classes, the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) class, write the extended essay, complete 150 hours of community service, then obtain a minimum score on the final exams. Most colleges do not give credit for IB SL classes, the TOK class, or the extended essay.

So what? Are you in high school to collect college credit or learn? The extended essay is considered by students who have done it to be one of the most valuable exercises they did in high school. TOK is similarly praised as full of challenging discussions that prepare students for college.

3. When attempting to sell IB most districts distort the benefits of the program. The IB does not claim IB will improve student performance. The research (including one dissertation) shows IB will not improve student performance.

Several studies show correlation between taking IB and improved performance, including a 2011 study of the Chicago schools by Anna Rosefsky Saavedra.

4. The reasons most schools state for dropping IB are: 1) cost, 2) lack of student improvement with IB, 3) less flexible than AP, 4) lack of participation in IB classes, 5) lack of college credit for IB.

Very few schools drop IB, but Eppolito’s summary of the reasons why they do is accurate.

5) Some parents object to IB on religious grounds.

That is true, but for reasons that make little sense and which have never been upheld by any court as legitimate grounds for keeping IB out of public schools.

6) IB is a non-governmental organization (NGO) of United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) the United Nations (UN). IB and UNESCO work out of the same building in Switzerland. If you do not agree the UN’s ideology, it is probably best to avoid IB.

Eppolito weakens his case severely with this argument. The United States is a member of the UN. Yet Eppolito thinks IB association with the UN is some kind of taint. The one ideological point that all UN members seem to share is a belief in trying to work together for world peace. Even if you don’t agree with that, your children can probably benefit from IB courses. How about writing an extended essay on why the UN is wrong?

For the unedited 14-point version of this article with more information and active links please visit,

John Eppolito

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.


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