Idaho’s students benefit from best practices internationally

US News & World Report recently released annual ranking of the Best High Schools in America, which included a ranking of 144 public high schools across Idaho. Three of our four highest ranked schools offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program in 11th and 12th grades. All three are schools of choice:

  • 1st Place – North Star Charter School in Meridian
  • 3rd Place – Renaissance High School, a magnet school in the West Ada District
  • 4th Place – Sage International School, a public charter school in Boise

IB’s heavy presence at the top becomes even more interesting when you consider that the Gem State only has three public IB high schools statewide – and all are at the top of the ranking. Given these stellar results, we wanted to share more about the IB and Diploma Program, and what educators could learn and apply to other education models.

The IB Organization (IBO) is a Geneva-based nonprofit established in 1968, its mission is to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through education that builds intercultural understanding and respect.” IBO’s vision includes: “All IB students are taught to learn, to think critically, and to respect others.”

Today, the IBO has authorized 3,430 IB Diploma Program high schools in 157 countries across the globe. Of those, 966 are in the United States; as noted above, Idaho has just three public IB high schools. Over time, IB’s Diploma Program has become recognized globally as a top college prep education program. Universities across the U.S. – and the world – work to attract IB graduates by awarding college credits, scholarships and/or preferred admission status. For a close-to-home example, the College of Idaho’s admissions standards provide:

“The College of Idaho appreciates the rigor and integrity of the International Baccalaureate curriculum…. our four-year retention rate for IB students is 91 percent. Students who complete their IB diploma with a score of 28 or better receive 30 credits toward graduation requirements and preferred status for admission.”

If there is a college you are interested in for your child, check its admission standards – you will likely find a section specific to IB Diploma Program graduates. So, why are colleges vying for IB graduates? What distinguishes the IB Diploma Program among other strong high school programs in our state? Certainly, in answering these questions, rigorous academics are part of the formula – IB graduates work hard. The courses they complete in 11th and 12th grades are college level. But to really understand IB’s strength and uniqueness, you need to look at some of the ‘outside the box’ elements of the IB Diploma Program.

First, the IB Learner Profile identifies 10 attributes of an IB Learner that instill in students a broad range of human capacities and responsibilities with a focus on fostering caring, curious and engaged local and global citizens. IB students are: knowledgeable, inquirers, thinkers, communicators, principledopen-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective.

As an example, the Profile defines ‘Principled’ as: “We act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness and justice, and with respect for the dignity and rights of people everywhere. We take responsibility for our actions and their consequences.” IB schools across the globe use these attributes starting in Pre-K and through graduation.

Second, IB Diploma Program graduates study a foreign language as a means of obtaining a valued skill in our 21st-centruy global economy – being bilingual – and to promote an understanding of other cultures through the study of language.

Third, IB Diploma Program graduates complete an independent research project culminating with a 4,000-word Extended Essay (EE). Through the EE, students develop the capacity to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate knowledge.

Fourth, IB Diploma Program graduates complete a two-year Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course where they reflect on the ‘nature of knowledge’ and on ‘how we know what we claim to know.’ In TOK, students delve into questions like: ‘The task of history is the discovering of the constant and universal principles of human nature. To what extent are history and one other area of knowledge successful in this task?’ TOK brings meaning to the knowledge students are gaining.

To highlight the impact of these ‘outside the box’ elements, here is an excerpt from a 2022 graduation speech by an IB Diploma Program graduate from Sage International School in Boise:

“I remember vividly when I took my first tour of Sage…It was a surreal experience because it was an educational environment that I had no idea existed, like TOK…The purpose of TOK is to give knowledge meaning. To be curious. And to ask ‘why?’. At my old high school, I was taught to regurgitate facts onto a piece of paper whether I knew what they meant or not. Sage taught me to ask ‘why’, to ask what that knowledge meant, and to understand how it affected the world around us…Without meaning, math is just numbers. Without meaning, biology is just hexagons. I think it gets lost in some high schools that it is important to give knowledge meaning. And that is what TOK does and what the Diploma Program does.”

Building on the lessons from successful educators around the world, Idaho’s public education system is producing some amazing young people; I can’t wait to see where they lead our state, country and world!

Keith Donahue

About Keith Donahue

Keith Donahue is Director of School Strategy and Operations for the Boise-based education nonprofit Bluum. He also serves on the boards of Sage International and Forge public charter schools.

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