A low-performing US high school has shown exceptional improvement in teaching and learning following the introduction of the I.B. Diploma Programme

I usually don’t celebrate schools that fail to make my annual list of America’s Most Challenging High Schools. But a week before the 2017 rankings will appear in The Washington Post, a low-performing high school in the District has shown such exceptional improvement in teaching and learning it deserves special attention. Eastern High School, east of Capitol Hill at 1700 East Capitol St. NE, got plenty of notice for its new building in 2010, the result of a $77 million renovation. School modernizations usually don’t change academic performance, so I ignored it. During the 20 years I have been collecting data on high schools in the Washington area and nationally, Eastern has had one of the worst records. Few students participated in its Advanced Placement program, and those that did almost always failed the college-level exams. This year, however, D.C. Public Schools sent me a startling number from Eastern. In 2013, the school had begun an International Baccalaureate program preparing students for college-level exams even more challenging than those given by AP. Both AP and IB exams are written and graded by outside experts. In 2016, the D.C. information said, Eastern gave 62 IB exams, and 42 percent of them received passing scores of four or above on the seven-point tests. I checked to make sure that was not a misprint. I cannot remember another instance in which an urban public school like Eastern, where just about all students are from low-income families, achieved such gains.

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Even more important than the scores on IB’s three- to five-hour exams, requiring long written answers, was the system the school created to help students read, write and think at a depth rarely encountered in such impoverished circumstances. Kate Ireland, director of global education in the D.C. Public Schools’ Office of Teaching and Learning, and Sah Brown, Eastern’s principal, described for me in a long email how they strengthened their students’ writing and thinking. The school district established IB-designed programs in three elementary and two middle schools. Eastern High educators spread word of the program to families of children headed for the school. They created the Accelerated Cohort at Eastern (ACE) for ninth- and 10th- graders who had shown “motivation and habits of mind to meet above-grade level academic standards,” Ireland and Brown said. The ACE students those first two years take courses that demand more writing and conceptual learning than most D.C. students are used to. Just before the ACE students’ junior year when they begin taking IB courses, they attend a summer boot camp to get ready. Eastern offers IB courses in language and literature, history, math studies, Spanish, visual arts, biology and theory of knowledge. Writing is woven into the program. Assessments in IB courses are based on “a mix of timed and untimed essays, research papers, projects, experiments, question sets and presentations,” Ireland and Brown said. “This enables us as teachers to build students’ writing abilities little by little and utilize the entire two years of the course to maximize student growth.” Teachers stay for an after-school “Power Hour” to help students tackle difficult points. Such careful preparation, and the funds that support it, would be useful to other D.C. schools trying to raise achievement levels in AP. Here is one sign of the value of IB. Parents in Montgomery County may spend as much as $864 for registration and exams for each child in the toughest IB track. The cost to IB families at Eastern is zero. AP students at Eastern are also doing better. Their passing rate on the AP exams was 11 percent, way above the school average for the prior 20 years. If Eastern gives a couple of dozen more AP and IB exams next year, it will make The Post’s list. That is a nice recognition, but not nearly as useful as the reading, writing and thinking skills its students will take with them to college. Read the entire article here

How to see through the smoke

We invited IB Diploma Programme (DP) graduates to reflect on their lives and studies. Learn more about the IB Alumni Network at ibo.org/alumni.

by Ishanee Chanda

Bringing your IB skills into the world past high school graduation can take on many forms. Maybe you’ll find them in lurking in the depths of your brain while you’re trying to read a text for class that just doesn’t seem to make sense. Alternatively, you might feel them in your fingertips when you’re forced to crank out a handwritten six-page essay for a midterm exam in your hardest subject. And yet, the most common use of our newly minted critical thinking and analysis skills seems to be their application to the current events that provide context for our everyday lives, and, as of late, the news media that reports on them. The one thing that was constantly drilled into me during my IB training was the idea to question everything. Is there a critic that describes Sylvia Plath’s poetry as stemming from her depression rather than any other form of motivation? Question it. Is there a philosopher saying that the Earth exists in concrete spaces and we will never be able to escape its confines? Question it. Is there a high ranking politician in a position of authority telling you that everything the press reports is “fake news?”

Question it. Diploma Programme alumnus Ishanee Chanda is a graduating senior at Texas A&M University. The introduction of the internet into politics and journalism has proven to be both beneficial and burdensome. On one hand, the technology allows for a distribution of information on a higher scale, giving access to more people to be informed about the on-goings that will affect their everyday lives. On the other hand, the internet does allow for more people to fabricate stories and spread them with “eye-catching headlines,” hoping to ensnare the ones that read with a cursory glance rather than a critical gaze. As a young adult navigating the tumultuous events that seem to have been sweeping our way in the past few years, I found myself wondering how to navigate between the onslaught of false, smoky rhetoric and the gleaming diamonds of truth that were hidden among the masses. The first thing that is important to remember is that everybody has a bias. In DP English, we used to read through poems, essays, and novels and highlight tone words that clued us into the author’s emotions behind the page. Why is this information being presented in this way? What does it say about who’s writing it? My struggle to find a non-biased news source, especially in recent times has been unfruitful. These articles, this news, is being written by people who will always have an opinion. Good journalists and news channels will refrain from letting their opinions color their presentation of the facts, but nothing and no one can ever be completely objective. So how, you may ask, can you work around this? When I came to college, I was told that critical thinking was something that would apply to every aspect of my life. It was to be used both inside the classroom and out… Simply put, you never really can. That, however, should not stop you from trying. The IB taught me that the best way to find the neutral opinion is to read everybody else’s. Don’t just read the CNN story; read the FOX news reporting, the MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, BBC, and NPR. Be aware of the “fringe” news sites, otherwise known as the ones who live on either side of the ideology spectrum and boast about their position on the scale. Question the people who tell you that any news source is “fake” or “not real,” and wonder where their information is coming from. Most importantly, make your own decisions about what is “real” or not, and be willing to defend that position. When I came to college, I was told that critical thinking was something that would apply to every aspect of my life. It was to be used both inside the classroom and out, if only to form an educated opinion about something and fight for it. The IB’s mission statement claims that the program “aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.” You’ve already done the work to become that inquiring, caring, young person. It’s now up to you to use that person to create that better and peaceful world. Make sure you have the best, most refined knowledge to beat that path for you along the way.


Ishanee Chanda is a graduating senior at Texas A&M University. Her passions revolve around helping those in need, shaping public policy, and studying the effects of politics on a sense of identity. She has also written for Thought Catalog and the Huffington Post.