Parents Look to Foreign Fare for a Reprieve From US Fads

Parents seeking refuge from America's constantly changing academic fashions have turned to a popular import: the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

Intended for high schoolers, its challenging standards - including a 4,000-word thesis and mastery of a foreign language - come directly from Geneva and are a set of criteria used worldwide. Proponents say the program allows parents to see that their child's education compares well with those in other countries.

"It's nice having international standards unaffected by whatever the curriculum fad is in the US at the moment," says Suzanne Geimer, IB program coordinator at George Washington High School in Denver. "We have to meet the IB standards and pass their tests no matter whether Colorado decides to do something else."

Bradley Richardson, IB North America's regional director based in New York, says much of the program's international appeal is that it answers an old question: "What are the kids doing in class?"

"Parents wonder: 'Does [my child's education] measure up with what schools are doing around the world,' " he says. "Kids in England and France and 92 other countries are taking the same tests and same program and it's pretty easy to compare."

Ms. Geimer says the IB diploma program is an "uneasy marriage" between hard-and-fast international standards that demand performance and the "give it your best shot - if you fail we'll give you another chance" approach favored in US high schools.

"We're not trying to make a choice between which system is best," she says. "We're just giving students a chance to test themselves against the highest standards and still have extracurricular time. It would never fly in this country if students in the program did not have a lot of fun, too."

About the IB Program

Founded in 1965, the International Baccalaureate program has evolved from its original purpose as a service to international students and is expanding its scope. In addition to the "diploma" program offered in 94 countries, IB has offered a "middle years" program since 1992. An elementary program began last fall. For more information, call IB's North American headquarters at: (212) 696-4464, or look for it on the Web (www.ibo.org).

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