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Johns Hopkins Institute examines IB programme success within Chicago Public Schools

Earlier this month, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy released an article titled “Chicago’s Use of the International Baccalaureate: An Education Success Story that Didn’t Travel.”  The institute’s director David Steiner and deputy director Ashley Berner examine research on the successful implementation of the IB Diploma Programme in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In their review, they highlighted the “impact on the students’ college attendance, persistence, and by implication life chances.”

The CPS students who completed all four years of the IB programme were 40% more likely to attend a four-year college, 50% more likely to attend a selective four-year college, and significantly more likely to persist in college than their matched peers outside the program.”

The results are from a 2012 study conducted by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) titled, “Working to My Potential: Experiences of CPS Students in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme“. Steiner and Berner call the study “striking” and “more rigorous than previous work on the IB effect.” But they also draw concern from the lack of awareness of the study several years after its release:

CCSR’s study of Chicago’s IB programme is illustrative of the difficulty of translating rigorous and promising research into practice: a cautionary tale that should concern all of us who are working to raise the educational opportunities for all students.

In the study, CCSR researchers analyzed the longitudinal effects of a 1997 policy, in which Chicago Public Schools implemented the IB Diploma Programme (DP) at 13 low-income, struggling neighborhood high schools. The report suggests that the Chicago Public School students, many of whom were low-income, first-generation, minority students, who participated in the IB Diploma Programme from 2003 – 2009, exhibited high university attendance and persistence rates.

University attendance and persistence

Figure 1. There are large effects for students who stayed enrolled in DP until 11th grade.

The study found that students enrolled in the DP in their junior year in high school were more than 40% more likely to enroll in a four-year college or university.[1]  Even more, these students were 50% more likely to enroll in more selective four-year institutions than the comparison group.[2] The DP students demonstrated significantly higher persistence rates at these universities and colleges compared to their peers.[3] Furthermore, Steiner and Berner also mention an additional benefit when they note that “the program influenced not only their academic success but also their self-regard and confidence; in-depth interviews showed a strong academic orientation and high sense of self-efficacy.”

The research is driven by sound methodology and design, and the researched program shows strong positive effects for students, in this case many of whom were disadvantaged. 

Even with the study’s methodological strengths and use of controls to minimize selection bias, the study’s impact has not spread much further than the Chicago Public Schools. “The research is driven by sound methodology and design, and the researched program shows strong positive effects for students, in this case many of whom were disadvantaged,” notes the Johns Hopkins article. Despite this, the limited duplication of these findings lead Steiner and Berner to ask: “Why haven’t urban school districts across the country taken note and in some cases at least chosen to build their own system-wide implementations?”

Steiner and Berner speculate that the “unfortunate and consequential gaps between the worlds of education policy, education practice and academic research” play a role in the limited distribution of these findings. Additionally, Steiner and Berner note that the costs to implement the IB programme may be a challenge is smaller districts who have limited budgets for additional training. Despite these challenges, the Johns Hopkins article still describes the findings of the IB’s impact in Chicago Public Schools as “promising” and “worthy of attention.”

To explore additional research about IB programmes visit ibo.org/research.

[1] Vanessa Coca and Consortium on Chicago School Research, Working to My Potential: The Postsecondary Experiences of CPS Students in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, 2012, http://bibpurl.oclc.org/web/49260 http://ccsr.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/publications/IB%20Report1.pdf., resources cited p. 4.

[2] Ibid., p. 4.

[3]  Ibid., pp. 42, 44.


Contributing author Kari Lorentson is writing about the experience of IB graduates at universities around the world. Lorentson studies at American University and previously attended Fishers High School. Contact her at alumni.relations@ibo.org.

  • Becky Smerdon

    I’m curious re your thoughts about IB in wealthy school systems. Isn’t it likely that districts that have 7% economically disadvantaged kids (and AP and dual enrollment opportunities) wouldn’t benefit from yet another program like this?