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Reflections on the International

Baccalaureate Program
Janine Baumgardner and Will Cunningham
George Mason High School, June 2009

One of our teachers this year pointed out that the International
Baccalaureate (IB) students of our class were particularly vocal this year CONTENTS
about the things we saw as problems in the IB program at George Mason Survey of IB 2
High School. In fact, we collectively had countless discussions with Teachers
peers, teachers, and our IB coordinator about the significant workload
that came with IB classes and other related concerns. Survey of IB 4
As our senior year and the most difficult year of our life—academically Survey of IB 5
and otherwise—came to a close, it seemed fitting for us to more formally Students
explore the perceptions of the people affected by the IB program,
The Student‘s 7
including students taking IB classes, teachers instructing those classes, IB Learner
and parents of participating students. We had heard much of what some Profile
would call ―complaining‖ from our classmates—but had limited ―The Icing on 8
information about the opinions of our teachers and parents. Because of the Cake‖
this, we decided to get some different perspectives that we could analyze
alongside each other. The two of us designed surveys for each of these Letter from a 9
three groups as our end-of-the-year internship, and published them on Candidate for members of the groups to voluntarily complete.
Conclusion 10
We thought that collecting this data was the first step toward making any
necessary changes in the program at our school. Our hope is that this
step will encourage members of our community at GMHS to reflect,
discuss, and work together to make the IB program here the best it can
possibly be.

Thank you,

Janine Baumgardner

Will Cunningham
IB Diploma Recipients, Class of 2009
Surveys of IB Teachers, Parents, and Stu-
Three surveys were designed by Will Cunningham and Janine Baumgardner for the purpose of exploring strengths
and limitations of the IB program at George Mason High School from the perspectives of IB teachers, parents, and
students. The experimenters hoped to view trends in the results, reflect on the implications of them, and discuss
what changes may need to be made in the program at GM. Responses were collected from May 29th to June 3rd,

Teacher Survey
Participants: Fifteen IB Teachers who responded to the survey sent to all IB Teachers
The survey indicated widespread support for the IB program by teachers. We asked about the
good and bad sides of both the IB program in general and the IB program in the context of our
school. Then, to reflect on those, we asked teachers what strategies they utilized to encourage aca-
demic motivation in their students and what things they might like to see changed in our academic

Positive and Negative Aspects of the IB Program at Our School
Pros Cons
Range of courses offered Focus on strict format can be frustrating
Ability for anyone to participate in IB Fast pace
classes “[Students] have very little time to reflect on
Official training of teachers at IB what they have learned and how it relates to
conferences other subjects or even how it relates to
Freedom given by the IB curriculum for previous topics within the same course.”
teachers to teach as they would like Negative affect on student‘s lives
Courses that challenge students and “While things are becoming more and more
encourage critical thinking and global competitive in the outside world, students at
this school take on so many things they are
awareness becoming overburdened. When Juniors and
“I think the IB program allows willing students
Seniors are regularly staying up until after
to step out of a world that could be pretty
midnight working on homework, there needs to
narrow and circumscribed by adolescence and
be some sort of reevaluation of the system.”
to step into a world of ideas which may
challenge them to think for themselves.”

Ways to Encourage Academic Motivation in Students
What Teachers Suggested
Give students choices
Cover topics that are relevant and interesting to students
De-emphasize grades and encourage students to focus on learning
Provide students with meaningful assessments (no busywork)
Limit the amount of homework given
Teach to the needs of the student and not the test
Incorporate interactive activities and demonstrations into the class

“I learn from my students as much as they
“I make homework and readings
learn from me. I try to express this to them
optional. Students who are motivated
as much as possible. A shared learning
will read and study on their own.”
environment is key.”

Question: What are some changes you wish to see outside your classroom in the overall GMHS
academic environment?

How teachers responded:
Discussions about academic integrity with faculty, parents, and students and more adherence to the
Honor code
More guidance to help students sign up for a set of classes suitable to their abilities and interests, help
them prioritize, and prevent them from overbooking their schedule or taking more than three or four
Higher Level classes
More collaboration among IB teachers so that all Internal Assessments are not assigned at the same
time and so that teachers can discuss grading practices that motivate and ―authentic, reasonable and
meaningful assignments‖
A deviation from the current block schedule
An earlier start to the school year so that there is sufficient time before IB exams to cover course mate-
A more leisurely pace in class so that topics can be covered in more depth

Students learning for the love of learning and not just for weighted grades, and faculty encouraging
intellectual curiosity

Parent Survey
Participants: Seventy parents of IB students
Parents were asked about the behaviors they observed being developed in their child while he/she par-
ticipated in the IB program. Many of the responses were subjective; therefore, quotes are included that
represent multiple parents‘ reported opinions.

Healthy and Unhealthy Student Behavior
Without being prompted to do so, 48.5% of parents surveyed mentioned their concern about their child‘s
sleep habits when asked about healthy or unhealthy behaviors. It is difficult to judge whether these be-
haviors that parents said their child had developed since their matriculation in the IB program were actu-
ally dependent on their participation. However, healthy behaviors that multiple parents say they have
observed include eating healthily, exercising regularly, and thinking critically.

List any other comments about the effects of the IB program on your child and/or

Positive Comments Negative Comments

“Too much overlap on project due dates in different
“My son is a more caring and open-minded person classes-- teachers could certainly coordinate dates
after participating in the CAS part of the program. and projects better. Far too many hours on
TOK made him think in a different way about things. homework. Student rarely, if ever, slept for 8 hours
IB made him more balanced, thoughtful, and caring. during junior and senior year, and the student had to
Great program except for the sheer number of hours miss one significant family event because he felt
required to complete the program. Glad he did it, obligated to the IB program and felt he could not
and glad it's over!” miss 1 day of school.”

“The IB program encourages the child to be a more “With respect to college admissions, we do not
global thinker and that has been a very positive believe the IB program had any effect. Many
experience for my child.” colleges still do not consider IB equivalent to AP in
terms of academic rigor.”
“I believe the IB program has prepared my son/
daughter for college. I have no doubt after “He has learned how to deal with stress and
completing the IB program that the transition to deadlines. The IB was stressful on everyone in the
college will be an easy one. However, at this point family.”
my son/daughter would not recommend the full IB
program to other students.” “The workload seems excessive at times, and there
does not seem to be as much coordination among
“Being part of the IB had help my daughter to prove teachers as there could be to avoid deadlines for
herself that she can do well and compete with the multiple classes on the same day.”
best. The demand of the IB program is so great that
the teaching should be at the higher level.” “My student was diagnosed with mild depression
during this program, in part from sleep deprivation.
The program is supposed to foster a balanced
approach to education, but I do not feel this program
was balanced. Some courses such as History
required much more work than the other courses,
and the grading procedures and standards between
classes were inconsistent.”

Student Survey
Participants: Thirty-five IB diploma candidates
Students were asked a variety of questions related to sleep habits, stress, and overall satisfaction (or
lack thereof) with the IB program.

Sources of Stress son they did not get eight hours of sleep, fol-
When rating the sources of stress in their lowed by procrastination. This question was pre-
lives—Social, Academics, Family, Athletics/ ceded by, ―Approximately how many hours of
Extracurriculars, and Job—73.5% of students sleep do you get per night?‖ However, the com-
said that Academics was the greatest stressor. ments in response indicated confusion about
what part of the year we were asking about—
Sleep Deprivation now or during the bulk of the year? One subject
It has become clear this year from conversa- wrote, ―6-7 hours, now that IB is over. During
tions with IB students that sleep deprivation is a the whole IB shebang, 2-3 hours.‖
common issue. As shown below, students
thought that their workload was the biggest rea-

What is the biggest reason that you get less than 8 hours of sleep?
Procrastination 34.4%

Workload 40.6%


Extracurricular obligations 9.4%

Medical reasons/ Sleep prob-

Family 0.0%

Other 3.1%

Strong correlation: Seniors reported using caf-
feine regularly in eleventh and twelfth grade,
while they were participating in the IB program
(with a few beginning in tenth grade when pre-IB
classes were being taken). Juniors mostly re-
ported using caffeine only during junior year.
Number of students who used caffeine at all

To what extent do you agree with the following statement?
“My desire to learn has been enhanced by participating in the IB program.”
Strongly agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly dis-

8.8% 23.5% 41.2% 17.6% 8.8%

As shown, 32.3% of students polled believe their desire to learn has been enhanced by participating
in the IB program and 41.2% do not believe their desire to learn has been enhanced or degenerated.
26.4% say that their desire to learn has not been enhanced by IB, and some feel that their desire to
learn has actually been harmed due to their participation in the IB program.

Negative Experience
Q: If applicable, what specifically has negatively affected your experience in the program?
―Significant out-of-class workload‖ was the leading response (77.4%), followed by ―Too much pres-
sure‖ (41.9%). ―Lack of guidance‖ and ―In-class experience‖ were each chosen by 16.1% of the students
surveyed. Twenty-nine percent chose ―Other‖ and specified that the negative experience came from
various factors, including never getting sleep, having to do seemingly pointless homework assignments,
and specific requirements of the IB outside of classes, among others.

Motivators to Participate in IB

Percentage in Agreement

40 Students' Opinions
30 Parents' Opinions
Student's - - - Parent's
Decision Decision
Main Influence

While 58.6% of parents said that it was entirely their child‘s decision to participate in the IB program,
only 44.1% of students said it was entirely their decision to participate. This data could differ simply
because the set of parents and students may not have correlated, or it could show that students feel
pushed by their parents more than parents realize, in this situation.
“In the middle of this year I was getting very con-
cerned as I looked around at a number of my
classmates who were regularly getting three or
four hours of sleep and were relying on coffee to
keep themselves going. I decided to conduct an
informal “Sleep Survey” in which I asked IB di-
ploma and certificate students to record and report
the number of hours of sleep they got each school
night of one week (January 11-16), so that maybe
people would recognize that there is a problem
here. Twenty IB Diploma Candidates got an aver-
age of 5 hours and 16.42 minutes of sleep per
night, and twenty IB certificate students got an
average of 5 hours and 58.11 minutes of sleep per
night. Doctors and medical journals tell us that, at
our age, we need an average of 8-9 hours of sleep
per night. That’s a pretty big difference.”
The International Baccalaureate Organization‘s ―IB -Senior IB Diploma Candidate
Learner Profile,‖ outlining the qualities that they
believe IB should help students develop.

“One morning during first semes-
ter we went around our TOK
class and everyone shared how
much sleep they had gotten the
night before and how much caf-
feine they had had. I remember
the most sleep that anyone had
gotten was seven hours, and that
was an outlier. Most people were
in the three- to five-hour range.
A couple had pulled all-nighters.
And a couple people said they had
caffeinated the evening before so
that they could stay up and do
their homework, then again that
morning. They would go to Star-
bucks during lunch so that they
could stay awake for the rest of
the school day.”
-Senior IB Diploma Candidate

IB Students‘ satirized version of the Learner Profile, which describes
ways in which they feel they have been affected by participating in the
demanding IB Diploma Program.

Although this poem was just one student’s response to the pressure of the IB program while she was in the midst
of it, another IB student asserted, “This poem is so relatable—it very well captures the feeling that we’ve all ex-
perienced some time this year.”

The Icing On The Cake
by Chantal Cough-Schulze
IB Certificate Student

We are here to learn and become the future flowers and say
said every teacher to us today ―Allow yourself to create
we need to remember these days Grant me the joy of leading you
as the ones in which we grew ourselves up: to create your Capstone:‖
a twenty-page paper and a twenty-five minute presenta-
The Capstone Assignment Sheet says tion
this is the ―final touch; the crowning achievement; (twisting the screws!)
a culmination: Due the same week as college applications and ex-
Please fire time. I am asking you to tended essays
STOP MOVING. Think Reflect Ponder Simmering with the International Baccalaureate Di-
Freeze that overbooked calendar Carve out a ploma
section of sanity Allow yourself to create‖ create! oh you two-faced villains
this one is all about your thoughts hard-hitting sucker-punching heart-eating blood-
stop and smell the flowers and say sucking hypocrisy
what they mean to you tearing at our eyes with your mechanical claws– what
(this is but one example of what you say cruel naivete!
and do not understand) Venomously and vicariously watching us forward-
facing guinea pigs
Thank you! I‘m touched lined up with blinders on and soap in our mouths wait-
I know you mean well or I ing for the firing squad
hope you do because I really do have an and let me tell you these are the eyes that love learning
overbooked schedule you don‘t even know (there are so many of us!) But there is no discovery
no sleeping no eating no time no no no just anymore, it starved– it was left
caffeine stunted growth efficiency sneezes bleary eyes forgotten under pillows (too long unseen) after a diet of
drugs and heart palpitations static and tissues and whistling coffee pots
the ohh sweet mmm warmth of a desk to rest our heads the only hours we have for your cruel little Interna-
–and you all tell us in class how much grades don‘t tional Baccalaureate ‗salvations‘ are
matter between three and five AM
it‘s about the learning love the knowledge and all you are doing is
so yes thank you! I‘m touched feeding this educational tapeworm
I have this anthropology test next block and a math
quiz passage analysis pastiche two poems to write five
hour lab analysis art really is an important class mom
it‘s what I love webassign physics worksheet math
portfolio yeah it took me over seven hours too math
test research notebook (now now now!)
and you‘re telling me to stop-think-reflect-ponder-
become sane-allow myself to create?
Create! Thank you, I‘m touched
that you would tell us to stop moving and smell the

Excerpts from Diploma Candidates‘ Letter
In January 2009, Senior IB Diploma Candidate Will Walton wrote a letter addressing the negative repercussions
of having such a heavy workload in IB classes. The letter was published on Facebook to be discussed by IB stu-
dents. Many agreed that it appropriately outlined some crucial issues in the IB program at GMHS. Included in the
excerpts below are the main points Will wished to communicate.

George Mason High School IB Teachers, IB Coordinator, and Administrators:

―We have been talking a lot lately about the home- ask questions, instead we get a worksheet or a quiz to
work load that we have been receiving and its implica- ensure that we‘ve sufficiently memorized the material,
tions in our day-to-day lives. … and then we move on. …
―I think I can confidently say that everyone who ―Something as simple as teachers discussing when
signed up for the Diploma Program expected a heavy they plan on giving major assignments could reduce
workload. … The part that I don‘t believe any of us [students‘] stress. … Also, a reduction in other home-
could have anticipated was a workload that not only work [while a major assignment was being worked on]
kept us busy, but literally excluded opportunities that would not only reduce stress, but ideally it would in-
many of us would like to pursue—a workload that crease the quality of the product—because after two
makes something as innocent as spending times with hours of work for any class, there is nothing that I want
friends on weekends seem like something to be to do less than work on a major assignment for that
ashamed about and a waste of time. … class. This leads to a half-assed job on the major as-
―This year I have had trouble enjoying things that I signments, which leads to both frustrated students and
am very interested in, like Robotics, which I don‘t teachers, which leads to further procrastination and
think anyone could say was a waste of time, given that resentment. …
I want to pursue an engineering degree in college. ―The IB program will attract the more driven stu-
However, I always feel guilty while I am there, pursu- dents, and that means that they will be willing to try to
ing an academic interest, because I‘m not at home get through the astounding amount of work that is as-
working on a project, doing a math assignment, or signed. However, when that personal drive is put to-
reading for history. wards trying to get a good grade, the drive is killed
―While I certainly understand that there is merit in when that grade is removed. …Homework isn‘t used to
most of the homework that is assigned, I feel that the learn anymore; it is used to get teachers off our backs
amounts that are assigned—especially when all classes and to get a grade. Things like history reading, which
are added up—borders on the outrageous. … I would can be very interesting given time to carefully read it, is
challenge all teachers to ask themselves the following: just skimmed to learn a bare minimum and pass a spot
after seven hours of school and at least an hour of check. …The point is, when homework becomes just
homework for their class alone, and with six other busy work, and is no longer seen as an instrument of
classes‘ work on top of that, would they have the drive learning or mastering the material in a more compre-
to pace themselves on long term projects? Or, as seems hensive way, it has lost all value. All it does it make
to consistently be the case, would they end up pushing students‘ lives slightly more miserable and sleep-
off long-term projects, to try and maintain sanity for deprived. …
just a little bit longer? ―With a bit more coordination, and maybe a slight
―I really don‘t want to scare students away from scaling back of work in the heaviest project time or a
the IB Diploma, because personally I think it is a great redistribution of major assignments, the stress level of
opportunity for students who feel up to a challenge to IB candidates could be greatly lowered. But it seems
be exposed to many subjects at a higher level. … I that something must be done soon, because we have a
don‘t think the Diploma is in and of itself flawed, but I problem—one that won‘t be solved without an active
believe that, in practice, our approach as a school is effort from both teachers and the administration.‖
flawed. Despite the illusion of intellectual freedom that
is shown in IB documents and built into parts of the Sincerely,
program, I feel much more limited in my intellectual Will Walton
possibilities this year than I did in sophomore year. … IB Diploma Candidate, Class of 2009
―Instead of just appreciating learning, I have to
worry about how I‘ll need to apply what I‘ve learned
soon. Digging more deeply into a subject really isn‘t an
option, because instead of having time to process and