Harder than thou

Super-students are arguing about which advanced classes are harder, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or a new (to the U.S.) program from the University of Cambridge. The Washington Post reports:

AP students say that the IB program allows for too many open-ended questions on exams and that many IB assignments amount to busywork.

IB partisans . . . contend that their classes are more integrated and worldly and involve much more homework than AP’s. They cite the fact that they have to take at least six IB courses — three of them are two years long — and that one of them must be a foreign language class. . . . What’s more, IB diploma students have to write a 4,000-word mini-thesis.

. . . Cambridge fans say the program is the most challenging because it encourages students to spend more time analyzing material than memorizing facts.

. . . “I believe Cambridge is the most rigorous academic program that exists,” (Principal Alexander) Carter said. “The AP program is, ‘Show what you know.’ The Cambridge program is, ‘Show us what you can do with what you know.’ “

What students really want to know is: Which program do admissions officers at elite universities think is best?

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  1. IB is unquestionably “harder” than AP. It requires analysis and evaluation of primary source material across disciplines, not merely memorization. The oral exams especially — in both A and B languages — are like nothing found in AP.

    When I went to college, I received credit for both AP and IB exams. AP counted for the removal of pre-requisites, while IB counted as actual graduation credits.

  2. Hunter McDaniel says:

    My kids’ high school had both IB and AP, and IB was generally considered the “harder” program. In math, science, and foreign language there was not really a curriculum distinction, though – and the advanced levels had combined sections for IB/AP, with preparation for both exams. Most IB candidates ended up taking all the AP tests they could just to cover their bases.

    There certainly is a fair amount of busywork in IB, but that’s true in life also.

  3. in researching both IB and AP five years ago as part of setting up a new school, IB appeared more rigid with respect to well-qualified teachers tailoring material and differentiating education. The independent review and approval cycle might be a strength where there is uncertainty about standards and execution (moreover, an external stamp of approval for re-establishing trust with college admissions officers and parents)– but in a well-functioning school setting with diverse students, it seemed to make for lack of responsiveness by introducing lag and levels of review.

  4. IB is likely more difficult, but not every school district can provide an IB programme due to limited resources. The only schools I know that have IB are either very large suburban schools or a city district with a designated school that offers IB to any student in the district. My school district did not have the resources to offer IB, but was able to offer the standard array of AP classes.

  5. Do IB courses tend to be politically liberal (on the European model, if you follow me)? I’m not looking for a fight here, just information. I’ve heard that they are, but I don’t know the actual facts.

  6. Hunter McDaniel says:

    Not sure what you mean by the “European model”, but I would rate the IB courses as only slightly liberal in American terms, and certainly not leftist. And of course that only applies to the English/History part of the curriculum; science, math, and foreign language are unaffected.

  7. My high school was supposedly IB, but on a good day it was only an honors class — meaning if you weren’t in IB you weren’t too bright. That is, these classes were what allowed the upper and middle class families in the district to keep their kids in public school. Now days, there are no honors (IB, AP, or others) at that school, and very few neighborhood families send kids there.