Emanuel promises new IB schools will get kids to college, but many could end up on vocational track

City and school officials have been mum on plans to offer a vocational track at Chicago's new IB schools.

June 22, 2012

(Flickr/Zol87)
Clemente Community Academy in Humboldt Park

An initiative Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said will send more students to college may actually put many on a newfangled technical education track, albeit a rigorous one.

On Thursday, Emanuel announced that Clemente Community Academy in Humboldt Park will be converted into the Chicago Public Schools system’s third “wall-to-wall” International Baccalaureate school.

Emanuel has billed the wall-to-wall schools as an expansion of the city’s International Baccalaureate diploma programs, which operate inside 13 neighborhood high schools and offer students a curriculum originally designed in Switzerland for the children of diplomats. Emanuel and school officials have said the wall-to-wall IB schools would put all students through the rigorous program, not just a select group.

“I wanted those world-class standards for the children of the City of Chicago,” Emanuel reiterated Thursday.

“This is one way for us to open access to an IB education for students that might not have been previously given that opportunity.”
- Natasha Deflorian, head of career education programs in the Americas for the International Baccalaureate Organization

But what the mayor and schools CEO have not said is that a good percentage of students in Chicago’s new wall-to-wall IB schools could actually end up in a new and untested International Baccalaureate technical education track—not in the IB Diploma Programme researchers have lauded for its success at getting low-income minority kids into selective colleges.

Schools spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler confirmed Thursday that CPS will run at least two separate tracks in the new wall-to-wall IB high schools, which include Senn High School in Edgewater, a new Back of the Yards High School, Clemente in Humboldt Park, and two schools that have yet to be announced.

By the end of sophomore year, students in the IB schools will have to declare whether they plan to go for the IB Diploma or a new credential, an “International Baccalaureate Career-related Certificate.” It’s also possible students could graduate from the schools with a simple high school diploma but no extra IB credential.

Officials at the International Baccalaureate Organization, which develops the IB curriculum and authorizes schools to teach it, say Chicago officials will determine what technical careers they’ll offer, but schools in other cities offer programs in automotive technology, business, marketing, culinary arts, child development, engineering, biomedical science, hospitality and management, information technology and health sciences. 

“This is one way for us to open access to an IB education for students that might not have been previously given that opportunity,” said Natasha Deflorian, head of career education programs in the Americas for the International Baccalaureate Organization. She said the goal in offering the certificate was to attract “a diverse group of students that are just as academically capable as Diploma Programme students, but might have to make a choice [to move directly into a career after high school]: students that are focused on their career pathway, or different types of learners.”

Asked directly by WBEZ about the possible vocational track in the new schools, Emanuel said Thursday there would be “gradations” in the IB offerings at the wall-to-wall IB schools. “But it’s built towards college, that’s what it’s really built for.” 

Deflorian said the career certificate “helps prepare kids for university as well.”

Emanuel first announced the IB expansion in April—just after rejection letters to the city’s selective high schools landed in parents’ mailboxes. He promised then that the new wall-to-wall IB schools would offer the college prep diploma program to every child in the attendance area—no testing  or straight As required—and he pitched the IB expansion as a reason for the middle class to stay in the city.

Since then, the mayor’s office and school officials have had trouble explaining how lower achieving students would handle the IB diploma program’s demanding workload. Teachers say IB diploma kids get up to six hours of homework a night; they can earn college credit for their coursework. Currently, students must meet minimal testing requirements. City officials never mentioned they were also planning a career-education track at the all-IB schools.

The IB career-related certificate is so new, none of the 2,365 IB Diploma Programme schools worldwide is authorized yet to offer it. The IBO is expected to authorize its first group of about 50 schools soon; Prosser Career Academy High School on the Northwest Side—a neighborhood IB school—has applied for authorization and could be among them. Clemente and the Back of the Yards High Schools also will apply, district officials say. They say the career track will not be an option at Senn High School.

It takes about two and a half years for a school to win approval to offer the IB diploma program, which students begin in 11th grade. It takes 12-18 months for a school to be authorized for the career-related certificate.

IB officials say students who go for a career certificate will be required to take at least two diploma program courses along with their career-related coursework. They’d also take a “core” curriculum that includes an “approaches to learning” course, 50 hours of community service related to their career choice, language study and a final project.

Quinn Ford contributed to this story.