While conducting focus groups during the creation of an overall strategic plan for an IB World School in a major European capital, we stumbled upon a thorny issue for the school’s population of expatriate American parents. As we have often seen in the course of our work, a minor issue discovered in the course of routine research can sometimes belie a larger, problematic truth.
The International Baccalaureate is an integrated curriculum extending from primary to high school, moving from experiential learning to rigorous academics over time. Howe ver, because the curriculum is scaffolded differently than in the United States, a finishing third grader in the IB might not be able to seamlessly fit into fourth grade in the States. In this particular school, many American parents had grown frustrated by not receiving a regular marker of their child’s progress on par with what they had come to expect and were increasingly fearful for their child’s success in the next school.
The IB system is highly valued in Europe, and because their school had regularly received stellar test results, the head and administration had limited patience for parental frustration. They insisted that these differences were clearly explained on their website, and didn’t understand why parents who had deliberately chosen the school were dissatisfied with the education their children were receiving.
Our focus groups revealed that the school believed that the parents had chosen them for the IB curriculum. As a result, they did not think they needed to communicate any further about how the IB program differed from the American model. Triangle’s role was to help the constituents engage in a productive dialogue, with parents being able to ask for more clarity and the school reworking their methods of communications regarding grades and student progress. Ultimately, we helped the school manage the disconnect in parents’ expectations by creating more explicit materials for prospective parents, and by assisting the school in designing a step-by-step comparison of the of the IB and more traditional American pedagogical frameworks so prospective parents could make a more informed decision for their family’s education.
As international educational consultants, our work exposes us to all types of curricula. While we understand the benefits of each, our ability to remain impartial allows us to unwind the misunderstanding and find a solution that best serves the community.