My daughter attends an IB charter school. Her student-driven classes are more about mastery than memorization.

My daughter attends an IB charter school. Her student-driven classes are more about mastery than memorization.
The author, left, and her daughter, who attends an IB charter school.Courtesy of Jamie Davis Smith
  • My daughter switched from a traditional education to an International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
  • The IB system focuses on skill mastery over rote memorization and allows for student-led learning.

My daughter began her formal education at a standard, large American public school. She learned basic skills and made progress. However, the focus on rote memorization, testing, and standardization left her largely uninspired by school.

Studies showing declines in achievement across the board for US students supported my belief that the current American education system was not the best choice for my daughter.

That’s when she enrolled in an IB program, and everything changed for her.

I knew different educational systems existed

While in college, I studied abroad several times and traveled extensively. While I didn’t study education, my experiences gave me insight into how children are educated worldwide. Raising my kids in Washington, DC, also gave me insight into how different countries educate their children. I heard from friends about educational approaches that gave students more control over what they learned — without sticking to an extremely rigid timeline that was expected to work for every child in every subject.

When my daughter finished elementary school, I started looking for a school that would be a better fit. Even though my daughter is a dual citizen, moving abroad wasn’t feasible for my family. I started looking for alternatives closer to home.


When my daughter started middle school, she enrolled in a public charter school with an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. I was thrilled that she would be following a curriculum that is used worldwide with consistently high results.

My daughter has now been enrolled in an IB program for three years. Out of all the different learning environments my children have tried, I am most impressed with the IB approach to education.

The IB program focuses on mastery of skills — not memorization

One of the things that drew me and my daughter to the IB program is its emphasis on mastering skills instead of rote memorization.

Instead of aiming for straight As for the sake of “good” grades, my daughter is now encouraged to push herself to demonstrate how much she knows on any given topic. This system encourages her to dive deeper into subjects, adding complexity and nuance — even after proving she knows the material.

While other schools send home lists of requirements with checkmarks showing that an assignment was completed, teachers in my daughter’s IB program provide more thoughtful feedback about how she can push her mastery to the next level.


Feedback is also consistent throughout the term, and my daughter can resubmit most assignments after a teacher has looked at her work. She can show that she has learned from her teacher’s feedback and try again instead of simply being handed a grade a few times a term.

This grading approach differs greatly from many schools that simply hand a grade to a student and move on to the next topic.

Learning in the IB program is more student-driven

One of the first classes my daughter took at her IB school was called Student-Led Learning. The class focused on teaching students the skills they would need to be successful throughout their middle school years and beyond, allowing them to choose their topic and work at their own pace.

As she moved through the IB program, she was allowed to progress quickly through math. She now takes science quizzes at her own pace, as she feels ready to demonstrate what she has learned.

At the end of each term, my daughter is encouraged to engage in self-reflection. Instead of parent-teacher conferences, I attend Student-Led Conferences with my daughter, where she and I discuss her progress and challenges with her advisor. Together, we develop concrete plans for my daughter’s success.


The program is preparing my daughter to be a global citizen

IB programs emphasize world cultures. My daughter’s program offers immersion classes in several languages and gives students the opportunity to participate in cultural traditions from around the world.

The program also attracts like-minded families who value diversity and want to prepare their children for an increasingly global world. Because learning about people with lives very different than hers is an integral part of the curriculum, my daughter will be better prepared to enter the world as a global citizen.

Whatever my daughter winds up doing in life, I am confident that her IB education will be an asset.