THE message from the United States business community to educators has been clear: Reform the education system because the current one is not adequately preparing students for work in the 21st century.
One of the most controversial reforms sweeping through the nation's schools is Outcome Based Education (OBE).
"Traditionally in classrooms in America the teacher has had all the knowledge and gives it to the students by way of a lecture ... and gives them a test, and it's really pretty meaningless five years later," says Jim Kieffer, associate superintendent at Glendale Union High School District in Glendale, Ariz., a district that has been using OBE for 20 years. "OBE forces us to identify ... what's really important for this student to be able to do in terms of skills."
In an OBE system, outcome statements are established and then the method for getting there is mapped out. Students are measured not by what they can recall on a test but on how they demonstrate what they've learned at the end of a class.
The system is based on the premise that all students can succeed if given enough time. An ideal OBE system does away with the bell curve, quotas, and comparative grading, according to William Spady, who, as director of the High Success Network in Eagle, Colo., helps states and school districts design OBE.
Outcome Based Education, which evolved out of the research of educators Benjamin Bloom and John Carroll in the 1960s, now exists at different levels in 25 states, according to the Education Commission of the States. Some states and districts mandate outcomes, while others present them as guidelines.
Although OBE has gained a foothold in school districts from Georgia to Oregon, a growing number of critics - from conservative Christian organizations to parents - are mounting strong campaigns against it. They argue that many outcomes focus too much on feelings, values, and attitudes; are often vague and rely on subjective evaluation rather than objective tests and measurements; hold bright students at the same level as the rest of a class; cost money to implement; and tighten state control of schools while undermining local control.
One of the most bitter battles has been in Pennsylvania, where the State Board of Education last April voted that students must meet 53 outcomes starting in the year 2000.
Anita Hoge, a parent who has helped lead a revolt …