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
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 against OBE in
Pennsylvania, says parents have been concerned because many of the
outcomes were fuzzy and centered on values and opinions. …