Re: the right to pursue excellence (OBE)
Fri, 9 May 1997 01:17:55 -0400 (EDT)

Alan said,

<< Could you give me an objective definition of "outcome based education"? I
have heard the term lambasted all over the right wing media, but I have
really heard it defined. In the context of traditional (non-democratic)
education, the term itself sounds like a good idea to me, at least how I
define it in my head. When I taught in public schools I was always pushing
to be held accountable for what my kids actually learned (outcomes) not what
went on in the classroom. The usual way that teachers get evaluated and
they are held accountable for, of course, is quiet and neatness in the
classroom - learning be damned! >>

I am not an expert on this subject, but I will do my best to answer your

Outcome-based education (OBE) is where you have a list of outcomes that all
students must meet at each grade level. I think it is similar to, or the
same as, "mastery learning".

When I taught in the public schools I, too, thought that it might be a good
idea until I learned more about the implications of OBE. I believe there is
a book out by Peg Luksik of the National Parents Commission (sorry, I don't
know the name of it). I heard her recently give a speech about OBE. It was
quite interesting. Three of her criticisms of OBE follow.

The first is that OBE assumes that everyone can meet all the standards, given
enough time. By expecting everyone to reach a certain standard, you discount
the fact that people have a wide range of abilities and strengths. You have
to set the standard somewhere in the middle, because not everyone can make it
to the top, and so the students who could do better have no incentive to do
so, because all they need to do is meet the standard, and teachers spend the
most time with the students who are not skilled in whatever subject it is, so
that they can make it up to the standard.

Her second criticism was of the standards themselves. How do you feel about
a bunch of govt employees at the state board of ed determining the standards
your child must meet? For example, one standard is "works well in a group".
(I've seen this standard myself in public schools.) What about kids who
like to be creative and off on their own? Too bad. They need to work in a
group, because that is a standard that all students must meet according to
the state.

The third criticism I recall is that the standards often cannot be measured
objectively. For example, how can a teacher objectively measure "works well
in a group"? In Illinois every school district in the state must write
assessments for all the standards in all the subject areas, which even
include PE, music and art! All the time and effort and money spent on all
this - it's ridiculous. These poor kids are so sick of assessments. Even
the third graders have to take them. I've heard all kinds of stories of
these kids getting so sick and upset at all the testing.

One really scary thing. When Peg tried to find schools that had implemented
OBE and were "success stories", she received a list and called every school
on the list. She found that most of them did not even do OBE, or that if
they had tried it, it was a dismal failure.

I understand your point about the ineffectiveness of teacher evaluations and
couldn't agree with you more. But I don't think OBE is going to take care of
the problem. In most of the school districts I know, a huge amount of time
is spent "teaching to the test" so that the scores will look good to the
public. It's really a shame.

Hope this answers your question somewhat.