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The ABC's of OBE

Outcome-Based Education is "a still evolving movement" which designs outcomes first and then a curriculum to reach the outcomes. Outcomes are important goals, not curriculum. "You start with where you want to end up." Outcomes are stated a "culminating demonstrations" or "authentic performances of learning that really matters."

The wrapping on the package sounds pretty good--especially to reform-mind administrators, board members, and citizens who are sucked into accepting any new reform to present to the populous, promising to better education. The wrapping includes such ideas as: concern with the "total student", want higher order competency and students must spend most of their time on "complex role performances or authentic demonstrations (real life problems, projects), all students can and must learn, and success for all students.

OBE is pretty much the old "mastery learning" of Bloom and Carroll, but William Spady "pleaded not to use it in the network's new name because 'mastery' had already been destroyed through poor implementation." Spady is a sociologist, not an educator.

OBE is the newest radical swing of the educational pendulum.

William Spady and Kit Marshall have collaborated in helping schools define and implement OBE in a series of stages that lead from traditional programs to transitional and, eventually, transformational models (outcome driven, integrated, collaborative), as summarized below:


Envisioned Outcome: academically competent students

Exit Outcomes Derived From: academic subject orientation

Intended Curriculum Result: subject structure maintained

Use of Outcomes: focus and align existing programs

Measures/Indicators: test results and papers


Envisioned Outcome: broadly competent persons competencies

Exit Outcomes Derived From: school/future oriented generic

Intended Curriculum Result: subject structure integrated

Use of Outcomes: incorporate across program processes

Measures/Indicators: problems and observable/measurable


Envisioned Outcome: competent future citizens

Exit Outcomes Derived From: future context challenges/opportunities

Intended Curriculum Result: subject structure redefined

Use of Outcomes: fundamentally restructure programs

Measures/Indicators: projects, products, and performances

There are several negative dangers of OBE to consider.

* Many teachers see OBE as just another "fad" philosophy change they are being forced to implement. Some don't really understand it.

* There is a lot of double speak--vague language, verbal cover-up, hard to define terminology.

* "It is an organized abandonment of our old system" without major models of success.

* There is a move towards state, national, and even international outcomes, which means a loss of local control.

* All important "outcomes" (goals) are never given. These are left to each school district to develop. However, most are developed by OBE trained leaders, who usually copy other districts' or (Spady's) outcomes. Compare your district's outcomes with other OBE districts.

* There is a major change in the concept of the teacher. Students and others in the community can and will become teachers. Spady says, "You teachers won't be content experts but context experts."

* Moving from being expert teacher-directed to student self-directed, students lose much of the teachers expertise, especially with the move away from textbooks.

* There is a move away from textbooks and exams. There is a move away deadlines on learning.

* Students who learn faster are often pushed into peer teaching the slower students to learn the basic outcomes.

* There is a move away from Carnegie credit, subject, grades, competition, testing and self-contained classrooms. Simply put, the big C's--Content, Curriculum, Calendar, Context learning, Competition, are all bad "no no's."

* Separate subjects will be learned in integrated life experience performances.

* Since achieving the outcomes is the goal; everyone must succeed. So in a sense, everyone gets an A. One leader even went so far as to say that grades kill a kid's self esteem and cause failure for life. Is this philosophy preparing them for the real world of market competition? OBE also believes in many ages working together (no grade levels).

* There is a lot of emphasis on social skills. Maybe that's part of the problem of our schools today--too much emphasis on social skills and not enough on academics.

* They criticize "time based" style education (certain time spent on a sub- ject) but act as if they have unlimited time. No! Everyone has the same to to accomplish their goals. If something new is added (like long-term demonstrations), then something of importance must be taken out.The ABC's of OBE...

Parents should be concerned with how administrators and school boards will overcome public opposition to OBE:

* Allow a small group of people from the community to create outcomes with advisors; once this is done, they can always say to opponents that a community committee developed the outcomes, not you.

* Agree not to allow value outcomes in for the time being (they can easily come later once the program is in place).

* Argue that outcomes include content (yes, they do, but do they have as much or as well rounded a content as traditional education?).

* Agree strongly that no one has a right to experiment with my kid (but public schools are doing just this by using OBE).

* There are three phases or levels in which OBE is implemented; if they can't go all the way with full "transformational" OBE, they will have to accept the "get the foot in the door" phases only.

How can you determine if your district is using or moving towards OBE? It is if:

A) You have a mission statement which includes "ALL CHILDREN CAN LEARN.

B) You have a 3 to 5 year Improvement Plan.

C) An Annual Report is issued at district and building level.

D) You have Site-Based Management. Have your teachers and parents been empowered by serving on hand-picked committees to develop a mission statement or a 3 to 5 year improvement plan?

E) You have Cooperative Learning or Peer Tutoring.

F) You have multi-age level grouping.

G) You have replaced letter grades.

H) You have replaced Carnegie Units (specified course requirements for graduation) with Outcomes that must be achieved or demonstrated?

I) You have Inclusive Education (mainstreaming of Special Education into the regular classroom).

J) You have an extended school day, year (200 days or more) to year-around school.

K) You have Thematic Teaching (all classes teach to the same theme over a certain length of time.

L) You have team teaching.

M) You have removed competition by cooperative learning and group grades.

N) You have eliminated rote memorization of facts and knowledge (content) and replaced it with what is perceived as realistic and relevant teaching.

O) Your teachers are referred to as facilitators, coaches, or interactive participants.

P) Your teaching staff is continually involved in professional development to train them in consensus building and collaboration.

Q) If you frequently hear references to Spady, Hornbeck, Sizer, Goodlad, etc.

R) You have been accredited by the North Central Association or another accreditation program, or are in the process of being accredited.

S) You have Individualized Education Plans (IEP's) or Child Centered Education.

T) You have continual assessment of Growth and Development.

U) You have collaboration and consensus as a goal of all committees.

V) You have portfolios.

W) You stress higher order thinking skills (HOTS) or critical thinking (focuses on deciding what to believe or do) and the use of Bloom's Taxonomy ( used to inculcate a prescribed set of values).

X) You have partnerships between parents and the school, the community and the school, business and the school, and have established foundations to help the school be more innovative.

Y) You have a school nurse, school counselor, school psychologist, school social worker, or the Student Assistance Program, linking the schools with all community service agencies with the goal of becoming a "one stop service provider."

Z) You hear reference to Mastery Learning, Performance Based Education, Glasser's Reality Therapy, High Performance Learning, Management by Objectives (MBO), Planning Programming Budgeting Systems (PPBS), Total Quality Management (TQM), Accelerated Schools, Effective Schools Comer Schools, Johnson City Schools, Schools for the 21st Century, Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools, Professional Development Schools, Outcomes Driven Development Model (ODDM), all of which are Outcomes-Based Education.

"Coupling new language-outcome based education and criterion referenced testing-with an old proposal, a national examination of students' achievements, is being put into place as an accountability mechanism. But "outcome based education" is basically the "behavioral objectives approach which divided educators sharply thirty years ago. It's a new language, but an old idea, and not everyone will embrace behaviorism with enthusiasm."

Dr. Doug Christensen, Nebraska Education Commissioner