|Pete du Pont, former governor Delaware, is policy chairman of
National Center for Policy Analysis.
What would you call an education system that abolishes grades and
doesn't let any student in a class move on to a new lesson until the
slowest student in the class had mastered the initial one?
Or one that doesn't require mastery of the multiplication tables, but
does require students to demonstrate that they "make
environmentally sound decisions in their personal lives" before
they can graduate?
Perhaps all of the above.
But in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and 29 other states it's called
"Outcome-Based Education" (OBE) and it is being implemented.
Unfortunately, the "outcomes" being taught have little to do
with real learning.
In Oklahoma, the state's Education Department recently proposed that
before children can graduate from the first grade, they must demonstrate
that they can "identify different types of family structures, so
that no single type is seen as the only possible one."
Apparently, the first graders must pledge allegiance to the notion
that a married, two parent, monogamous couple is no more inherently
desirable than a single parent or an unmarried nonmonogamous couple of
For grades 9-12, the students must demonstrate "communications
skills, including being able to talk with one's actual or potential
partner about sexual behavior." However, at no grade level are
students required to demonstrate that they have learned the
multiplication tables. Nor are they required to show that they can read
a simple story that they have not seen before.
Similarly, in Pennsylvania, the state's Education Department recently
proposed that before graduation students must demonstrate that they
"make environmentally sound decisions in their personal
lives." In other words: No recycling, no graduation.
In each state a series of such "education goals" are to
replace the traditional academic subjects. Students are no longer to be
required to take and pass classes in English, math, science and social
studies. Instead, they are to "demonstrate" that they have
achieved a schedule of vague, subjective, "learning outcomes",
such as those above.
Further, OBE abolishes grades and uses instead check marks indicating
that a targeted outcome has been achieved. This provides no recognition
of the abilities or achievements of the better students and leaves those
students with no incentive to excel.
The way OBE works gives further disincentives to good students. Each
lesson is repeated over and over until every student achieves the
desired outcome. All the outcomes, therefore, must be set low enough so
that all students are capable of achieving them, reducing education to
the lowest common denominator.
As one perceptive parent stated, "If we require 'all' students
to be able to stuff a basketball to graduate from high school, the only
way to accomplish that is to lower the basketball hoop."
Under OBE, students are not grouped in classes by ability. Instead,
students of all capabilities are combined in each class or group. The
entire class or groups is held back until the slower students finally
achieve the targeted learning outcome. Meanwhile, the smarter students
mark time in so-called "horizontal enrichment" or are assigned
to "peer tutor" the slower kids. The end result is that the
brighter students are deprived of the more advanced education of which
they are capable, and the system does not develop each student to
No research, studies or pilot programs demonstrate the effectiveness
or possible success of OBE. Quite to the contrary, OBE has been a
disastrous failure in the places it has been tried.
It was implemented in Chicago, for example, in the late 1970s. Test
scores declined, costs increased substantially and a group of minority
parents sued the Board of Education for educational malpractice. OBE was
The Outcome-Based Education could hardly be worse. It quite literally
does everything wrong. Indeed, it fundamentally abdicates teaching of
academic knowledge and skills and embraces political indoctrination and
social engineering favored by the education bureaucracy.
This attitude was expressed by one leading developer of OBE, Thomas
Sticht of the National Institute of Education, who explains,
"Ending discrimination and changing values are probably more
important than reading in moving low-income families into the middle
OBE is how our nation's education bureaucracy would seek to solve the
problems of education in America today.
But it is a catastrophe on the way to happening. It further
demonstrates the need to decentralize the education system — allowing individual public schools to
teach as they see fit and parents free to choose from among all schools,
public and private, the education that best suits their child. Such a
system would shift the power and control our nation's schools away from
outcome-based education bureaucrats and to the nation's parents and