Educational Fantasyland

Author: Pete Du Pont


Pete Du Pont

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 either sex.

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 fullest potential.

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 repealed.

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 class."

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 students.

Taken from:
The May 31, 1994 issue of