OBE: The Restructuring Of American Society.
There has been a concern for some time throughout America regarding the quality of public education. Students are graduating from highschool without adequate knowledge of the three R's. Universities are recruiting a multitude of incompetent pseudo-scholars. Employers don't understand why the new generation of workers do not possess the basic skills to perform the job. It would appear that American students are not learning as much as their parents did. And yet, teachers are still teaching, taxes are still being paid, and more funds than ever are being appropriated for public education. What's going on in America's classrooms?
Up until the 1980's most schools used a standards based curriculum. In the traditional classroom setting, educators focused on the input side of education, teaching a specific body of knowledge. Students were graded against predefined standards and passed or failed based on their ability to meet those standards. This method of teaching produced a graduate with a well rounded education, and prepared him for further development of career skills. With the exception of those who did not apply themselves, the system worked.
Today America's educators take a new approach in the classroom. The focus of education has moved to measuring what students can do, rather than what they understand. This is the core principle of Outcomes Based Education (OBE). An outcome, by definition, is something that follows as a result or consequence. So OBE then, is an approach to education where the end result is the most important factor. This is very important in understanding what OBE is, and what it intends to do. In the OBE classroom,
every aspect of the curriculum is geared toward achieving a small group of specific goals. To gain an insight into OBE, it is necessary to learn something about its origins and those promoting it.
B. F. Skinner, a psychologist and learning theorist, developed the techniques of learning (operant conditioning) based on conditioning phenomena first analyzed scientifically by Pavlov. Skinner called his technique his "teaching machine." Skinner thus developed the principles on which "Mastery Learning" was developed by Benjamin Bloom.
Mastery Learning was the original name for the process known today as Outcome Based Education, also known as Performance Based Education, or Restructuring. Educational theories used in OBE are based on Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. A curriculum, according to Bloom, "...may be thought of as a plan for changing student behavior." (p 14 of Ron Sunseri's book OBE: Understanding the Truth about Education Reform, Questar Publishers, P.O. Box 1720, Sisters, OR 97759) Bloom called it "Mastery Learning." Techniques for his new style of education, based on Skinnerian behavioral psychology, focus on stimulus-response conditioning. Bloom said the mission of education is to change the thoughts, actions and feelings of students. He held that the desired outcome is "...formulating subjective judgment as the end product resulting in personal values/opinions with no real right or wrong answer." With no absolutes, the goal of teaching is to modify the "thoughts, feelings and actions" of the student to some replacement system supplied by the educational system.
William Spady, Director of the High Success Network and Director of the International Center on Outcome-Based Restructuring, is the "father" of OBE. He works with the federal government, foundations, states and school districts helping them implement OBE.
According to Spady, we are faced with "a fragile and vulnerable global environment that requires altering economic consumption patterns and quality of life standards, and taking collective responsibility for promoting health and wellness." The goal of education, Spady says, has to be to prepare students for that future. Learning results are what is important, and his premise is that all students can learn. It is not important how long it takes, as long as the desired learning takes place. Since all will learn, grades are irrelevant in the new system. All get an "A". Competition in schools in his estimation is a negative influence impairing learning.
Spady's definition of an outcome is "the acceptable culminating demonstration of a significant learning behavior." Subject knowledge and concepts are not valid outcomes. In 1982 he observed that one of the four main goals of Mastery Learning is a "system of supervision and control which restrains behavior of kids. The outcome of the hidden agenda should be the fostering of social responsibility and compliance." These goals "transcend academics," and deal with attitudes and feelings. However, Spady rejected the term "Mastery Learning" because of its monumental failures, renaming it so that the system of OBE would not be rejected out of hand.
But how exactly does OBE work? In OBE, a student must demonstrate an approved behavior defined by the state as the required outcome of the educational process. The state:
1. Sets a standard for "mastery" of a specified goal.
2. Tests to verify that the goal has been achieved.
3. Remediates a student who fails to meet the standard until he does.
The required outcomes are attitudinal, not academically based. They set outcome attitudes towards and behavioral capacity for adaptability to change, ethical judgment, family living, environment, understanding and appreciating others, and good citizenship (defined as active participation in and support of civic government).
The rhetoric of OBE says that children will proceed at their own pace and not be judged by "seat time." In practice, because of emphasis upon group learning strategies, all children in a group must achieve the goals before the group may move on, which puts tremendous pressure on a non-conformist to conform. This group orientation makes OBE a system for education of the group, not the individual. It is "collective" education in which competition is discouraged and the individual learns that the group is more important than the individual.
There are four stages in implementing outcome-based education. The transition from one stage of OBE to the next is accomplished through gradualism. Bill Spady defines the stages as follows:
STAGE 1: TRADITIONAL OBE
Here OBE retains its traditional focus on subject area knowledge (math, science, reading, etc.), outcome-based instruction is applied to the traditional disciplines. A shift is made to A,B,I grading (eighty percent = mastery; incomplete (I) doesn't count on grade point average). The teacher takes the role of coach or facilitator.
STAGE 2: LOW TRANSITIONAL OBE
The focus remains on academic subject areas with some OBE processes such as group collaboration, self assessment on performance terms using open-ended tests and demonstrations with scoring (rubrics) developed by the teacher. A,B,I grading continues.
STAGE 3: HIGH TRANSITIONAL OBE
The instructional focus now shifts entirely to processes and competencies, using subject matter in hands-on, real-life experience situations. Future-driven competence outcomes from spheres of the psychological, sociological, political, using authentic, exit outcome-based performance assessments (portfolios, projects, etc.) The curriculum now becomes interdisciplinary (thematic, traditional disciplines integrated).
STAGE 4: TRANSFORMATIONAL OBE
Here the educational focus points to functioning in life-roles. What we now have are future conditions-driven life-role performance outcomes involving authentic role performances (apprenticeship, community service, working in community), with academic subject matters fully integrated into and effectively downgraded, emptied of much content (content is estimated by OBE authorities to be approximately 10 percent of traditional content), and submerged within thematic future-driven curriculum. The outcomes are scored by student- and expert-created rubrics (business and industry will assess and validate competencies through authentic life-role performances), awarding certificates of mastery leading to entry into the workforce. Carnegie units are abandoned and criterion validation replaces grading with descriptions of competencies at each level.
Criticisms of OBE on the basis of external criteria are argumentive and arbitrary as far as supporters of OBE are concerned. But internal criticisms are telling. Ask: How do you measure outcomes? For example, the desired outcome of self esteem. How do you score it? How much self esteem is enough? Too much? The only way of measuring such things is by psychological tests, which are illegal. Yet the government has set a standard which a student must meet in attitudes, values and beliefs.
Examples: On assessment test the pupil is asked:
What is your least favorite country?
What is your least favorite religious denomination?
Such questions expose a pupil's attitudes and feelings about other people, and tell nothing of his knowledge about the world.
Crucial to the system is the facilitator establishing and maintaining a "Locus of Control." The child must learn to go along with the group. If not, the process must create a conflict in the child that will lead to a change in that behavior. This operant conditioning technique becomes part of teacher retraining.
The real goal of OBE, it thus becomes clear, is just what the experts say it is in their research journals. It is to condition the populace to rapid adaptability to change without protest. The outcome sought is a compliant, willing, unquestioning worker used to and desiring to cooperate with his fellows working in the global society..
Goals 2000 is a federal blueprint for education, over-riding local control and establishing a mandatory curriculum from the top down. It has no concern for academics. It was developed by Chester Finn. The Goals 2000, Educate America Act, signed by Bill Clinton, is legislation specifying:
1. School based clinics. The ultimate goal is to provide life-long services to the child and his family, making the data developed by these clinics part of the total package of information on pupils and families.
2. OBE, with computer data tracking ultimately extending from birth to death.
3. Parents as teachers, requiring "experts" to come into the home to show parents how to bring up their children with the approved attitudes and values. Those who object or fail to cooperate will be labeled as child abusers and be liable for prosecution and loss of their children to the state. This is part of the guideline that "all kids will arrive at school ready to learn." This gives "experts" an entry into home from birth to graduation of child. If parents refuse to let the experts into the home, they are labeled "at risk" and may be penalized.
4. Race norming of testing. Those of different race, color or income status will be scored differently, recognizing that (at least at the outset) they cannot score as well as middle-class Anglos.
5. No parental privacy, no parental input to the schools. The child belongs to the state and the family is an open book to the state.
6. Establishes a new National School Board, which will:
a. Install uniform national curriculum and testing.
b. Develop mandatory national outcome standards.
c. Implement data tracking on an individual basis, with that data made available to other agencies and employers.
7. Mandatory school standards relative to the number of teachers and their salaries, computers, etc.
8. National Educational Goals Panel , which will issue reports on how well each district is meeting the above 7 goals.
The Goals 2000 legislation thus established two new layers of educational bureaucracy at the Federal level: the National Educational Goals Panel, and the National Standards and Improvements Council. The first establishes the common educational goals, the second establishes the detailed standards and tests to assure compliance --- all on a national basis.
B. K. Eakman, in Educating for the New World Order (Halcyon House, Portland, OR 1991, pp 258-9), quotes William Bonner, Attorney for the Rutherford Institute:
"While the public has assumed it retains its historic input into education on a local school district level, in fact education has been progressively federalized, with the bold new America 2000 as the ultimate expression of the consolidation of power over education directed from Washington. The revised Chapters 3, 5, and 6 respond to Washington's demand that the states effect strict compliance with federal regulation in exchange for federal dollars. Freedom, diversity and local control are being increasingly sacrificed in that exchange.
"Undergirding this federalization of education has been a massive invasion of the family and the rights of individual students through curricula utilizing psychological programming and experimentation, as well as a broad spectrum of behavior modification techniques. Data periodically gathered through invasive testing within the affective domain has then, through the illegal demand for students' social security numbers...been compiled on computer systems storing vast amounts of intimate and private information on our children and youth, in violation of their constitutional rights...
"The traditional interests and rights of parents have been trampled upon, as educators have proceeded on the proposition that professionals know better than parents how to raise children...."