Outcome-based education is a model of education that rejects the traditional focus on what the school provides to students, in favor of making students demonstrate that they "know and are able to do" whatever the required outcomes are.
OBE reforms emphasize setting clear standards for observable, measurable outcomes. Nothing about OBE demands the adoption of any specific outcome. For example, many countries write their OBE standards so that they focus strictly on mathematics, language, science, and history, without ever referring to attitudes, social skills, or moral values.
The key features which may be used to judge if a system has implemented an outcomes-based education systems are:
Creation of a curriculum framework that outlines specific, measurable outcomes. The standards included in the frameworks are usually chosen through the area's normal political process.
A commitment not only to provide an opportunity of education, but to require learning outcomes for advancement. Promotion to the next grade, a diploma, or other reward is granted upon achievement of the standards, while extra classes, repeating the year, or other consequences entail upon those who do not meet the standards.
Standards-based assessments that determines whether students have achieved the stated standard. Assessments may take any form, so long as the assessments actually measure whether the student knows the required information or can perform the required task.
A commitment that all students of all groups will ultimately reach the same minimum standards. Schools may not "give up" on unsuccessful students.
The emphasis in an OBE education system is on measured outcomes rather than "inputs," such as how many hours students spend in class, or what textbooks are provided. Outcomes may include a range of skills and knowledge. Generally, outcomes are expected to be concretely measurable, that is, "Student can run 50 meters in less than one minute" instead of "Student enjoys physical education class." A complete system of outcomes for a subject area normally includes everything from mere recitation of fact ("Students will name three tragedies written by Shakespeare") to complex analysis and interpretation ("Student will analyze the social context of a Shakespearean tragedy in an essay"). Writing appropriate and measurable outcomes can be very difficult, and the choice of specific outcomes is often a source of local controversies.
Each educational agency is responsible for setting its own outcomes. Under the OBE model, education agencies may specify any outcome (skills and knowledge), but not inputs (field trips, arrangement of the school day, teaching styles). Some popular models of outcomes include the National Science Education Standards and the NCTM's Principles and Standards for School Mathematics.
Approaches to grading, reporting, and promoting
An important by-product of this approach is that students are assessed against external, absolute objectives, instead of reporting the students' relative achievements. The traditional model of grading on a curve (top student gets the best grade, worst student always fails (even if they know all the material), everyone else is evenly distributed in the middle) is never accepted in OBE or standards-based education. Instead, a student's performance is related in absolute terms: "Jane knows how to write the letters of the alphabet" or "Jane answered 80% of questions correctly" instead of "Jane answered more questions correctly than Mary."
Under OBE, teachers can use any objective grading system they choose, including letter grades. In fact, many schools adopt OBE methods and use the same grading systems that they have always used. However, for the purposes of graduation, advancement, and retention, a fully developed OBE system generally tracks and reports not just a single overall grade for a subject, but also give information about several specific outcomes within that subject. For example, rather than just getting a passing grade for mathematics, a student might be assessed as level 4 for number sense, level 5 for algebraic concepts, level 3 for measurement skills, etc. This approach is valuable to schools and parents by specifically identifying a student's strengths and weaknesses.
In one alternate grading approach, a student is awarded "levels" instead of letter grades. From Kindergarten to year 12, the student will receive either a Foundational level (which is pre-institutional) or be evidenced at levels 1 through to 8. In the simplest implementation, earning a "level" indicates that the teacher believes that a student has learned enough of the current material to be able to succeed in the next level of work. A student technically cannot flunk in this system: a student who needs to review the current material will simply not achieve the next level at the same time as most of his same-age peers. This acknowledges differential growth at different stages, and focuses the teacher on the individual needs of the students.
In this approach, students and their parents are better able to track progress from year to year, since the levels are based on criteria that remain constant for a student's whole time at school. However, this experience is perceived by some as a flaw in the system: While it is entirely normal for some students to work on the same level of outcomes for more than one year parents and students have been socialized into the expectation of a constant, steady progress through schoolwork. Parents and students therefore interpret the normal experience as failure.
This emphasis on recognizing positive achievements, and comparing the student to his own prior performance, has been accused by some of "dumbing down" education (and by others as making school much too hard), since it recognises achievement at different levels. Even those who would not achieve a passing grade in a traditional age-based approach can be recognized for their concrete, positive, individual improvements.
OBE-oriented teachers think about the individual needs of each student and give opportunities for each student to achieve at a variety of levels. Thus, in theory, weaker students are given work within their grasp and exceptionally strong students are extended. In practice, managing independent study programs for thirty or more individuals is difficult. Adjusting to students' abilities is something that good teachers have always done: OBE simply makes the approach explicit and reflects the approach in marking and reporting.
Differences with traditional education methods
In a traditional education system and economy, students are given grades and rankings compared to each other. Content and performance expectations are based primarily on what was taught in the past to students of a given age. The basic goal of traditional education was to present the knowledge and skills of the old generation to the new generation of students, and to provide students with an environment in which to learn, with little attention (beyond the classroom teacher) to whether or not any student ever learns any of the material. It was enough that the school presented an opportunity to learn. Actual achievement was neither measured nor required by the school system.
In fact, under the traditional model, student performance is expected to show a wide range of abilities. The failure of some students is accepted as a natural and unavoidable circumstance. The highest-performing students are given the highest grades and test scores, and the lowest performing students are given low grades. (Local laws and traditions determine whether the lowest performing students were socially promoted or made to repeat the year.) Schools used norm-referenced tests, such as inexpensive, multiple-choice computer-scored questions with single correct answers, to quickly rank students on ability. These tests do not give criterion-based judgments as to whether students have met a single standard of what every student is expected to know and do: they merely rank the students in comparison with each other. In this system, grade-level expectations are defined as the performance of the median student, a level at which half the students score better and half the students score worse. By this definition, in a normal population, half of students are expected to perform above grade level and half the students below grade level, no matter how much or how little the students have learned.
Outcome-Based Education: Has It Become More Affliction Than Cure?
Written by Bruno V. Manno
on August01, 1994
Outcome-based education is grounded in the idea that academic success is best measured by what children actually learn, as opposed to how long they’re parked in their seats, how expansively multicultural their textbooks may be, or how much money is spent on their schooling. It’s premised (theoretically at least) in real results, not pleasant intentions, and in assuring accountability in American education — twin goals which have been articulated most energetically over the last two decades by conservative critics such as William J. Bennett and Chester E. Finn, Jr.
So how has OBE come to be the nation’s nastiest education controversy; the target of so much anger on the part of conservative parents and leaders particularly? Especially so, one might add, in Minnesota.
According to Bruno V. Manno, while many on the right have not always been perfectly on-target in their opposition (see his section on the “Nostalgist Fallacy”), cause for conflict lies mainly with those in charge of America’s public schools.
Writing in the Executive Summary of “Outcome-Based Education: Has It Become More Affliction Than Cure?” Dr. Manno argues: “. . . states turned over the crucial task of defining outcomes to the very education officials most threatened by the process. Although having adopted, in general principle, a focus on results, educators have proceeded to promote vague outcomes emphasizing values, attitudes and behaviors — often reflecting quasi-political and ideologically correct positions — rather than knowledge, skills, and other cognitive academic outcomes.”
Or if you will, OBE is in fact a good idea if properly understood and practiced. It does not warrant blanket, now jargonesque denunciations leveled by many conservatives. But at the same time, the fact that OBE is just one more in a long line of promising initiatives, first captured and then bent by assorted powers that be, both in and out of public education, is reason for large caution and pause.
This is Center of the American Experiment’s longest essay yet. But its length is warranted by the precise care taken by Dr. Manno in defining OBE, framing it in thematic and historical context, describing how it has played out in various states (Minnesota most of all), and suggesting means of reforming this latest of scholastic reforms. Yes, this is a conservative critique. But ideology aside, it’s also the most copious analysis I’ve seen on the subject.
Once more, this is especially the case regarding Minnesota, about which the author writes, “. . . nowhere has there been a longer and more concerted effort to establish an outcome-based approach to student learning than in Minnesota. The effort took root in the 1970s and continues to this day.”
Bruno Manno is a Senior Fellow with the Indianapolis-based Hudson Institute, and previously served as Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning, in the U.S. Department of Education. He works mostly out of the Institute’s Washington office, and holds a Ph.D. from Boston College.
On a more personal note, Dr. Manno served as Chief of Staff in the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement when I worked there as Director of Outreach, among other things, in the late ’80s. He’s a good friend and colleague, in addition to being a penetrating and experienced student of learning in America.
This study was first commissioned by American Experiment. We were joined midway by the Hudson Institute, which published a shorter version earlier this summer. All have profited from this collaboration, for which I’m exceptionally thankful.
American Experiment members receive free copies of all Center publications, including “Outcome-Based Education.” Additional copies are $4 for members and $5 for nonmembers. Bulk discounts are available for schools, civic groups and other organizations. Please note our phone and address on the first page of this Foreword for membership and other information, including a listing of other Center publications and audio tapes.
Thanks very much, and as always, I welcome your comments.
Mitchell B. Pearlstein
There has been a fundamental shift in the last third of this century — which is not to say in all quarters — when it comes to effectively evaluating educational quality. Previously, the conventional wisdom judged quality in terms of inputs: intentions and efforts, institutions and services, resources and spending. In more recent years, however, focus has increased on outputs: products and results, outcomes and effects — with an emphasis on core academic subjects. The primary question to be asked no longer is, “How much are we spending?” But rather, “What are our children learning, and how well are they learning it?”
Conservative policy analysts helped set the stage for this revolution in education by noting that student achievement kept declining while spending on education kept increasing, particularly starting with the Great Society era. The education establishment, however, showed little enthusiasm for this new approach. Why? A focus on results enables parents, politicians and others to better gauge whether investments in schools actually lead to children doing well academically. It better enables taxpayers to hold educators accountable for results.
Yet despite this lack of enthusiasm by many in education, the outcome-based approach began to win widening support in the mid-1980s from elected officials (such as governors, legislators and mayors) and lay people (such as business leaders, newspaper editors and parents). These “civilians” began to demand that “education experts” make themselves accountable to the public.
Today many on both the right and left passionately oppose an outcome-based approach to education, though clearly not for identical reasons. “Outcome-Based Education: Has It Become More Affliction Than Cure?” explains why such a good idea has led to such conflict.
A major reason for the clash is that states turned over the crucial task of defining outcomes to the very education officials most threatened by the process. Although having adopted, in general principle, a focus on results, many educators have proceeded to promote vague outcomes emphasizing values, attitudes and behaviors — often reflecting quasi-political and ideologically correct positions — rather than knowledge, skills and other cognitive academic outcomes.
In so doing, education bureaucrats have taken a sensible principle — an emphasis on results — and hijacked its meaning so that accountability is actually made impossible. They have used the very language of accountability to avoid being held accountable.
The paper shows how this process has occurred in various states, particularly Minnesota. It also proposes a twofold policy for escaping the impasse.
First, the essay recommends establishing high and uniform academic standards, accompanied by a system of accountability with real consequences for success and failure.
And second, it encourages greater diversity in the kinds of schools, and types of instruction, available to students and their parents through expanded choice programs.
The fight over outcome-based education is arguably the nation’s fiercest current education battle. Those identified as “on the left” claim that opposition to OBE comes primarily from “ultraconservative” groups such as Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition. For instance, Matthew Freeman, research director for People for the American Way, says, “the national organizations taking [OBE] on are almost exclusively religious-right organizations.”1
It is true that many of those identified as “on the right” do express pointed and passionate objections to outcome-based education. For example, Schlafly, President of the Eagle Forum, says, “OBE is converting the 3 R’s to the 3 D’s: Deliberately Dumbed Down.”2 Peg Luksic, a nationally recognized leader of the OBE opposition, comments, “Bureaucrats really do believe that schools are the ones that should raise children. Our children are not and never will be creatures of the state. We will no longer sit quietly while the state forces its mandates on our schools and our children.”3
Opposition to OBE, however, does not come from the right only. Some educators are glad to shun a focus on outcomes and results. They prefer to keep the focus on inputs and resources.
From another perspective, American Federation of Teachers union President Albert Shanker –hardly an ultraconservative — is just as pointed and passionate in objecting to OBE: “OBE’s vaguely worded outcomes . . . encourage business as usual . . . and [do] nothing to raise student achievement.” In saying this, Shanker appears to agree with many conservatives, such as former Secretary of Education William Bennett, who advocate a focus on student learning — academic outcomes — as the only route to accountability in education.
Ironically, it was conservative policy analysts who helped create the emphasis on outcomes. Some, therefore, are perplexed by the current state of affairs. Chester E. Finn, Jr., Assistant Secretary of Education during the Reagan administration, has said, “The word ‘outcomes’ has become tainted. For several years, I was among those promoting the [focus on outcomes], never imagining the twist it would take. Mea culpa.“4
It is not immediately clear why defining outcomes or results all students should master should meet with such an outcry. Nonetheless, the issue has become a wildfire. It involves people from all political persuasions, and has dominated all sorts of forums and policy processes.
Is OBE a promising cure to what ails public education? Or is it another disease spread by education bureaucrats through an already ailing system known for succumbing to one fad after another? To answer those questions and provide a perspective on outcome-based education, this paper examines three issues and offers a policy strategy that charts a plausible way out of the conflagration.
First, I describe a radical and far-reaching shift in the way we judge educational policy: the shift from inputs to outcomes. This discussion includes a viewpoint on the meaning of education outcomes offered by one of the most important groups advancing U.S. education reform since the mid-1980s — the nation’s state governors.
Second, I present a conflicting view that has evoked much of the general public’s negative reaction to outcome-based education. It has deep roots in the educational philosophy called progressivism, especially the thought of John Dewey and the idea that schools should make a “new social order.” Its most well-known popularizers today are William G. Spady and those who preach the gospel of “transformational OBE.”
Third, I focus on what has occurred in two states — Pennsylvania and Minnesota, though mostly the latter — which have pursued outcomes approaches. Their experiences are similar to those of other states, which I also review. More than anything, we see in these efforts well-intentioned, elected public officials blindly handing responsibility for specifying outcomes to groups dominated by education views nearly antithetical to those the public officials thought they were mandating. The typical result is a list comprising mostly transformational outcomes that arise from the progressive idea that schools should make a new social order. This discussion illustrates how “the devil is in the details” whenever reformers advocate an outcome-based approach to education.
Finally, I outline a twofold strategy — emphasizing expanded school choice — for resolving differences between supporters and opponents of OBE, as well as chart a plausible future course for outcome-based education.
What are education outcomes?
The last third of this century has seen a fundamental shift in the way educational quality is determined. Previously, the conventional wisdom judged quality in terms of inputs: intentions and efforts, institutions and services, resources and spending. The only other way to gauge educational quality and effectiveness is to focus on outputs: goals and ends, products and results, outcomes and effects.
The conventional wisdom received a radical challenge in the mid-1960s, when the U.S. Office of Education asked sociologist James S. Coleman to conduct a major study of the equality of educational opportunities in America. His report, released in 1966, suggested that inputs might not have a strong effect on equality of student achievement. Reflecting on this study, Coleman has written the following:
The major virtue of the study as conceived and executed lay in the fact that it did not accept [the input] definition, and by refusing to do so, has had its major impact in shifting policy attention from its traditional focus on comparisons of inputs (the traditional measures of school quality used by school administrators: per-pupil expenditures, class size, teacher salaries, age of building and equipment, and so on) to a focus on output.5
When judging educational quality, either we focus on what schools spend — or one of its many substitutes — or we focus on what students achieve; what they know and can do. Those who advocate a focus on outcomes in judging educational quality hold one common belief: We must specify what we expect all our children to learn, and we must test them to determine whether they have learned it.
In an outcome approach, success is measured by the extent to which the inputs raise educational achievement. Changes are worth making if there is some assurance that they will produce the expected outcomes. The question then becomes, toward what outcomes should the schools aim?
The focus on outcomes won some converts in the years after Coleman’s study. Nonetheless, the resource approach to judging quality continued to dominate American education.
The event that galvanized the nation’s attention and began a widespread call for fundamental reforms that would improve student achievement — the outcomes of education — was the April 1983 report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education. This study declared America to be a “nation at risk . . . [whose] educational foundations . . . are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”6 The report’s basic criticism was that America’s young people were not learning enough, and it made clear that the input focus and resource-based strategies of the mid-1960s and the Great Society had failed to improve the nation’s education results significantly. Weak academic achievement, therefore, was the key education problem.
This conclusion was repeated in dozens of other reports that soon followed. These reports helped place exceptional pressure on politicians and policymakers to improve educational performance. This led to a development unprecedented in the history of U.S. education: The nation’s states became hotbeds of education reform. Elected officials (such as governors, legislators, and mayors) and lay people (such as business leaders and newspaper editors) set out to wrest control of education from the education experts (school superintendents, school boards, and other members of the education establishment). These “civilians” began to demand that the “education experts” make themselves accountable to the public.
Coleman’s early work was of immense importance to the push for a focus on outcomes, as were the later efforts of elected policymakers and other civilians seeking to make educators accountable for results. Even some educators hinted at the need to focus on results and deregulate the “means” of education. For example, in the 1970s the move to establish minimum competency tests for students reflected a focus on results. In the 1980s, this competency focus spread to other areas such as preparation of teachers and administrators.
Also part of this movement was “mastery learning,” an educational method popularized by Benjamin Bloom in the late 1960s, which became widespread (some would call it an education fad) beginning in the early 1980s. In Bloom’s words, “Given sufficient time (and appropriate types of help), 95 percent of students (the top 5 percent and the next 90 percent) can learn a subject up to high levels of mastery.”7
In other words, outcomes are primary, and instruction — especially the time used to master outcomes — should vary. This approach reversed the usual practice of allowing for little or no day-to-day variation in time used for teaching different subjects. These and other such efforts set the stage for the watershed events that soon followed.
New momentum, national goals
Perhaps the single most important effort to turn the focus toward outcomes was that of the National Governors’ Association (NGA). They gave the outcome approach far-reaching policy attention beginning in the mid-1980s, when they decided to devote 12 months to investigating one subject — education. They focused on education for one direct and simple reason: “Better schools mean better jobs. To meet stiff competition from workers in the rest of the world, we must educate ourselves and our children as we never have before. . . . Schools and school districts [must] produce better results.”8 In short, the governors cast their lot with those arguing that the time had come to place primary emphasis on what people learn, the outcomes they achieve.
The approach endorsed by the governors gathered further momentum in 1989, when President Bush invited them to meet at an Education Summit in Charlottesville, Virginia. The president and the governors agreed to set six ambitious national education goals — outcomes — from early childhood through lifelong learning that they would work to achieve by the year 2000.
Briefly, the goals state that by the year 2000:
- All children will start school ready to learn.
- At least 90 percent of all students will graduate from high school.
- All students will demonstrate competence in challenging subject matter.
- U.S. students will be first in the world in mathematics and science.
- Every adult will be literate.
- Every school will be safe and drug-free.
One fundamental idea underlay these goals. In the words of the summit participants, “We want to swap red tape for results . . . [build] a system of accountability that focuses on results . . . and issue annual Report Cards on progress.”9 In 1991, the U.S. Department of Education began supporting efforts to develop voluntary national education standards and tests.
Creating world-class standards involves three things. First, clear definitions, within subject areas, of what students should know and be able to do — content standards. Second, achievement levels that specify what depth of knowledge is “good enough” — performance standards. And third, tests that report whether children are learning what they are taught.
These standards and tests, however, should not be higher hurdles for fewer to jump. They must raise expectations and let all students know what to aim for. High standards should be the primary way to boost the academic achievement of all children and provide them with an equal opportunity to learn. Widespread access to high standards that reflect a rich and challenging curriculum advances the twin goals of educational excellence and equity.
Finally, standards need not lead to uniformity, standardization, or a national curriculum. The means to achieving them can and should be left to individual schools, teachers, parents, and communities.
A good idea gone wrong
Defined in the manner just presented, it seems common sense that outcome-based education should meet with little resistance and even become quite popular, especially among consumers of education. Parents want to know what the schools expect their children to know and do and how well their children are learning what they are taught.
Indeed, the emphasis on education outcomes is rapidly growing. The Education Commission of the States reports that 25 states have developed or implemented some outcome-based approach to education while 11 others have made certain outcomes part of the state accreditation or assessment process.10
Many people, however, find outcome-based education attractive in name only. Beneath this innocuous-sounding name, they find outcomes that are nebulous and hard to measure and that focus on the affective (emotional) domain. Many outcomes deal with attitudes, values, beliefs and emotions rather than academic achievement.
Those opposing OBE come from quarters spanning the political spectrum,11 and contrary to the popular claim, opponents are not “almost exclusively religious-right organizations.”
An excerpt from an early draft of an education proposal in Pennsylvania illustrates the questionable outcomes:
Goal: Self Worth: All students understand and appreciate their worth as unique and capable individuals and exhibit self-esteem. All students act through a desire to succeed rather than a fear of failure while recognizing that failure is part of everyone’s experiences.12
Goal: Arts and Humanities: All students advocate the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage and traditions, including works of art, presentations and performances in the local and global community as a function of good citizenship.13
Goal: Wellness and Fitness: All students analyze community and environmental health problems and plan personal, family and community actions to reduce or eliminate hazardous situations.14
More on the Pennsylvania story later.
An alternative approach to education outcomes
There is an approach to outcome-based education that differs from the approach supported by the governors at the Education Summit. Identified most often with this alternative is William G. Spady, director of High Success Network, a national group of schools involved in outcome-based education. Spady and others began experimenting with OBE in the 1970s, although related ideas have been part of educational discussions and practice since the 1950s.
For Spady, exit outcomes are not only curriculum content. They are “the knowledge, competence, and orientations (our word for the affective and attitudinal dimensions of learning) that you deem critical for assuring success.”15 The outcomes “go far beyond the narrow subject-matter emphasis that characterizes most state testing and reform programs.”16
Spady bases exit outcomes on his notion of what it takes to function successfully in the role of a consumer, producer, citizen, family member, intimate friend, or life-long learner. These roles and the outcomes supporting them are more encompassing than the discrete and focused capacities and abilities needed for reading, speaking, and computational skills.
“Transformational OBE” is Spady’s term for exit outcomes. Transformational OBE expects students to “demonstrate those behaviors that denote a positive social, emotional, and physical well-being.”17 The vision of a graduate as a “competent future citizen” guides this approach, which begins with a detailed description of what the world will be like for students graduating from high school.
To develop exit outcomes, strategic design teams gather, critique, and synthesize the best information available about the life students are likely to face in the real world.
Spady provides the following as an example of future conditions design teams should describe and use to guide the development of exit outcomes.
Based upon an assessment of the future, we believe our students will face challenges and opportunities in a world characterized by:
- Worldwide economic competition and interdependence which creates ever- increasing requirements for job-related performance and a need to transcend language, cultural, national, and racial difference. . . .
- An increasing pluralization and polarization of social, cultural, political, and economic life that demands understanding and that requires innovative approaches to leadership, policymaking, resource distributions, and conflict resolution.18
The transformational approach strives for success for all students. Almost all children can learn, advocates say, given enough time and proper instructional approaches. Educators need only find “what works” for each student.
This approach has implications for the way schools organize themselves and for the way educators approach teaching, learning, and testing. It questions the “time-based” approach to education, which divides the year into semesters and days with uniform and specific class periods devoted to distinct subjects. Administering paper and pencil tests, which grade students on content mastery, becomes inadequate.
Under the transformational approach, therefore, educators work with children until they master the expected outcomes, and schools provide the opportunity to learn. Schools that continue to use letter grades often use A, B, or I (incomplete but in-progress). Others have only two grades-one indicates mastery and the other indicates not mastered yet. Spady says the transformational approach creates a “multiple opportunity system of instruction and evaluation . . . [that] undermine[s] the potential use of evaluation (testing and grades) as a mechanism for the control of student behavior.”19
The transformational view contrasts with two other views on outcomes. Spady calls them the traditional and transitional.
The traditional approach makes outcomes too narrow and content specific. Rather than starting with a clear understanding of the life students will face, outcomes derive from existing curricula.
Transitional OBE lies between the two, beginning with the general question of what the students must be like in order to be successful after graduation. The answers in transitional OBE, however, are not as specific as answers in transformational OBE. The different views on OBE confuse the call for education reform. When talking about outcome-based education, are OBE supporters reflecting the governors’ perspective? Or are they expounding a more expanded view of outcomes that Spady would call transformational OBE?
Because of these conflicting views, many state officials, regardless of political persuasion, have wrought political havoc in implementing OBE. A quick survey of four states tells the story.
In Virginia, with approval of former Democratic Governor L. Douglas Wilder, the state Department of Education developed a plan called the “World Class Education Initiative.” The plan included a Common Core of Learning proposal describing outcomes students should master. Joseph A. Spagnolo, Superintendent of Public Instruction, called the proposal “a statement of educational expectations for Virginia’s public schools.”20 In November 1992, the department circulated draft copies of the proposal.
The proposal included 38 student outcomes categorized under seven “dimensions of living”: personal well-being and accomplishment, interpersonal relationships, lifelong learning, cultural and creative endeavors, work and economic well-being, local and global civic participation, and environmental stewardship.
Local school boards and parent groups strongly opposed the plan. The school boards viewed it as an encroachment on their authority, and parents objected to what they saw as a focus on vaguely defined values at the expense of academics.
February 1993 saw the release of another draft of the Common Core proposal. This version called its approach “transformational outcome-based education” and included a slightly revised set of the seven life roles: fulfilled individual, supportive person, lifelong learner, expressive contributor, quality worker, informed citizen, and environmental steward.
In May 1993, after making more revisions, the Board of Education approved a draft of the proposal that listed 33 specific outcomes students needed to master by tenth grade. The outcomes came under six headings that combined Spady’s life roles with references to values and traditional content: citizenship, the natural world, cultural and creative endeavors, responsibility, learning, and work. This proposal provoked even more controversy.
In September 1993, Governor Wilder ordered the Board of Education to withdraw the plan. He said the proposal “was introduced with the best of intentions . . . [but has] become tied to other fashionable approaches to curriculum reform. Make no mistake, I do not now, nor have I ever, endorsed changing Virginia’s education standards to encompass values-based education. Knowledge and proficiency of basic skills must remain the basis for education in our Commonwealth.”21
In 1991, former Democratic Governor Booth Gardner proposed that the Washington Legislature establish a Commission on Assessment to oversee creation of a new “high stakes” statewide testing program. The program would measure student mastery of statewide goals. Also in 1991, a statewide teachers strike led the governor to establish the Council on Education Reform and Funding. The juxtaposition of these events led the Legislature to refrain from acting on the governor’s original commission proposal.
The 1991 proposal, however, was the basis for a new legislative proposal in 1992. The Legislature’s proposal called for creation of a Commission on Student Learning that would craft a new statewide testing program to measure prescribed statewide outcomes. This proposal generated criticism from several groups. The most vocal opponents were those who objected to the “extremely vague” nature of the outcomes students were to master. This time, though, the Legislature did pass a proposal authorizing new statewide tests and a commission to develop them.
As Governor Gardner neared the end of his term, the Council on Education Reform and Funding, which he created in 1991, issued its report. The council proposed modifications to the 1992 law and encouraged the Legislature to appropriate a substantial amount of money to implement the law. Governor Gardner’s Democratic successor, Mike Lowry, for the most part endorsed these proposals.
Controversy again erupted from those critical of the general “outcome-based approach” to education and from those objecting to the specific (if extraordinarily vague and dangerously moldable) goal of students become “caring and responsible citizens.”
The controversy led the Legislature to make several changes in the council’s original proposal. The Legislature deleted the goal of “caring and responsible citizens” and made implementation of the Performance Based Education Act of 1993 optional until the year 2000, leaving it to local school boards to decide which schools would participate prior to that time. The state would not require statewide implementation of the assessment until 2000.
Opponents did not accept this approach. They organized a statewide group called Reform for Effective Public Education and Academic Learning (REPEAL). The group’s leader, Jeb Brown, led a voter signature drive to place the act for repeal on the November 1993 ballot. Although Brown and his followers failed to gather enough signatures, they promised to continue their opposition.22
In 1992, Ohio Republican Gov. George Voinovich signed legislation creating a statewide Education and Goals Commission. The act established a Learning and Outcomes Panel to which the governor appointed 57 members.
The panel developed 11 broad learner goals and 24 more specific learner outcomes for students to achieve before graduating from high school. The plan included two particularly controversial learner outcomes: “Ohio graduates will . . . function as a responsible family member . . . [and they will] maintain physical, emotional, and social well-being.”23
The proposal caused an uproar directed at the “values and attitudes” some saw as part of the plan. Richard Chalini, a parent who teaches in Cleveland, offered a good summary of what many parents saw as the problem: “My concern is these psychological goals take the rights from parents and students.”24
In June 1993, the Ohio House Education Committee voted unanimously to delete an OBE provision included in an education reform measure that was part of the state’s budget bill. Rep. Ronald V. Gerberry, a Democrat chairing the Education Committee and an active member of the Ohio Education Association, felt compelled to protect his reputation by defending his action and saying, “I am not the Jesse Helms of Ohio. We have to be responsive to our constituents.”25 State Education Superintendent Ted Sanders looked for the silver lining in the debate when he lamented, “We must be doing something right to spark a debate like this.”26
In Iowa the move to an outcomes approach began in 1990. Although others were involved, it was primarily business and education leaders who began the conversation about how to make their schools “world class.” All agreed that a key element of this effort was to focus on results.
In February 1992, a 170-member steering committee began deciding what outcomes they would expect of Iowa students. In July, after consulting with more than 600 reviewers, the committee identified nine broad outcomes: lifelong learning, problem solving, communication, group membership, commitments to quality, creativity, diversity, environmental responsibility, and life management.
This effort produced a large public outcry. Critics challenged the diversity, environmental responsibility, and life management outcomes as an attempt to impose “politically correct” values in the curriculum.
This dispute led State Superintendent of Education William Lepley in May 1993 to shelve his OBE plan. Instead, the Department of Education would help districts set their own outcomes. Lepley commented, “We didn’t drop it. We merely withdrew it to revise our strategy.”27
Other states as diverse as Minnesota, Colorado, Kansas, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming are having similar experiences.
Today, outcome-based education is a “catch all” phrase describing a good idea gone wrong. A more detailed examination of what has transpired in first Pennsylvania, and then particularly in Minnesota will illustrate how “the Devil is in the details” when the subject is outcome-based education.
The Pennsylvania Experience
Context. Nowhere has the battle over OBE raged more intensely than in Pennsylvania, the first state to mandate as state policy an OBE framework with specific outcomes. And in no state have OBE opponents, especially parents, been more successful.
In the fall of 1989, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education began a three-year process that culminated in March 1992 with the board mandating that the state establish an outcome-based approach to education. This mandate included a proposal to replace traditional Carnegie units, which set hourly requirements for the amount of time a student spends in a classroom on a given subject, with student mastery-of-learning outcomes. Supporters of the mandate included Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey, most major education and business groups, and other civic and advocacy groups.
Proposal. The Board of Education released the first draft of the proposal to the public in November 1991. The draft contained 15 Common Core Goals of Learning and 575 outcomes –127 graduation outcomes for kindergarten through twelfth grade and 448 benchmark outcomes for grades three, six, and nine. The outcomes covered traditional academic areas such as mathematics, science, the arts, and the humanities, but the outcomes also dealt with more general issues such as self-worth, appreciating and understanding others, and personal, family, and community living.
The following are two examples of more general outcomes from “Appreciating and Understanding Others”:
- Common Core Goal: Appreciating and Understanding Others: Each student shall gain knowledge of and have exposure to different cultures and lifestyles in order to foster an appreciation of the dignity, worth, contributions and equal rights of all people.
- Graduation Outcome V for K-12: All students demonstrate the ability to interact with others on the basis of their individual merits and without discrimination because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability, lifestyle, or socioeconomic status.28
These “outcomes” are not cognitive outcomes. They are largely in the general skill and affective domains. Further, they describe attitudes, dispositions, and sentiments.
Obvious questions arise. How will students gain knowledge of and exposure to different lifestyles? How will educators measure a student’s ability to interact with others? On a more fundamental level, how can a state order a public school to require all students to know about and be exposed to matters such as different lifestyles?
Public Reaction. A major outcry arose across the state. OBE opponents believed that the state — acting through its public schools — was intruding into the private lives of students and families. Opponents contended that the state had no business mandating these types of outcomes for students.
Further, opponents believed that the proposed performance-based assessment system — a system that could include computerized electronic portfolios — could gather and store too much personal information. The proposal to make the system available to potential employers invaded the privacy of students and their families. OBE opposition leader Nancy Stabile, Director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Citizens for Excellence in Education, commented, “The state is now saying it will mandate to individual children what they must . . . be like.”29
Peg Luksic, leader of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Academic Excellence, said, “The government bureaucracy at every level is trying to expand its authority. . . . Our questions are really kind of fundamental. What is the mission of public education, and who has control?”30
Democratic State Representative Peter Daly said, “This is truly a war. Now is the time, and this is the place. No one has a right to treat my child or your child as a guinea pig.”31
After much public pressure and months of controversy, Governor Casey, in his January 1993 State of the Commonwealth address, said, “The regulations contain language mired in confusion and controversy, which jeopardizes the public support that is essential for the ultimate success of the [OBE] reform.”32 While not withdrawing his support of the state board’s OBE proposal, the governor sought a way out of the conflict. An eventual compromise eliminated the most controversial section of outcomes in “Appreciating and Understanding Others.”
Role of the Legislature. One tactic OBE opponents used to try to defeat the proposal
was to try to persuade their legislators to take control of the issue away from the Board of Education. The opponents were successful in getting the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to vote twice on the OBE issue.
In April 1992, by a 150 to 47 vote, the House passed a resolution urging the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Committee (IRRC) to delay approval of the OBE regulations, pending an investigation by a special legislative committee. Nearly one year later, in February 1993, the House passed a resolution by a 139 to 61 vote to nullify and overturn the Department of Education’s OBE plan. The state Senate, however, allowed the OBE plan to move forward and refused to consider the House bill that would derail it.
The Board of Education approved the final version of the OBE plan, and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission voted in May 1993 to publish the OBE regulations.
Final Proposal. The approved version presents a list of eight character traits and qualities — Spady’s life roles — public schools should prepare all students to have and to be: high academic achievers; self-directed, lifelong learners; responsible, involved citizens; collaborative, high-quality contributors to the economic and cultural life of their communities; adaptive users of advanced technologies; concerned stewards of the global environment; healthy, continuously developing individuals; and caring, supportive family and community members.33
In addition, the plan has 53 student learning outcomes required for graduation from high school which deal with “academic” areas of mathematics, arts and humanities, citizenship, communications, wellness and fitness, environment and ecology, science and technology, home economics, and career education and work. The testing in these areas will focus initially on mathematics, reading, and writing composition, but emphasis on science, social studies, and the arts will follow. Each school district can add additional outcomes and must develop a school district assessment plan to measure all nine academic areas.
The plan also has six common core goals (as opposed to character traits and qualities): self-worth; information and thinking skills; learning independently and collaboratively; adaptability to change; ethical judgment; and honesty, responsibility, and tolerance. The state will not test students on these common core goals.
In September 1993, the state began a three-year implementation plan for the school districts. Each district is responsible for developing its own “strategic plan” and for deciding at what pace they will undertake changes.
The first set of plans from one third of the districts is due in September 1994. Members of the class of 1999 are in this first group of students who must demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes. Another third of the districts must submit their plans by 1995, which will affect students in the class of 2000. The final third of the districts will submit their plans by 1996, which will cover students in the class of 2001.
Neither proponents nor opponents of the OBE proposal are satisfied with the final version. Francine D’Alonzo, from the Pennsylvania Coalition for Academic Excellence, said, “Anyone can look at the revised version and see they are just shuffling the words.”34 Rita Adessa, from the Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Task Force, commented, “Removing ‘appreciating others’ as an academic goal subject to testing . . . makes this a voluntary effort, and what that means is that nothing will change. If school districts are not required to develop and teach multicultural education, they will not.”35
One unidentified OBE opponent probably best summarized the situation by saying, “You haven’t seen anything yet.”36
The Minnesota Experience
Context. The Minnesota OBE story is interesting for two reasons. First, nowhere has there been a longer and more concerted effort to establish an outcome-based approach to student learning than in Minnesota. The effort took root in the 1970s and continues to this day.
Second, support for the effort came from political, education, civic, and business leaders. Support from the political realm began in the early 1980s and involved governors in two administrations, one Democratic and one Republican. State support came from Gov. Rudy Perpich’s and Gov. Arne Carlson’s appointed commissioners of education, the Board of Education, the Department of Education, and the four education committee chairpersons in both houses of the Legislature. Although some legislators opposed an outcome-based approach, there was no broad-based uprising as there was in the Pennsylvania House.
Laying the Groundwork. In 1971, the Minnesota Department of Education started the Minnesota Educational Assessment Program, a survey that would provide information on students in general and also on certain subgroups of students.37 The survey would not collect individual student data; therefore, state officials would not be able to make individual comparisons.
The following year, 1972, the department began developing “Some Essential Learner Outcomes” (SELOs) which specified the content matter that teachers would teach. Through the years, the department’s collection of outcomes grew, as different subjects and grades became areas for surveying and testing.
In 1976, the Legislature enacted a Planning, Evaluation, and Reporting (PER) law that had a “result-oriented” aim. The law required districts to create written plans setting district goals, strategies for achieving them, and procedures for evaluating and reporting on progress toward the goals. The law also required instructional objectives to be in the plans. To support their work in developing the instructional objectives, the department began an expanded effort to identify learner outcomes.
In 1983, Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Gov. Rudy Perpich appointed Ruth Randall to be the Commissioner of Education. One of her first tasks was to prepare an education report as requested by the Legislature during the 1983 session. The new commissioner issued her report in October 1993 — during the national education debate engendered by the April 1983 report “A Nation at Risk.” Randall set forth both general and, for that time, radical proposals.
First, she wanted to change the graduation rule by replacing traditional “seat time” graduation standards with “measurable learner outcomes.” Second, she urged the Legislature to create state achievement tests that could determine whether individual students had learned the “outcomes.”
The commissioner believed that in order to have information adequate for accountability purposes, they would need data on the individual students and not just on a sample population.
The commissioner also recommended developing learner outcomes to promote “higher level thinking skills.” This would involve the department in creating model outcomes and giving individual districts the option of developing their own outcomes if they were more rigorous than the department’s.
The Legislature was not entirely satisfied with the commissioner’s report. The legislators considered the report vague and unresponsive. They held several hearings but took little action.
In 1984, the business community entered the discussion. The Minnesota Business Partnership, made up of the CEOs of the state’s approximately 100 largest businesses, produced a report, “The Minnesota Plan,” that called for a major reorganization of kindergarten through twelfth grade education. The plan included a recommendation that all students master “common core competencies” and that the state develop uniform achievement tests to measure whether students attained those competencies. Both proposals appeared to be an endorsement of Commissioner Randall’s earlier suggestions.
The following year, Governor Perpich entered the discussion by proposing an “Access to Excellence” plan. The governor’s plan called for legislation authorizing the department to develop “a model Minnesota outcome-based learner system.” This was the first use of the phrase “outcome-based learner system” in a state policy proposal. This system was to include a learner plan for each student along with an assessment feedback process. All this was consistent with the earlier proposals of Commissioner Randall and the Minnesota Business Partnership.
Governor Perpich’s proposals on the outcome-based learner system received little attention from the Legislature, for the Legislature focused on another, more volatile proposal by the governor — a public-school open-enrollment choice proposal. Ultimately, the Legislature’s education package did allow the Department of Education to maintain a collection of “model learner expectations” in the core curriculum at all grade levels for voluntary use by districts, along with the test items to measure them.
The next major force to enter the push for an outcomes approach was the Board of Education. In March 1986, the board adopted eight strategic goals. Goal Three proposed to “develop a performance-based education system, including personalized learning plans, in 10 to 15 demonstration sites.”
The first formal step to require statewide outcomes for students came in 1987 as an outgrowth of the board’s third goal. The Legislature amended the PER law and directed the board to develop a set of “essential learner outcomes” for subject areas. These cognitive, affective, and psychomotor outcomes were to be limited in number, and the board was to adopt the outcomes and make them mandatory for local districts. Early in 1988, the board adopted a set of them.
Spady Approach Dominates. The 1988 legislative session saw the creation of a Task Force on Education Organization. The majority of task force members were non-legislators representing education groups, and their tasks included investigating the notion of learner outcomes and assessment. During deliberations in early 1989, the task force invited William Spady to address its members. Spady reinforced and encouraged the direction of both the board and the department and gave their effort new impetus. In fact, the outcomes system described in a draft document a few months later follows the Spady approach.
OBE opponent Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, saw Spady’s visit as a defining moment for the outcomes effort in the state: “This whole [OBE] thing came from the top down because a paid consultant came to Minnesota in 1989, did his dog and pony show, got paid good money, and then he left. And we are left holding the bag.”38
Expanding the Effort. In May 1989, through the cooperative efforts of Governor Perpich, the Legislature, and the state Board of Education, the state appropriated $1 million to finance up to 10 sites to test the outcomes system. The board would select two-year research projects that would receive $100,000 grants. The department’s new, semi-autonomous Office of Educational Leadership would provide assistance to the winners.
The Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI), at the University of Minnesota, received a separate grant from the Office of Educational Leadership to evaluate the projects. The center would not collect outcome data, however, because many believed it would take several more years — perhaps as many as six years — to see any major improvement in student learning. By October 1989, the board had reviewed the 80 applications and had chosen 10 sites comprising 17 districts and five educational consortiums.
During 1990, the department prepared a new outcome-based graduation rule, containing 15 graduation outcomes, for the board to review. In October 1990, the board and the new Commissioner of Education, Tom Nelson, demonstrated their support for OBE. Meeting in Rochester, the board unanimously approved a proposal to exempt the Rochester district from several state requirements in four areas.
First, the waivers allowed student schedules to vary; students could spend longer periods studying some subjects or could attend school for less time on one day than on another day.
Second, Rochester could develop local graduation outcomes to replace state course requirements. In exchange for this, officials agreed to measure student achievement using standardized tests and issue achievement reports annually for five years.
Third, the district could allow teachers using team teaching to teach subjects for which they were not licensed. This would provide more flexibility in scheduling.
Fourth, the district could develop staff training programs for middle school educators that would meet local needs rather than state requirements.
In approving the Rochester request, Tom Lindquist, state board president, made clear the significance of the board’s action: “We have encouraged Rochester and other school districts to move in this direction. The board and department have chosen outcome-based education as the main road to accountability and high performance in Minnesota schools.”39
In December 1990, the department launched the “Challenge 2000: Success for All Learners” program, designed to be the “banner of a comprehensive state education plan.”40 A key element was a “comprehensive system of outcome based education” in all Minnesota schools.41 Among other things, this program would do the following:
- Develop varied and flexible interdisciplinary and cooperative instructional strategies that address the diversity of individual student learning needs.
- Promote responsible citizenship through experiential learning opportunities in all neighborhoods and communities in Minnesota.42
Continuing the Move to OBE. Several 1991 events continued the move to outcome-based education. Newly elected Independent Republican Governor Arne Carlson took office, as did his appointed Commissioner of Education, Gene Mammenga, a member of the Minnesota state Senate from 1966 to 1972, and a lobbyist for the Minnesota Education Association. Both the governor and the commissioner were committed to a change in the graduation rule by better focusing on outcomes.
The Legislature was extremely active on the education front, especially on the OBE issue. While refusing to continue support for the Task Force on Education Organization and the Office of Educational Leadership, the Legislature adopted a mission statement for Minnesota public education and a statutory definition of outcome-based education:
Mission statement: The mission of public education in Minnesota, a system for life-long learning, is to ensure individual academic achievement, an informed citizenry, and a highly productive work force. This system focuses on the learner, promotes and values diversity, provides participatory decision-making, ensures accountability, models democratic principles, creates and sustains a climate for change, provides personalized learning environments, encourages learners to reach their maximum potential, and integrates and coordinates human services for learners.43
Statutory definition: Outcome-Based Education is a pupil-centered, results-oriented system premised on the belief that all individuals can learn. In this system: What a pupil is to learn is clearly identified; each pupil’s progress is based on the pupil’s demonstrated achievement; each pupil’s needs are accommodated through multiple instructional strategies and assessment tools; and each pupil is provided time and assistance to realize her or his potential.44
Supporters pointed out that neither statement requires a particular teaching method, grading system, or schedule procedure. For them, OBE was not a state-mandated “delivery system” but was instead a set of expected outcomes. Opponents countered that the viewpoint implicit in them mirrored the position held by Spady, who advocates specific approaches to these and other issues.
The Legislature appropriated funds to support a competitive grants program for districts implementing OBE. The department received 188 proposals, from which they chose 30. Each site received $40,000 over two years, with the district paying the third year dissemination costs.
The Legislature also passed the nation’s first charter school law, which created up to eight outcome-based schools. Building on the Rochester experience, charter schools would be free of many state and local rules in exchange for students’ achieving the required outcomes.
In mid-1991, the Board of Education gave preliminary approval to the “Outcome-Based Graduation Rule.” The rule recommended individual student learning and graduation plans and a state-developed assessment measuring three levels of achievement — adept, advanced, and exemplary. On a regular basis, the state commissioner would receive a required comprehensive district plan for “verification of learner achievement of graduation outcomes.” Several items were to be part of the plan, including an information management system for student and district records.
The rule also listed seven graduation outcomes describing the general characteristics graduates should demonstrate prior to graduation. These seven outcomes came from the 15 found in the department’s 1990 draft. The outcomes correspond with 63 competencies that “further define the knowledge, skills, and attitudes”45 that students must master for graduation. The section on graduation outcomes states that “[i]n order to lead productive fulfilling lives in a complex and changing society and to continue learning: [T]he graduate demonstrates the knowledge, skills, and attitudes” needed to do the following:
- Communicate with words, numbers, visuals, symbols and sounds.
- Think and solve problems to meet personal, social and academic needs.
- Contribute as a citizen in local, state, national and global communities.
- Understand diversity and the interdependence of people.
- Work cooperatively in groups and independently.
- Develop physical and emotional well-being.
- And contribute to the economic well-being of society.46
Early Objections and Responses. Although no broad-based, statewide and organized opposition to outcome-based education was visible yet, storm clouds were gathering as people met in 23 public meetings across the state following publication of this draft of the rule.
Generally, the objections raised in the meetings were that the board was ready to mandate a new education trend which was costly to implement, mostly unproven, and hard to explain in plain English. More specifically, there were protests about outcomes and competencies dealing with values, feelings, and attitudes. For example, competency one of outcome six calls for a graduate “to demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and attitudes essential to . . . emotional well-being and . . . describe the importance of and strategies for enhancing self-esteem.”
But these objections did not stop the OBE train. Rather, they prompted the board to provide the department with new guidance for a second draft of the graduation rule. There were five elements in the board’s new directive.
First, the board recommended removing the word “attitudes” from the phrase “knowledge, skills, and attitudes” introducing the seven outcomes each student was supposed to demonstrate prior to graduation. According to Joan Wallin of the Department of Education, this was done “in response to concerns raised at the meetings about the perception of needing the correct attitude to graduate.”47 Second, the department was to greatly reduce in number the 63 competencies and then word the remaining competencies more clearly.
Third, the districts would have a diminished role in establishing graduation requirements. This would occur by including in the graduation rule “criterion-referenced statewide standards for at least four fundamental skills, including reading, writing, mathematical processes, and problem solving.”48 Statewide standards would make OBE implementation less costly, because much duplication of effort would be eliminated.
Fourth, except where required by law, individual student learning plans would be a local option rather than a statewide mandate. And the department should eliminate the three student performance levels (adept, advanced, and exemplary), thereby avoiding anything that “would result in tracking and would lead to discriminatory practices for some students.”49
Finally, the new draft was to stress the distinction between the competency-based graduation rule and the implementing of outcome-based education. State board chairman Tom Lindquist said, “Many people think the State Board is proposing to mandate outcome-based education in every public school by a certain time. To the contrary, . . . it . . . [is not] proposing . . . to mandate any particular form of instruction in the classroom.”50
The objections raised at the public meetings and the resulting board revisions may have slowed the move to OBE, but again they did not derail the train.
During 1992, the Legislature reiterated its commitment to “a rigorous, results-oriented graduation rule” and required the board to “adopt a statewide, results-oriented Graduation Rule to be implemented starting with students in 1996.”51
However, the Legislature sensed that more than a few constituents were questioning OBE. The legislators held two days of hearings in mid-January and then decided to review the graduation rule before it became law. To accomplish this, the legislators ordered the Department of Education to present a progress report to legislators by February 1993 and present a final report by January 1994.
The Legislature prohibited the board from prescribing “the delivery system, form of instruction, or a single statewide form of assessment that local sites must use to meet” the graduation rule requirements. But unless the Legislature voted to stop the board, the board’s OBE direction and timetable would continue.
In November 1992, the Department of Education published the second version of the graduation rule, which was revised to meet the objections raised at the community meetings. A curious feature of this draft is that it drops all references to an “Outcome-Based Graduation Rule.” Instead, the draft proposes “Results-Oriented Graduation Standards” and a core set of graduation outcomes.
There are five exit outcomes (the renamed graduation outcomes from the first draft) that “provide a picture of the whole learner” and propose that a Minnesota graduate perform as a constructive thinker; self-directed learner; effective communicator; collaborative producer; and as a community contributor.52
Notice that the list eliminates references not only to attitudes but also to knowledge and skills.
Content outcomes, a second category of outcomes, describes “essential concepts, principles, and processes learners need to make sense of new information and complex situations.”53 Although not strictly tied to subject areas, the draft proposed statewide requirements for reading, writing, and mathematical processes. Furthermore, elective content outcomes would comprise at least 25 percent of the total content outcomes. A state-level citizen panel would develop the outcomes using a public process described in the draft document.
This second draft of the rule provided more details on student assessment than the first draft did. Leaving primary responsibility to local districts, the second draft described a state role of developing and distributing models that districts could use. The state would have responsibility for coordination, quality control, and verifying results from local testing.
Draft two urged institutions of higher education and businesses to set admission and employment standards reflecting the statewide outcomes, and the draft strongly endorsed a performance approach to testing. In the interim, “[c]urrent course and letter grade reporting, which is unidimensional, will continue on a parallel path with performance standards until the community and higher education deem it unnecessary.”54
Opposition Grows. The second draft sparked public hearings at eight sites in November and December 1992 and produced a stronger and more organized opposition, especially from grass-roots groups of parents concerned about exit outcomes describing values and attitudes. One controversial outcome was exit outcome five, which stated that “a Minnesota graduate performs as: A community contributor who appreciates and understands diversity. . . .” What, the opponents asked, does this outcome mean? How will teachers teach it? How will teachers measure it?
Linda McKeen, a Lakeville resident and co-founder of Parent Education Network (PEN), was one of the parents concerned about the outcomes approach. Though not necessarily opposed to OBE, McKeen is concerned about the way schools use it. She saw “no proof in the current movement that children are learning more or behaving better.”55