Outcome-based education

There are serious, legitimate concerns surrounding outcome-based education (OBE). In principle, it sounds good. In practice, however, OBE can be used to undermine parental authority and traditional moral and religious beliefs. This explains why much of the criticism of OBE has come largely from parents’ rights groups.

A key to understanding outcome-based education depends on making the distinction between cognitive outcomes (i.e., the development of intellectual abilities and skills) and behavioral and social outcomes (i.e., the shaping of social attitudes, values, and interpersonal relationships).

A case can be made on behalf of outcome-based education if it is confined to cognitive outcomes; that is, if we objectively measure students’ knowledge in the basics — math, science, history, and English. Some people still believe that OBE can be used to advance such ends (a good example of OBE, properly utilized, is the current high school Advanced Placement exam, in which students do not get credit for their course unless they demonstrate proficiency in a rigorous nationwide test). This explains why conservative education reformers like Chester Finn, Jr. have spoken well of cognitively-based outcomes.

The real concern is when those in the education establishment use OBE to (1) eliminate objective measurable criteria (like standardized tests); (2) do away with the traditional subject-based curriculum in favor of an emphasis on things like general skills, attitudes and behaviors; and (3) advance their own radical social agenda. Increasingly, OBE is applied to the realm of behavior and social attitudes–becoming, in effect, a Trojan Horse for social engineering, an elementary and secondary school version of the kind of “politically correct” thinking that has infected our colleges and universities.

Outcome-based education raises a number of questions: what if parents do not want their children to view all lifestyles as equal? What if a young person has developed strong personal convictions based on traditional moral standards? Will students who do not give “appropriate” responses to desired “outcomes” still be allowed to graduate? It is also worth noting that little in the way of public input is sought when it comes to OBE, and it offers no method of accountability.

There are some other problems associated with OBE, including:

  • The “dumbing down” of classes. Many of the curricula being developed call for teachers to wait for all students to understand all aspects of a subject before moving on. Many parents fear that this will penalize more advanced students.
  • Traditional education terms are being reinterpreted. In some programs, cognitive now refers to “a belief system,” and critical thinking refers to “a willingness to question everything, including one’s deepest convictions, beliefs and relationships.”
  • Some of the confusion surrounding outcome-based education is based on semantics. The conservative education reform movement of the 1980s wanted to focus on outcomes (i.e., knowledge gained) instead of inputs (i.e., dollars spent). The aim was to ensure greater accountability. What the education establishment has done is to appropriate the term but change the intent.

    In short, the “outcomes” increasingly being measured are not based on objective and measurable criteria like standardized tests; the state-desired outcome is increasingly based on vague, subjective social aims. Consider some of the vocabulary that surrounds OBE: words like “openness to change,” “appreciation of the global community,” “tolerance,” and “higher-order thinking skills.”

    There is a big push in the country on behalf of outcome-based education. But unless some means is found to ensure that it serves the traditional aims of sound intellectual and moral education, it should be resisted.

    Taken from remarks by William J. Bennett, Co-director of Empower America, May 27, 1993.