IP-3-1996 (January 1996)
Author: Bruno Manno
The last third of this century has seen a fundamental shift in the way we determine educational quality. Previously, the conventional wisdom judged quality in terms of inputs: intentions and efforts, institutions and services, resources and spending. In the past several years, however, there has been an increasing focus on outputs: goals and ends, products and results, with a focus on core academic subjects. The primary question asked is less often “How much are we spending?” and more often “What are our children learning, and how well are they learning it?”
During the 1980s, the outcome-based approach began to win support in legislatures and among the nation’s state governors, and beginning in the mid-1980s many states began to institute such programs. Now, however, many on the Right vehemently oppose outcome-based education. And most of the education establishment and many on the political Left have united in supporting the concept. Although it is not immediately clear why defining outcomes or results should meet with such an outcry, the issue has become a wildfire.
In this issue paper, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Bruno Manno explains why there is such conflict over what seemed such a good idea at the start. When states began efforts to institute outcome-based education programs, they turned the crucial task of defining outcomes over to the very education establishment figures most threatened by the possibility of serious measurement of educational outcomes. Having paid lip service to the emphasizing academic outcomes, the educational establishment often creates a list of outcomes that emphasize values, attitudes, and behavior and often reflect political correctness. Doctor Manno shows how this process occurred in various states. He then proposes a twofold policy strategy that provides a way out of the dilemma:
establish high, uniform academic standards and a system of accountability with real consequences for success and failure; and create greater diversity in the kinds of schools we finance, how we pay for them, and the ways educators produce solid academic achievement, with parents free to choose the schools that best meet their needs.