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The ABCs of OBE: Whats Wrong with 'Outcome Based Education'

IP-1-1994 (January 1994)
Author: Dwight Williams

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Executive Summary

Throughout America, the federal government is imposing a new educational program called “Outcome Based Education” (OBE). Under OBE, students no longer earn grades based on their mastery of a curriculum. Instead, students are evaluated on whether they have attained various “outcomes,” many of them vaguely-defined.

In this Issue Paper, education analysts Dwight Williams and Edward Lederman break through OBEs layers of jargon to explain what OBE really means. Part One, by Williams, analyzes OBE in detail. Part Two, by Lederman, puts OBE in the context of the education consultation complex.

The weight of the evidence suggests that OBE degrades student learning.

OBE prohibits successful students from moving on to more advanced material until every student in the class has mastered the current material. Although theoretically intended to promote group learning, the effect has been to slow advanced students, while slower students slow down even more.

OBE denigrates traditional motivations for learningsuch as test scoresbecause under OBE no student is allowed to fail.

OBE is often presented to parents in a disguised form, under a variety of names, such as “standards-based” education.

OBE proponents such as Mrs. Clinton and Labor Secretary Reich see education as the production of group-oriented, other directed corporate employees, rather than well-informed, skeptical, individualist citizens of a republic.

Although OBE jargon uses attractive terms such as “critical thinking,” those terms are redefined to mean their opposite. For example, “critical thinking” means the use of emotion, rather than logic, to make politically correct decisions.

To pay an army of OBE education consultants, schools divert vast resources into retraining teachers to use a program of no proven effectiveness.


by Tom Tancredo

For the last decade a firestorm of controversy has been building around something called Outcome Based Education (OBE). To understand the conflict we must recognize that it is part of a much larger and older war in which the combatants hold markedly different world views. The viewpoints of both sides can be stated in a positive manner as follows:

Viewpoint One:

  • Schools are agents of change.
  • Schools should challenge perceived inequalities.
  • Schools should create citizens with social utility.
  • Graduates should have work skills that are specific and marketable.
  • Schools should be child centered.
  • Prevailing attitude is, “Failure is impossible.”

Viewpoint Two:

  • Schools should perpetuate the culture.
  • Schools should transmit values.
  • Schools should be based in Classical Realism.
  • Graduates should be schooled in a “core knowledge” curriculum.
  • Schools should be society centered.
  • Prevailing attitude is, “Here is the standard; meet or exceed it.”

Although many people will agree with certain aspects of both points of view, the philosophical gulf that separates the two sides is immense. Both sides, however, recognize that control of the monolithic government schools system is one of the most important strategic objectives of the war.

The current educational vehicle for viewpoint one is Outcome Based Education, although the name sometimes changes in response to political opposition. OBE gains foot soldiers by appealing to many concerned citizens who may be unaware of or unsupportive of its “globalist” world view, but who recognize that the present government education system is corrupt and dysfunctional. Many parents and students victimized by the current system cry out for change, and OBE supporters promise change in terms that seem reasonable, rational, and compelling.

For example, OBE proponents correctly attack the use of “seat time” for determining student progress. They say that students should have to demonstrate mastery of certain skills before moving on. Few persons would disagree. (Except, perhaps, for the Ohio Association of School Boards, which has proposed that every student who attends four years of high school should receive a diploma, regardless of whether he has passed any classes.)

Demonstrable, specific outcomes are important educational strategies which most good teachers have employed in their classrooms for centuries. Of course truly quantifiable standards not only challenge students, they challenge the system. And the last thing the government schools bureaucracy needs is more hard evidence of the failure of government schools.

As a result, OBE as actually implemented becomes a tool for the government school system to avoid accountability while creating the illusion of success. We should not be surprised that the government education establishment has debased outcomes by stating them in purely subjective terms, or by creating outcomes based on a students acceptance of political correctness. Rigorous academic standards, supposedly the very foundation of OBE, are nowhere to be found. The whole program is then sold with empty or dishonest slogans such as “standards” or “marketable skills” or “no one fails,” and opponents are accused of being Neanderthals who oppose education reform.

At the federal level, the Department of Education and the Department of Labor are pushing, with full support from the White House, to require all schools to conform to viewpoint one. Both federal dollars and federal laws are being used to enforce conformity.

OBE is about far more than the integrity of particular outcomes. OBE encompasses all aspects of pedagogy, from philosophies of learning to behavioral conditioning to job placement. OBE also promotes a world view that is collectivist, communitarian, and emotional, rather than individualist and rational.

I hope that the materials in this Issue Paper will help parents, students, educators, and all concerned citizens cut through the forest of jargon that surrounds OBE, and come to an understanding of the real issues raised by federal efforts to impose OBE nationwide. The stakes are immense.?