ERIC Identifier: ED363914 Publication Date: 1993-10-00
Author: McNeir, Gwennis Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Outcome-Based Education. ERIC Digest, No. 85.
As schools nationwide continue their efforts to improve, some reformers
suggest that what is needed is a fundamental rethinking of the function and
structure of education. Outcome-based education (OBE) is one model for
restructuring currently being examined nationwide.
Traditional educational practices center on "inputs." Students are exposed to
a segment of curriculum over a specified time. At the end of the unit, an
examination is usually given, and grades are assigned regardless of whether all
students have achieved mastery of the material.
In contrast to a content and time-based method, OBE specifies the "outcomes"
students should be able to demonstrate upon leaving the system. These outcomes
are derived from a community vision of the skills and knowledge students need to
be effective adults. OBE focuses educational practice on ensuring that students
master those outcomes, and it asserts that all students can succeed.
Encouraged by positive reports from OBE programs in districts like Sparta,
Illinois, and East Islip, New York, a number of districts have adopted OBE
systems. Educators who are considering adopting OBE need to be aware of the
controversy and challenges inherent in the model as well as its potential
WHAT FORM DOES OBE TAKE?
There is no single, authoritative
model for outcome-based education. Frameworks for OBE share an emphasis on
systems-level change; observable, measurable outcomes; and the belief that all
students can learn.
William Spady's model for OBE urges schools to generate "exit outcomes" based
on the challenges and opportunities that students will face after graduation,
and then to "design down" from the outcomes for all other aspects of educational
A key component of Spady's model is expanded opportunity and instructional
support. Students are given more time if needed to master material, and they are
offered second chances or given a grade of Incomplete until they succeed.
Teachers use "coaching" as well as grouping and team teaching to provide
Albert Mamary's Outcomes-Driven Development Model (ODDM) echoes Spady's
"success for all" philosophy while choosing a strong research base for its
starting point. Mamary stresses need for a "transformational leader" who
generates a broad base of support for the process (Vickery 1990).
School District No. 1 in Pasco, Washington, has created a unique OBE model
based on six essential elements: vision, knowledge, action, results,
restructuring, and teaming. Specific components include a mission statement,
intense teacher retraining, and ongoing research into better methods of
assessment and feedback.
WHY IS OBE THE SUBJECT OF GROWING INTEREST?
OBE has gotten
increased attention in recent years because it promises far-reaching reform,
offers a balance between school autonomy and accountability, and appears to
deliver dramatic results.
For Spady and other advocates of school reform, a shift toward OBE is long
overdue. Reports in the last decade concerning the state of America's schools
reveal that they need to more adequately prepare students to be effective in a
Many states have now legislated standards for school improvement, with the
onus on school districts to make sure the standards are met. In spite of the
uneasy relationship between state and district agendas, many districts are
discovering that OBE allows them to combine accountability with greater school
autonomy. In Florida, for example, the state legislature helped districts to
define outcomes, then waived dozens of statutes to give schools the flexibility
they needed to meet those goals (McNeir 1993).
Schools that have successfully implemented OBE programs describe auspicious
results. Alhambra High School in Phoenix, Arizona, reported significant
improvements in attitude and performance by both students and teachers within
the first year (Briggs 1988). And, after four years of OBE, the Sparta School
District in Illinois achieved radical gains in grades and test scores in spite
of its previous financial and labor problems (Brown 1988).
WHAT ARE SOME PRIMARY CRITICISMS OF OBE?
Criticisms of OBE
issue from diverse sources, and they encompass a variety of concerns about
theory and implementation. The notion of outcomes as VALUES is perhaps the most
controversial objection to OBE. Some critics argue outcomes "concern values,
attitudes, opinions and relationships rather than objective information" and
that OBE's goals are "affective (concerned with emotions and feelings) rather
than academic" (Schlafly 1993).
Another objection is that OBE views education as a means to an end. McKernan
(1993) argues that predecided outcomes are antithetical to the very nature of
education, which he considers to be explorative, unpredictable, and valuable for
its own sake.
The lack of a comprehensive research base is another concern. Glatthorn
(1993) notes that "only a few systematic research efforts have studied the
implementation and effects of the OBE model as a comprehensive reform strategy."
Although many schools that have implemented OBE programs report improvement, the
evidence of its ultimate effectiveness is inconclusive.
A major controversy focuses on the notion of content versus process. OBE
systems may deemphasize specific subject content in favor of broader outcomes,
leaving educators with the difficult question of what content should remain in
the curriculum. Parents have voiced concern about students' losing competency in
basic skill areas such as math and literacy.
William J. Smith, executive director of The Network for Outcome-Based
Schools, stated that "OBE advocates and theorists support mastery of basic
skills, yet they understand how these skills must be learned if students are to
use them effectively. They must be learned in the context of purpose, meaning
and connectedness" (personal communication, November 3, 1993).
A related concern is measurement and assessment. Broad-based outcomes are
difficult to measure using standardized tests and traditional grading practices;
therefore, new assessment techniques must be developed to measure specific
outcomes. Proposals for assessment, such as a "portfolio" system that records a
comprehensive array of student-performance indicators, have met with only
limited success (Rothman 1993).
Finally, a practical concern for critics is the cost and time of shifting
entire school systems to OBE.
WHAT MUST SCHOOL DISTRICTS DO BEFORE IMPLEMENTING
Fully committing to OBE requires change in nearly every aspect of an
existing educational program. Before implementing an OBE system, educators must
weigh objections as well as commendations of OBE and determine in advance how to
At its core, OBE is concerned with a community vision of what students need
from school to be effective adults. Because of the potential for outcomes to be
viewed as value statements, it is crucial for leaders to involve all sectors of
the government, community, and school system in deciding to adopt OBE and in
Failure to obtain community support and a degree of consensus can sidetrack
an OBE program. Pennsylvania adopted OBE statewide only to nullify the mandate
soon after. Critics of OBE had charged that it "fostered the teaching of
'values' rather than academic skills and knowledge" (Rothman 1993). After
certain controversial outcomes were deleted and the program was reviewed by the
State Attorney General, OBE was reinstated amid continuing opposition.
School districts should involve faculty and staff in the process of
initiating OBE through workshops, surveys, or weekend retreats. Administrators
can generate support by facilitating consensus about beliefs and working
collectively to evaluate the pros and cons of adopting OBE. If support is
generated within the organization, it can be shared with the community through
public forums and school board meetings. In most successful programs, ongoing
dialogue is central to the drafting of outcomes and continues throughout the OBE
HOW CAN DISTRICTS MAKE A SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION TO
Drafting workable outcomes provides the underpinnings of a successful
OBE process. Additional suggestions from OBE practitioners include setting
manageable goals, adopting transitional measures, and allowing enough time for
real change to occur.
When drafting outcomes, "the key for most districts seems to be developing
outcomes that are broad in their vision, but specific enough to be taught and
measured effectively" (McNeir). Aurora Public Schools in Colorado include two
core outcomes: Collaborative Workers and Quality Producers. Examples of outcomes
from Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon, include Effective Communicators,
Community Contributors, Individual Achievers, and Lifelong Learners (Conley
Teachers and administrators recommend moving slowly toward the often daunting
task of restructuring. North Eugene High School in Eugene, Oregon, began with
only a third of its teachers employing OBE methods. Next year all teachers will
join the implementation process.
Few administrators attempt to transform a school district from traditional
practice to OBE overnight. "Transitional OBE," which leaves some aspects of
existing structure and curriculum intact as districts move through the
restructuring process in stages, is a good way to ease into OBE.
Streshly and Bernd (1992) note that a unified and sustained vision by school
leaders over time is necessary for genuine growth to occur. Just as educators
must allow time for careful planning and implementation, they must cultivate the
patience and commitment to allow their efforts to evolve into lasting change.
Briggs, A. David. "Alhambra High: A 'High
Success' School." EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 46, 2 (October 1988): 10-11. EJ 378
Brown, Alan S. "Outcome-Based Education: A Success Story." EDUCATIONAL
LEADERSHIP 46, 2 (October 1988): 12. EJ 378 739.
Conley, David T. ROADMAP TO RESTRUCTURING: POLICIES, PRACTICES, AND THE
EMERGING VISIONS OF SCHOOLING. Eugene, Oregon: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational
Management, University of Oregon, 1993. 430 pages.
Glatthorn, Allan A. "Outcome Based Education: Reform and the Curriculum
Process." JOURNAL OF CURRICULUM AND SUPERVISION 8, 4 (Summer 1993): 354-63.
McKernan, Jim. "Some Limitations of Outcome-Based Education." JOURNAL OF
CURRICULUM AND SUPERVISION 8, 4 (Summer 1993): 343-53.
McNeir, Gwennis. OUTCOMES-BASED EDUCATION: TOOL FOR RESTRUCTURING. Oregon
School Study Council Bulletin. April 1993. Eugene: Oregon School Study Council.
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