Shawn Cooley

LL Ed 412

Inquiry Project

Professor Pirrone

Due: 24 February 1998




Outcome Based Education in Pennsylvania:

Implementation and Implications in the Classroom




Although practically everyone one has heard of the controversy surrounding

the education reform initiative known as "Outcome Based Education" (OBE),

not everyone is aware that it is mandated by law within Pennsylvania, and

it has been since May of 1993. Five years ago, a bill was passed that

amended Chapter 5, Section 202 of Pennsylvania State Board of Education

Regulations to include a total of 53 student learning outcomes that

Pennsylvania students are required to achieve before they can receive a

high school diploma within the state. These outcomes, as they are called,

are divided into nine different categories: communications, home economics,

mathematics, arts and humanities, citizenship, wellness and fitness,

science and technology, environment and ecology, and career education and


Before we can begin a discussion on such a complex issue as outcome based

education and education reform in general, we must first examine how and

why these specific reforms became law and understand the controversy that

has surrounded it since its conception. In the years that preceded OBE in

Pennsylvania, the nation as a whole began to call for education reform.

This was in response to what was seen as a faltering education system that

was not thought to be capable of producing high school graduates that had

the necessary skills to compete in a rapidly growing global economy.

Public opinion of our American education system had fallen to record low

levels. Under the conservative leadership of President Reagan, a "back to

basics" approach to education reform was touted as the only possible

solution to this problem. This, in turn, caused quite an uproar in the

education field, especially within the National Education Association

(NEA). The NEA felt strongly that a "back to basics" approach would not

help improve the quality of education but moreover that it would cause a

regression that professionals in education have spent several decades

trying overcome. Although no one person or organization is accredited with

'creating' or 'authoring' the idea of OBE, it was primarily the NEA along

with its many strong political influences that was able to gain enough

support for OBE to make it law in many states across the nation, including

Pennsylvania. And it is this fundamental opposition between a 'back to

basics' approach and OBE that fuels the debate that still exists today.

With the passage of five years, one might have expected the controversy to

have done one of three things: either OBE would have proven itself as a

valuable and productive step in education reform, OBE would have failed to

live up to the expectations that it was designed to meet, or at least the

controversy itself would have simply subsided and the public would have

forgotten all about it. Simply put, none of these has happened.

Statistics abound, but it can not be said definitively that OBE has

succeeded or failed. Nor has the public let the issue rest in peace.

There is still a widespread dissatisfaction with the American educational

system that is apparent in a recent poll that collected the opinions of

adults, students, educators, and business. The poll found that "Six out of

ten voters believe that public schools set their standards too low.

Sixty-five percent of students said that they could do better in school if

they would try harder. Fifty-two percent of teachers said that the

academic standards in their own schools were too low. And seven in ten

business executives believe that the nation's public education system is

incapable of providing them with a sufficient pool of well-educated,

potential employees."

In response to this unimproved public dissatisfaction with our educational

system, Governor Tom Ridge has proposed a set of 'Academic Standards' to be

added to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education Regulations. Designed

to replace, or more optimistically, to enhance OBE, these standards are

being touted as more concrete and more easily assessed. By comparing them

side by side, the differences between the two can be seen most clearly.

Current Chapter 5 (OBE) Communications requirement states that all students

must be able to write for a variety of purposes, including to narrate,

inform, and persuade in all subject areas. The proposed Reading and

Writing Standards state that for fifth grade, students must be able to

describe how an author uses literary devices, such as rhyme, rhythm, meter,

alliteration, personification, simile, metaphor, and hyperbole.

Although the differences may be quite obvious, what is not as obvious is

which one better serves the needs of the students, society, and our nation

as a whole. These standards, as proposed, offer no more certainty to ease

the already fleeting public opinion than the outcomes that were ratified

more than five years ago. So where does that leave us as future educators?

What can we agree on? I believe that at the most fundamental level, most

of us can agree that education reform is not only necessary but also that

it is inevitable if we want to compete in the growing global economy. The

question then becomes what parts do we reform and how do we do it. In

Pennsylvania there are two main options that are under a lot of scrutiny,

as I have tried to illustrate. The best thing that we as educators can do

is to be informed. It is even more important that we understand the

politics that underlie and rule the educational system in our country

because not only are we all citizens and potential parents, we are the

educational system. These policies will directly affect each of our lives

in and out of school. There may not be a single right answer that all of

us will be able to agree on, and that is why the heated debate on the issue

of education reform is still going strong. But what we can do is arm

ourselves with all of the available information that we can handle. As

teachers, it can be quite easy to forget that it is not only our

responsibility to teach our students, but also to continue to learn for

both our students and for ourselves.

I know that this "sounds good," and I also know that it is much easier to

say that we should learn about these issues than it is to do it. That is

why I have found a way that we can get involved with the least amount of

effort possible. Currently, the standards that Governor Ridge has proposed

are up for review and will soon be voted upon. But on Wednesday, February

25, 1998 there will be an open public meeting here in State College that

addresses these very issues. At this meeting, the public (and especially

educators) is encouraged to stand up and let their opinions be heard. Even

if you do not have a definitive opinion on these standards or OBE, imagine

how much could be learned simply by attending. The meeting will be held at

the Park Forest Middle School (2180 School Drive, State College, PA 16801)

this Wednesday (February 25th) from 1:00 through 9:00pm. Everyone is

invited to come. People will be coming and going through out the day, so

no matter when you can find to time to go, you should always be able to get

a diverse sense of opinions on issues that will directly affect us as

future teachers.