LL Ed 412
Inquiry Project (Part II)
Due: 21 April 1998
Outcome Based Education and Proposed Academic Standards in Pennsylvania:
Implementation and Implications in the Classroom
My plan, or strategy, of implementing what I have learned while compiling the research for the first part of my inquiry project revolved around four basic points. First, I wanted to study the already existing 'outcomes,' and the proposed 'academic standards.' Second, I wanted to get a better understanding of the public's opinion on this issue. Third, I wanted to test teacher knowledge and opinion of this issue. And finally, I wanted to observe both the teachers and students, in light of all of this new information, and see what has changed, if anything, how it has changed, for better or worse, and what affect it has had on the actual day to day practices with in the classroom.
Focusing on my first point of implementing my research into my experience in the classroom, learning more about the outcomes and standards, I must admit that this was the easiest part; not only did you give us both the existing outcomes, but you also gave us Gov. Ridge's proposed academic standards. So, reading and re-reading these in the sincere effort to more fully understand their role and significance was more like the preliminary step that was necessary before I could start asking questions to politicians, businessmen, educators, and students. I did, however, also research other state's initiatives on educational reform. Although I was not able to find a situation that is identical to Pennsylvania (i.e. with the governor adamantly pushing for its approval), I did find that many states are still plagued by the heated debate over outcome based education.
To further my understanding on the public's opinion of this issue, I first decided to limit my search/focus to this immediate area, ie Centre County. Not only was this done for logistical reasons, but also I thought that it would be better suited to the perimeters of the assignment. I will be doing my pre-student teaching in this area, talking with teachers and educators from this area, and teaching students who live in this area. So, why wouldn't I want to limit my focus to this area? Once, I decided to do that, I was faced with a bigger problem...How do you gauge public opinion? After several failed attempts, and a few random, but almost trivial successes, I found an excellent resource on-line. It is a national electronic archive that is operated by a company by the name of Media Stream Inc., which is a subsidiary of the newspaper conglomerate, Knight-Ridder Inc. The reason that this particular archive was so helpful is that our local Centre Daily Times is owned by none other than Knight-Ridder Inc., and all its articles from about 1994 through the present are accessible (for the low price of $1.00 ea.) on line. This gave me the unique ability to search for articles using different word searches, over a long period of time, and still limiting my search to the CDT. I have attached all of the relevant articles that I was able to find, dating back to October 1995 (only a few months after OBE conception here in PA).
My decision to limit my focus to Centre County did cause a few complications. The most obvious one is that this area is a fairly rural one, it is extremely hard, if not impossible, to accurately asses public opinion. Even with the articles that I found had logistical problems, namely, from the seven articles that I have selected, three were written by the same person, Paul Carty, the editor of the CDT. This needs to be recognized because by no means can we assume that the views he expresses or the perspective that he takes is representitive of the general public's view.
The third part of my implementation plan involved interviewing teachers, administrators, politicians, and anyone else who may provide deeper insight on this issue. As I was completing my pre-student teaching in SCAHS, and more specifically in their Center for Applied Academics and Technology (CAAT program), I had the unique ability to work with a progressive bunch of teachers that worked collaboratively every day. This close relationship that they each had with each other quickly provided me with an opportunity to talk to many of them about their opinion on OBE and Academic Standards in PA and even more specifically here in State College.
Unfortunately, I was unable to set up a meeting with the school board, or principals with my restricted schedule combined with theirs. But I did get the opportunity to discuss these issues with several local and state elected politicians. While I attended York Penn State, I was elected to SGA as both a freshman and sophomore senator. As part of a campus wide effort to involve our state and national representatives and senators, we had many PA politicians visit the campus. As a senator on the committee that organized these visits/discussions, I was responsible for making sure there were ample question to be asked, which brings me back to my inquiry project. These meetings were often so successful in sparking the bi-partisan debate over OBE and academic standards that many times nothing else was discussed. Not only did this experience lead to a great understanding of all the complexities that have allowed this topic to remain heated for so long, but it also allowed me to make many valuable contacts with several politicians and their offices. One the most helpful was Rep. Charles Gerow, who is currently up for re-election in Adams Co. He, and his office, took to the time to answer many of my questions about why this is still an issue, who supports it, who opposes it, why, and what does the future see for these standards.
The final aspect of my plan to implement what I have learned into the classroom involved observing how the existing OBE legislation as well as the proposed academic standards affect classroom practices. Here, again I must admit my biases: most of my time was spent with Mr. Cooke who has only been employed as a full-time teacher for less than two years and combined with his experience as a substitute teacher, he has less than three years experience. My point here isn't that Mr. Cooke is a young or inexperienced teacher, but that he was not teaching prior to the adoption of OBE in PA and so he may not be totally aware of any changes that happened at that time. When I spoke with Mr. Cooke about my inquiry project, (more specifically about the proposed standards) he really wasn't well informed about the current legislation. That is, he knew that there was pending legislation but he didn't know the specific details and how it relates to the previous OBE bill. At first he seemed not to be interested in the issue at all, but over a period of several daily discussions, he seemed to get more involved. After taking it up with the head of the English department, Mr. Cooke told me that decisions that are made about the curriculum were made by the department, and therefore largely above his head. He feels that these proposed standards, as with the OBE, will only have an affect on that administrative level. And that affect, he feels will most likely only be the semantic wording rather than lasting productive change/reform. This was definitely the dominate opinion pervading the CAAT team as a whole. Therefore, I was unable to find definate stratigies or policies that been added to the actual classroom level practices as a direct result to the previous legislation or to the current pending legislation.
Reflecting back on what I have learned and what I was able to take with me into the classroom, I come to what may first appear to be a pessimistic conclusion: The issues that surround OBE and the proposed academic standards are basically the same. OBE has failed to provide statistically valid data that proves it has helped improve the overall quality of public education and nothing looks so different in Ridge's plan to avoid a similar fate. The articles that I have collected illustrate this point rather well. No one on either side of the debate is saying that our educational system is fine the way it is, all involved (which isn't nearly enough) at least agree that we can and should improve the quality of education that our nation's children are currently getting. That is about as optimistic as I can be in light of what I have learned.
To me, this debate is fueled mostly by rhetoric, semantics, and basically whatever sounds right. I liked what Mr. Carty had to say about the standards as opposed to OBE:
And we ask: Why is this new? Did the reformers have something else in mind when OBE was implemented? Or when the national Goals 200 was started?...Of course not. But they also were not thinking about the problems that erode every plan's chances of success: politicians who are building careers on the worries of anxious parents; government mandates that suck time, money, and energy from teachers and taxpayers; and huge social obstacles--drugs, violence, abuse, disrespect, disillusionment--that show up like waifs in the classroom....All we have is the recurring promise of reform, but that's just fashion, and fashion changes nothing but itself. (Carty, Reform's in Vogue, 1996)
I know that this view seems pessimistic and even depressing, but I would stop short of agreeing. On the contrary, what Mr. Carty is expressing is responsible for one of the most influential decisions that I have had to make thus far. What field to get my undergraduate degree in. I agree that our American educational system needs to be reformed. I agree that politicians who put their careers above their constituencies are part of the problem and not the solution. I also agree that the social ills that are facing our natinon's youth are not adequately addressed within these reforms. I further believe that the ultimate goals of providing a higher quality education for students that will better prepare them not only to enter into, but also to succeed in a rapidly growing global economy. For these reasons and many more, I chose to pursue a degree in Secondary Education, English. I have never been more sure that I have made the best decision than I am right now after this inquiry project. This issue is a political one, pure and simple. Education reform has always been a political issue since mandatory schooling first began, and it will always remain one too. Therefore, since there is little to be done about the political involvement, I want to dedicate my life and career to working on improving our educational system not from the inside out like most teachers/educators do, but instead work from the outside in. By using and applying my education background, I feel that I will be better equipped to understand the educational issues facing the country and vote accordingly.