Defined in the manner just presented, it seems common sense that outcome-based education should meet with little resistance and even become quite popular, especially among consumers of education. Parents want to know what the schools expect their children to know and do and how well their children are learning what they are taught.
Indeed, the emphasis on education outcomes is rapidly growing. The Education Commission of the States recently reported that twenty-five states have developed or implemented an outcome-based approach to education, and that eleven others have made outcomes a part of the state accreditation or assessment process. The concept, however, has met resistance from many quarters spanning the political spectrum. Opponents have several objections, but one is primary: the outcomes are nebulous, hard to measure, and focus on affective matters. That is, many of the outcomes concern attitudes, values, beliefs, and emotions rather than academic achievement. The following excerpt from an early draft (1991) of a Pennsylvania proposal illustrates this approach:
Goal: Self Worth
All students understand and appreciate their worth as unique and capable individuals and exhibit self-esteem. All students act through a desire to succeed rather than a fear of failure while recognizing that failure is part of everyone's experiences.
Goal: Arts and Humanities
All students advocate the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage and traditions, including works of art, presentations and performances in the local and global community as a function of good citizenship.
Goal: Wellness and Fitness
All students analyze community and environmental health problems and plan personal, family and community actions to reduce or eliminate hazardous situations.
Clearly, these are not the kinds of outcomes the governors called for. Many educators and much of the education bureaucracy, on the other hand, have shown a decided preference for such outcomes, rather than a more rigorously academic orientation such as that advocated by the NGA. In recent years, the individual most often associated with the more nebulous approach is William G. Spady, director of the High Success Network in Eagle, Colorado, established in January 1980.
Spady began work on this approach in the late 1960s, after the release of the Coleman report. For Spady, exit outcomes are not only curriculum content. Rather, they are "...the knowledge, competence, and orientations (our word for the affective and attitudinal dimensions of learning) that you deem critical for assuring success."
Exit outcomes of this type thus treat the ability to function successfully in life-roles such as being a consumer, a producer, a citizen, a family member, an intimate friend, and a lifelong learner. Spady calls this approach transformational outcome-based education. In this approach, educators expect students to "demonstrate those behaviors that denote a positive social, emotional, and physical well-being."
These two approaches to defining outcomes, of course, conflict seriously. And as elected and appointed state officials lead the charge for education reform under the banner of OBE, they quickly become ensnared in a conundrum. In talking about outcome-based education, are they reflecting the governors' position or the expanded view Spady calls transformational OBE? This question has wrought political havoc in the education-reform process, as the following discussion illustrates.