There is no single remedy, no "silver bullet," that will cure the core education problem America faces today: weak academic achievement even among those who complete formal schooling. I have argued that the first ingredient of a remedy must be a focus on outcomes, not inputs or resources. Decades of preoccupation with inputs have led to the current sorry state: America's young people are not learning nearly enough for their or the nation's good.

The challenge we face is daunting. We must define outcomes in a way that allows for a standards-driven, results-centered, highly accountable education. While allowing diversity—and the consequent competition—in the kinds of institutions we create and the methods and means we use to reach standards, schools must have one aim: to prepare our young people to live, work, and compete successfully in the next century.

The process of defining outcomes must be under civilian control. Policymakers should ensure that we select the correct outcomes. Parents, voters, and other taxpayers must make sure that policymakers do not lose their way. Professional educators must have primary responsibility in the classroom for making sure that students learn what is expected of them. And they need maximum freedom and flexibility to determine what means to use to accomplish this.

Unfortunately, both the left (the Aquarians) and the right (the nostalgists) are assaulting those who support the sound and common-sense notion that we should judge educational quality by what and how well children actually learn.

The Aquarians propose a collection of nebulous life roles, values, and attitudes rather than measurable academic outcomes. The standards they will create are federally sanctioned delivery standards that measure whether schools have enough resources to provide students with an "opportunity to learn." All this has one end: killing off accountability for results.

The nostalgists criticize the left's Aquarian life roles. Their grievances have more merit, however, than the alternative they propose—a return to the content and methods of a bygone era.

Even more unfortunate is the fact that most education reformers of a "conservative" perspective have joined the nostaigists' assault or remained silent on the issue. Rarely have they articulated a different view that tries to combine the virtues and values of the past with the changed requirements and demands of today's world. This reticence plays into the hands of those who focus on inputs and spending rather than achievement results.

Ironically, the silent surrender of the market reformers leaves the door open for an unvoiced, unholy, and bizarre alliance: the left and education establishment, who favor more money for education and equalizing resources regardless of need and the taxpayers' ability to support such changes, and parts of the right, who fear that public schools will never accommodate their values. The OBE debate shows that education policy—like politics—makes for strange bedfellows.