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Spady: Separating outcomes and reforms in education

I was both delighted and dismayed to see John Young’s December 3 column in the SDN about outcomes, learning and reform.

My delight stemmed from John’s candid critique on what is passing for educational “reform” in the US these days. In the name of high standards, guaranteeing America’s economic future, guaranteeing students’ career success, and countless other misleading slogans, the public has been seduced into believing that today’s “one size fits all into a narrow test score box” approach to improving learning and education is good for all. Parents, educators, researchers and students by the millions know that this is not true. But they don’t pull the strings of political power in Washington, DC, or in Denver for that matter.

The dismay stemmed from John equating the term outcomes with these alleged reforms. I am one of several who pioneered an approach to educational change in ’70s and ’80s focused on moving education out of its century-old factory-model paradigm of teaching and learning. Our focus was learner empowerment and expanding opportunities for “all” of them to become successful learners – something unexpected and unheard of in those days. Over the years it took on the name Outcome Based Education (OBE).

OBE, as my colleagues and I explained, was not a newfangled educational experiment; it was the way real learning in the world worked. So when in Africa and Australia, I was often introduced as “The Father of OBE,” I quickly denied it. I’d have to be hundreds of years old for that to be true. In fact, that title might go to Confucius, who lived millennia ago in China. Without the label, OBE was the way learning happened before we created “modern” school systems. Think: apprenticeships and one-room school houses.

So the dismay is that the rigid and impersonal mandates passing for “reform” today have now used the term outcomes to bolster their appeal. Don’t fall for it, and don’t fall for the term “standards” either. Unless, of course, you think that every high schooler in America should master things that few, if any, legislators or captains of industry either know or can do. Children are born eager learners. Then we send them to “reformed” schools where their desire to learn is superseded by mandated curriculum.

Dr. William Spady

Dillon


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