Educators say 'studies' misleading Authors clarify stance on outcomes

October 14, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Carroll school officials have deflated two arguments used by opponents of outcomes-based education, an approach that has sparked nationwide controversy from conservatives who say it will impose liberal values on their children.

The authors of two "studies" cited by the opponents have written to the Board of Education to say their work is being misrepresented.

Outcomes-based education is an approach that sets specific standards students have to meet at the end of each course and by the time they graduate. The Board of Education has approved seven broad "exit outcomes" that are the guiding philosophy. Those include that students will be "able communicators, perceptive problem solvers, involved citizens and individuals with a positive self-concept."

The opponents, particularly Pennsylvania activist Peg Luksik, had backed up their arguments with assertions that the studies said outcomes-based education will be prohibitively expensive and has been a failure academically.

A videotape of a speech by Ms. Luksik has been widely circulated among parents in Carroll.

She and other opponents alleged that one study by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania said an outcomes approach would cost more than $16 million for six small school districts in Pennsylvania.

The Sun was unable to track down the study through the Wharton School, but Gary Dunkleberger, director of curriculum for Carroll County schools, said he finally obtained the author's name through the Pennsylvania Parents Commission, the nation's first and most active anti-outcomes group.

"Bottom line is, it's not from Wharton, it's not a study, and it has nothing to do with outcomes-based education," Dr. Dunkleberger said.

"I am a bit surprised that this misinformation is still being distributed about the work I did," reads a line in a letter to Dr. Dunkleberger from Harris J. Sokoloff of the Center for School Study Councils in Philadelphia.

The center is part of the graduate school of education at the University of Pennsylvania; Wharton is the business school at that university. Dr. Sokoloff said the work in question was not a study, but a proposal to restructure education in six school districts.

"The work which you were referring to was not a research study of the costs of implementing OBE [out comes-based education]. Nor was the work developed by the Wharton School. Our work centered on developing a proposal to redesign each of the school districts. The proposal does not advocate OBE," Dr. Sokoloff wrote. He said the $16 million would have been spread over five years and included national dissemination of the results.

Dr. Sokoloff sent a letter in February to superintendents across Pennsylvania to refute statements made about his study. In it, he said the parents might have confused the Wharton School with the Wharton Center for Applied Research, a subcontractor on the proposal.

The other study that opponents have cited is a review by Robert Slavin, director of the Johns Hopkins University, which they said proved outcomes-based education is a failure. "Use of my review as evidence against OBE is totally irresponsible and inappropriate," Mr. Slavin wrote in a letter to Dr. Dunkleberger in September.

Mr. Slavin did not do research, but rather analyzed previously published studies on mastery learning. Mastery learning is a method in which children are given more than one chance to master a skill or concept. If the first method doesn't work, teachers must find a new way to present the lesson to a child.

Although mastery learning is very often part of outcomes-based education, Dr. Dunkleberger said the latter takes a more comprehensive approach to what students should know by the time they leave school.

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