In publicly condemning the widespread influence of outcomes-based education, NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt should be congratulated. Along with the Federal Opposition's move to drop Mark Latham's hit list of wealthy non-government schools, which was taken to the last election, it is obvious the Labor Party has finally realised that aspirational voters want choice in education and a curriculum based on high standards.
Tebbutt's recent conversion to the anti-outcomes-based education brigade follows last year's description by Brendan Nelson, then federal education minister and now Defence Minister, of the practice as a cancer and his initiative to force states to introduce plain English report cards, in which students are graded A to E, instead of using vague and feel-good descriptions, such as established, consolidation and emerging.
Outcomes-based education shifts the emphasis from what is taught and can be tested fairly objectively to whatever students eventually learn. The ACT curriculum says "curriculum documentation has until recently concentrated on subject matter and teaching methods ... The move to an outcomes approach attempts to recognise the importance of what students know and can do."
Tebbutt's comments, reported in The Australian on Thursday, that "there are great pieces of literature and they should be studied as such" mirrors Prime Minister John Howard's comments earlier this year that there is no place for postmodern gobbledygook in the curriculum and schools need a more academic and rigorous approach to teaching history and the classics.
Victorian Liberal Senator and government backbench education committee chairman Mitch Fifield argues against outcomes-based education on the basis that, "not all texts, not all works of literature are of equal merit. There is a right way and a wrong way to learn. There are right and wrong answers in exams. OBE is a failed experiment that should be declared DOA."
Why is outcomes-based education under attack from both sides of the political spectrum? It embodies a dumbed-down and politically correct approach to education and it is increasingly obvious that Australia's adoption of the approach has allowed standards to fall and put generations of students at risk.
That outcomes-based education has been forced on teachers and schools is made worse by the 1995 Eltis Report in NSW in which University of Sydney professor Ken Eltis could find no evidence that the approach has been successfully implemented anywhere in the world and that there appeared little, if any, research proving that it is superior to what was being replaced.
A former head of the federal-state-owned Curriculum Corporation, Bruce Wilson, who was closely involved in introducing outcomes-based education into Australia during the 1990s, now describes it as an "unsatisfactory political and intellectual exercise". Wilson argues that "it is difficult to find a jurisdiction outside Australia which has persevered with the peculiar approach to outcomes that we have adopted".
A number of recent state and territory government-sponsored reports also conclude that there are serious flaws in outcomes-based education and, as a result, that teachers have suffered.
A 2001 West Australian report concludes that teachers have been let down by an ineffective bureaucracy and that "many schools and teachers are experiencing significant difficulty in engaging with the requirements of an outcomes approach".
In Queensland, the educrats in charge of the system candidly said in a 2005 report that the outcomes-based education framework forced on teachers lacked "clarity (on) what must be taught across schools and what standards of students’ achievement are expected".
After reviewing Victoria's implementation of its curriculum and standards framework, a 2004 report says: "The current ways in which ... authorities have conceived the curriculum for schools resulted in poor definitions of expected and essential learning and provides teachers with insufficient guidance about what to teach."
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