“I put the blame squarely on Outcome-Based-Education and Cottage Grove High School. They robbed my daughter of her education.” Melinda Bench, mother
In the March 1998 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, Kathryn Casey offers a stark warning to parents about the harm that can be done to their children when ill-defined education reforms like Outcome-Based-Education are adopted by local schools. While such policies can sometimes be reversed, that provides little comfort to parents who feel their children were used as guinea pigs in an educational experiment sold to them as reform.
In “Good School, Bad School,” Casey details how the local high school serving the 8,000 residents of Cottage Grove, Oregon, adopted OBE in 1992, following the Oregon state legislature’s 1991 approval of a major overhaul of the state’s public schools. OBE promised that students would learn better skills in communications, math application, interpretation, and teamwork. The reality was much different.
“What happened is they flushed the basics down the toilet,” said school board member Teresa Deatherage, who initially supported the reforms.
Students knew something was wrong. Jay Tennison complained he wasn’t learning anything; his parents found his English papers were earning “A” grades even though they were full of spelling and grammatical errors. Because the OBE curriculum combined different subjects into integrated blocks, Jay’s math problems now seemed to have nothing to do with math.
Parents, too, knew something was wrong. Tiffany Bench’s mother pressed her to do more work even though she was getting “A” and “B” grades, but Tiffany thought she was doing well until she attended school in a neighboring district.
“It was devastating,” she told Casey. “I was a junior with seventh-grade math skills.”
Although Tiffany’s mother had always hoped her daughter would go to college, she spent the money they had saved for college to pay for math tutors. Tiffany, at least, did graduate. Of the 299 members of the first Cottage Grove reform class of 1996, more than half left before graduation–some enrolled elsewhere, some were home-schooled, and some just dropped out.
Since the OBE philosophy is that all students can learn and all can earn top grades, a student’s work was rated as “In Progress,” or IP, until he or she earned an “A” or “B” grade. Within a few years at Cottage Grove, relates Casey, “seniors’ transcripts were often littered with IPs from freshman year–in classes required for graduation.”
In 1995, Oregon state legislators modified expected outcomes to stress academics. Because of this–and parent protests–“C”s and “D”s have returned to report cards at Cottage Grove, and academic subjects like algebra and geometry have been taken out of integrated classes.
The March issue of Ladies’ Home Journal marks the third time in the last seven months that a general interest magazine has run stories highly critical of government schools. (See “Redbook Blasts Unions for Bad Teachers,” School Reform News, October 1997, and “Good Housekeeping Goes After Bad Teachers,” School Reform News, February 1998.)
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].