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Pa. Panel Revisits OBE Issue in Approving Standards Bill

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In Pennsylvania, where public outcry helped lead to a widespread repudiation of the "outcomes-based education" label nationwide, lawmakers again have delved into the troublesome issue.

The House education committee passed a bill this month to establish a commission to draft new academic standards outlining what students should know and be able to do. But an amendment would give districts the option of continuing to use OBE-based criteria in developing curricula and gauging student achievement.

Similar to academic standards, outcomes-based education requires students to demonstrate that they have acquired certain knowledge and skills. In Pennsylvania's case, however, critics contended that OBE went beyond the core subjects by incorporating liberal values into the expected student outcomes. Some critics also argued that the outcomes were too vague. The acrimonious debate prompted other states and school districts to drop the OBE moniker, if not the concept.

Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican elected in 1994, had vowed last year to scrap OBE and replace it with a new set of academic standards. In an unusual turn of events, it was GOP members who sought the amendment.

Paula Hess, the executive director of the committee, said the panel took that action in large part to avoid additional amendments that would have stripped away other education-reform provisions that were passed at the same time as OBE in 1993.

Tight Deadline

The bill, which the Senate passed in February without the OBE option, would require the standards committee to report in November, an extraordinarily short time compared with other states' standards efforts.

The time line led some observers to wonder what may be going on behind the scenes.

"Is there something that is already in place that is just going to be brought out, or will there really be a commitment to bring in people across Pennsylvania to participate in the process?" said Jan W. Hoffman, the program director for the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania School Reform Network, a coalition of parents, businesses, community members, and educators.

Regardless of what action the legislature takes, the department and the governor still intend to "uproot OBE and eradicate it from Pennsylvania," an aide said.

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