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Opposition softens on school outcomes Involvement of parents cited


As Carroll County parents get more involved in the detailed work of writing guidelines for the public schools' exit outcomes, a few have softened their opposition, and at least one has done an about-face on the issue.

"I don't know what the politics are and I may be naive, but I am satisfied, hopeful and optimistic" about outcomes-based education in the county, said Mary Burke of Manchester, a mother whose opinion turned around 180 degrees.

Ms. Burke was among the most strongly opposed less than two months ago at a Board of Education meeting. Dozens of parents that day unsuccessfully urged the board not to approve the seven exit outcomes, the qualities and skills students will be expected to gain from their education.

But Ms. Burke has changed her mind since learning more, she said. She was among about 30 parents whom school officials invited to work alongside 150 teachers this week in an effort to refine the outcomes guidelines and relate them to specific courses and grade levels.

"At the time I went [to the May board meeting], I was basing all my feelings on what I had heard from friends," said Ms. Burke, who has four children. "Rumors spread faster than good news."

The inclusion of parents in the workshops this week, as well as changes school officials have made to address parent concerns, all have convinced Ms. Burke that the outcomes are not going to conflict with her children's Christian values, are not going to promote homosexuality and are not going to dilute academics, she said.

As a result of the parents' involvement, the schools changed and refined the wording of the guidelines for the outcomes.

For example, parents were concerned that "multicultural" education would include homosexuality as a culture. School officials specified that the term applies to ethnicity, religion and region, but not to sexual orientation.

About a dozen parents have volunteered to help the school system do a better job of informing parents about the outcomes. Many said they believe that most of the opposition was based on a misunderstanding of the process and intentions.

However, parent Tom Shaffer of Westminster, who recently helped form Carroll County Citizens for Quality Education, remains adamantly opposed to the exit outcomes.

Others, such as Laura Albers of Sykesville and Dave Taylor of Silver Run, said they feel local educators have good intentions, but that they are concerned that outcomes-based education might open the door to future abuses by teachers and governments.

Some parents, like Geri Wu of Westminster, have supported outcomes-based education all along.

When she first read the list of seven outcomes, she said, "I could not find one I didn't want my child to be.

"There is no one answer" to improving education, she said. "But I think this is going to help. I don't see it as totally new."

"Do you want the federal government directing curriculum?" Mr. Shaffer asked Ms. Wu.

"The federal government is not directing the curriculum," said Ms. Wu.

Parents such as Mr. Shaffer have been suspicious because the language of the outcomes for Carroll is similar to that used in other parts of the country.

School officials and teachers attribute that to universal things that most people expect from education, such as being "able communicators," "perceptive problem solvers" and "collaborative workers."

Mr. Shaffer, who participated in the curriculum work Friday, Monday and Tuesday, said he still believes outcomes-based education is a government initiative into which local schools are being lured.

He and Mr. Taylor said they are concerned by reports that school systems around the country using outcomes have shown no improvement.

"I think the work people are doing here is good," Mr. Taylor said. "I don't understand why revamping the curriculum couldn't be done without exit outcomes." He said he is concerned that the outcomes will cater to business interests rather than academic ones, producing students who are robot-like workers.

Proponents of outcomes say the goal is the opposite -- to get students to think for themselves and adapt to changes in society.

Up to their elbows for three days in the slow and painstaking work, the teachers and parents have produced a list of outcomes that each subject and grade level already is producing.

All this is in preparation for work that teachers and possibly parents will do next summer.

At that time they will take the existing outcomes and decide which are essential for all students, such as arithmetic and writing, and which ones should be designated part of an extended curriculum, such as calculus and auto mechanics.

The 150 teachers and 30 parents worked in teams, each taking a subject and grade level. They went through curriculum guides and wrote down the outcomes already expected of children.

For example, in third-grade art, one outcome expected is that students will "further develop elements of design in the production of art," as one team put it.

Friendship Valley art teacher Bonnie Barber said that, before, the curriculum guide had included just doing collages. Writing the outcomes guidelines has allowed teachers and parents to be more specific about what they want students to get out of a lesson such as collages.

What's important in doing a collage, she said, is not the cutting and pasting, but the use of elements of design, such as balance and variety.

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