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Bill Spady and OBE - a brief personal history for my young educational friends

From 1992 to 1994 I was fortunate enough to get to know and work with Dr. William G. Spady - the founder and father of Outcome-Based Education, or OBE. All of us working now to implement competency-based learning systems, dynamic teaching and learning, authentic assessment, and contextualized learning in a multitude of dimensions owe a great deal to Bill Spady. If you've never heard of Bill or OBE - you might want to read this little history lesson.

In 1992 my friend and mentor,Al Rowe, connected me with his friend, Bill Spady. For those of us in education and paying any attention in the early 90's we all know him to be the father of OBE - Outcome-Based Education. He was right then, he's right now and we owe a lot to our current transformational efforts to him. Bill allowed me to participate in his workshops across the country and to hone my consulting and presentation skills as a very young educator. He was an intense and unrelenting intellectual power combined with passion and desire to transform education. At the height of his influence, he was packing hotel conference centers with 700-800 people every weekend in cities across the country. People clamored to come and learn how to transform education. He was calling for a 21st century learning system that would abandon the factory-model 20 years ago in a clear and compelling message. Gladwell's "Tipping Point" was 12 or so years from being written, but looking back, I remember us all feeling that we were nearing a point where schools actually might begin to change. That all changed in late 1993 when a group of people got scared and wanted a return to "back-to-the-basics" and realized that kids might recognize that they had minds of their own and could be taught to use them!

It was tragic and sad to watch Bill get attacked by a fearful group of people who misinterpreted OBE to mean "mind-control" and "schools dictating what students will believe." So strange was this to Bill, since this was antithetical to what he was saying, that the groundswell ate him up before he realized it. He has a great book, "Paradigm Lost" where he tells this story with candor and insight. What was on the move and nearing a tipping point in 1993 was dead and over in 1994 - and America and our schools have suffered since. So here we are, 18 years later finally getting back to implementing his work - I'm glad we're finally here again, its been a long wait. Belwo is a segment from a column in 1994 that does a nice job of telling the story. Below is just one paragraph talking about Bill Spady.

It's good to remember Bill Spady as we attempt to build 21st century schools!

Lost in the Translation by Peter Schrag

The OBE fights have raised important educational and ideological issues. If OBE was a welcome answer to conservative impatience with the constant emphasis on school inputs (which usually meant demands for more money), few people noticed that it also dovetailed nicely with a major liberal agenda: to get rid of objective testing and rote learning in favor of so-called performance-based assessment--more open-ended essay questions, more problem solving, more analysis, more emphasis on "higher-order" reasoning, perhaps even more creativity. At the very pinnacle of OBE guru William Spady's "Demonstration Mountain" was something called the "transformational zone," where assignments transcend the bounds of specific academic disciplines and require "real world . . . complex role performances," sometimes called "authentic assessment." For all its jargon, Spady's pinnacle seemed to be precisely what a lot of employers were looking for: applicants with social skills, the ability to work cooperatively, tolerance of people of other races, and skills suited to solve practical problems. In many states, the Business Roundtable was a major booster of OBE-type reforms.


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