Is CBE a 'bubble'?


Competency-based education (CBE) looks like a "bubble" and bubbles always burst.

Pundits are regularly warning us about "bubbles" in the stock market and real estate. A "bubble" in this context means an inflated price without substantiated supportive evidence.

We get "bubbles" in public policy areas as well: government, health care and education. We can identify bubbles in these fields when there is concentrated bandwagon behavior around a particular policy or operational idea regardless of the quality of evidence at hand. There is often no or very weak anecdotal evidence prior to massive public investment in the fad-de-jour, but there is always a really effective PR campaign waged by those who directly benefit from inflation and prolongation of the bubble: consultants, commentators, administrators and analysts.

In the end the bubble bursts when quality evidence accumulates indicating that benefits are marginal, attributable to other causes or actively harmful to other areas and values. The public and personal costs of failure are rarely enumerated and even less reflected upon.

The following phenomena have all the markings of bubbles: government approaches to immigration reform, LEAN in health care provision and CBE in education. Each of these bubbles share a common heritage based in business school metaphors that reflect idealized models for industrial production. Business metaphors do not apply well to public policy. As more public policy is driven by business school mentality, expect to see an increasing frequency of ‘bubbles' at an ever higher cost of failure.

We apparently do not learn from our mistakes and still can't, or don't want to, see the next bubble forming. This pundit's advice: short CBE!

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