Have you ever looked at the mission statement of the United States Department of Education? Keep in mind that a mission statement is typically used to communicate why an organization exists. It should tell us something about the fundamental DNA of the organization. It should also tell those outside of the organization what we can expect from it. With that in mind, here is the current US Department of Education’s statement:
ED’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.
It is about “student achievement” and “global competitiveness.” Look at mission statements for local school districts and state boards of education, and you will find a variety of such statements, some that compliment, others that contrast with this national department of education mission. Look at the mission statements of individual schools, and we see much more diversity of mission. Consider the following short collection of such statements:
“To maximize each student’s learning.” – http://www.sunprairie.k12.wi.us/district/vision_mission.cfm
“The mission of the Bethel School District is to provide a safe educational environment which enables students to develop and apply the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values needed to realize their maximum potential.” – http://www.bethelsd.org/school_board/mission_statement
“The Discovery Charter School will foster in its students the passion and curiosity necessary for lifelong learning. Students will develop the ability to think critically, communicate effectively and excel academically. Through an integrated, place-based curriculum, our students will become stewards of their environment and community.
For some reason, my attention was recently drawn the the “global competitiveness” part of the mission.” – http://www.dunesdiscoverycharter.org/pages/about/about.html
“Messmer Catholic Schools dedicate themselves to serving a diverse, urban population and providing their students with an education that represents the schools’ Catholic heritage. Messmer Catholic Schools prepare their graduates to excel in college, to succeed in the work force, and to become productive citizens.” – http://www.messmerschools.org/page.cfm?p=353
“Proclaiming Jesus Christ through excellence in education.” – http://www.clshs.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=157276&type=d&pREC_ID=315130
“The mission of Granada Islamic School is to provide quality academic and Islamic education in a community that nurtures a strong Muslim identity, fosters brotherhood, and strengthens moral character.” – http://www.granadaschool.org/
“To encourage the development of the whole child by providing a comprehensive Montessori education, cultivating independent thought and foundational skills as well as awareness of their environment; empathy for others; social ease and confidence. To establish within a child the intellectual, emotional, and physical rigor needed to become a self-directed learner, flexible thinker, creative problem solver, and support their ever-increasing curiosity about the world in which they live. To help our students to grow up to be successful global citizens.” – http://www.themontessorischools.org/page.cfm?p=505
Each of these statements tell us something important about the purpose of the individual school. The differences highlight contrasting goals and philosophies in our educational institutions today. They do not all align with the the national department of education’s mission, nor do I contend that they should. Instead, these mission statements, at least in part, represent the mission, goals and values of the families who send their kids to these schools. Not all families place student achievement and global competitiveness as the highest values for their children. So, when given a choice, they opt for schools that better reflection their own goals and mission.
This is the beauty of a democratic society. I contend that there is growing support for educational choice and options for each learner in the United States because most people respect the fact that there is a diversity of life goals, even as we might debate over which life goals we might consider more commendable than others. There is not widespread support for a one-size-fits-all school philosophy because there is not widespread support for a one-size-fits-all path in life. Citizen’s the United States do not share collective goal of producing a national factory of children with the world’s best math, science, and language arts scores on tests. While this may grieve some, and they will point to the declining role of the United States in a “global competition”, this is simply not a shared goal. Rather, our goals for education are more personal, nuanced, and infused with individual beliefs and convictions.