The Mission Of Schools: What Is, What Should Be

by Steve Wyckoff on January 27, 2010

Every school district has a mission statement, they’re all pretty much the same. In some way they all talk about preparing students to be productive members of society. But in spite of the fact that society has changed dramatically not just over the last hundred years but in the last 15 years, schools are doing pretty much the same things they’ve done for my entire life, and that’s a long time.

I think that the three most important things that schools try to accomplish, from their perspective, are:

1. Custodial care … make sure that we provide a place for every child to be in a safe secure environment.

2. Raise standardized test scores …  the growing emphasis on standardized test scores has almost every school obsessively focused on raising their standardized test scores.

3. Cover the content required by the Board of Regents for students to get into a four-year colleges … I’ve written many times about the core curriculum but as obsessive as we are about standardized test scores, we are even more obsessed with covering the content mandated by the Board of Regents, and in a manner mandated by the Board of Regents.

I’ve been spending time trying to make sense of this and thinking about what I believe the mission of schools should be. In fact I agree for the most part with the mission statements that schools have. The reality is they rarely have their systems aligned with accomplishing their mission. With that in mind three things that I believe are the most important for schools to try to accomplish are:

1. Custodial care … yes, it’s the same number one is traditional schools but I do think it’s important. I think it may look a lot different in that a safe and secure environment is necessary, but may not occur within the walls of the school if we don’t implement any school security software eventually.

2. A love for learning … okay, so I stole this one from W. Edwards Deming. Deming is one of the great thinkers of our time and he said if schools did nothing but send every student out into the world loving to learn that most of our issues could be dealt with more effectively. I agree completely. Our students come to school not even intending to learn, let alone developing a love for learning. They most often described high school as boring and irrelevant.

3. Self-directed … I believe that if kids love learning and are self-directed in their learning, whatever they need to learn to do to be successful, they will learn. In addition on top of learning they will learn how to do something with what they’ve learned. I would observe that over all the years that I’ve been involved with hiring and watching new employees integrate into the organization, the single greatest characteristic that they can have in the workplace is to be self-directed.

Tell me what you think I’d love to know your opinion. And to be honest my three most important areas of accomplishment are not written in stone, so I could be persuaded of others.

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