Thursday, June 22, 2006

What's the Point?

Graycie over at Today's Homework is posting about the point….”What’s the point, the mission, the purpose of education?”

Recently I had to come up with a mission statement for a college course I’m taking. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Whose mission do I follow? The students, the parents, the school system, the politicians, the state department of education, the ed schools, the NEA’s, the AFT’s, the federal department of education’s?

Everyone has their own mission. Everyone has their own pet project. Everyone has their own red wagon. Whose wagon do I jump into?

After reading Graycie’s inspiring post I went online to get a sampling of some ed department mission statements. It wasn’t quite as easy as you would think. Even in today’s world of Zig Ziegler and Steven Covey it would seem that some mission statements are not found on the home webpage but are buried in the deep recesses of cyberdom.

The Department of Education in Washington D.C. has this for their mission statement:

The Department of ED was created in 1980 by combining offices from several federal agencies. Its original directive remains its mission today — to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation. ED's 4,500 employees and $71.5 billion budget are dedicated to:• Establishing policies on federal financial aid for education, and distributing as well as monitoring those funds.• Collecting data on America's schools and disseminating research.• Focusing national attention on key educational issues.• Prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.

So basically the Department of ED is a funding arm, a watchdog, policy maker, and a promoter of excellence.

In my home-state of Georgia the mission statement for their Department of Education says:

It is the mission of the Department of Education to function as a service-oriented and policy-driven agency that meets the needs of local school systems as they go about the business of preparing all students for college or a career in a safe and drug-free environment where we ensure no child is left behind.

I am to prepare them for college or career, keep drugs away from them and make sure no one falls between the cracks. I would expect my fourth graders to come up with a better mission statement than that.

New York’s mission statement was a little harder to find but finally I came up with, “leadership for a system that yields the best-education people in the world.”

I feel your pain New York teachers. Really, I do. If someone can find me a better mission statement for New York’s Department of Ed please do so.

The State Department of Education for Idaho is a bit better but murky:

Through leadership and collaboration, the Department supports and promotes a 21st Century system of public education that delivers relevant life and academic skills to all Idaho children.

What exactly does a 21st Century system mean? A computer in every room? Blackberries for everyone? I like the “relevant life” wording but isn’t “academic skills” a bit too broad?

I couldn’t locate one for Mississippi after many different clicks on their homepage. Their mission certainly didn’t jump off the page for me. Help!

Maine’s was the most extensive that I saw:

The mission of the State Board of Education is to provide statewide leadership by advocating, promoting, and improving education policy and life-long learning for all Maine people, particularly its children. The Board offers direction to the Executive and Legislative branches of state government; thus, fulfilling its legislative requirement.

Their vision goes on to state they expect students to rise to their maximum potential as productive and self-fulfilled individuals by being clear and effective communicators, life-long learners, creative and practical problem solvers, integrative and informed thinkers, responsible and involved citizens and collaborative and quality workers.

I liked Maine’s the best but mind you I didn’t view all 50 mission statements.

Check out various schools in your area. They all have mission statements and some say very different things while others say the same things but in hundreds of different ways. Many are too vague or only use catch phrases like some that I’ve detailed here.

It would seem that many of these mission statements are simply something that some group of persons was required to do at a retreat, a workshop, or conference. Some appear to be rather thoughtful while others appear to be rather hurried.

Plain and simple….we need a plan, a mission. We need to follow it. Whatever we do, if it doesn’t fit the plan then it’s not done. I fear that too often these mission statements like many “things” in education are simply fabricated as a panacea to get neigh-sayers to shut up for awhile. We do something because it’s the new “thing” and we continue to do it until the next “thing” comes along.

All the while we are going around in circles because there is no one clear mission.


A Romantic Artist said...

Very interesting! Thanks for bringing these together. Hope you don't mind if I link to your blog.

EHT said...

Hi, Ben! Thanks for visiting. I absolutely love it when folks link to me so link away and visit often. Since I'm from the hotbed of hospitality I'll visit you as well. :)

Dennis Fermoyle said...

I like the idea of a very simple mission statement. When outcome-based education was the rage in Minnesota a few years back, some people from the Johnson City Schools in New York came up to give workshops. Their mission statement was, "All children will learn." If I was to write a mission statement for a school, I would revise that a little by saying, "All children will be given the opportunity to learn and to be successful."

StudentloanNetworker said...

How about "Education: we'll help you teach yourself how to make your life better."

Simple, straightforward, direct.

Andrew Pass said...

I agree that it is very important to develop professional mission statements. However, I want to caution that despite these examples from departments of education teachers should ideally come up with similar statements. After all if we are professionals then we can not each do what we want to do. We must behave with professional cohesiveness. I suggest that we "teach kids to think about important ideas in critical ways."

Andy Pass