What’s the mission?

This week’s Carnival of Education, hosted by The Education Wonks, includes Ms. Cornelius’ provocative post on creating a school community that encourages learning. In trying to be all things to all students — surrogate family, social club, sports center, health center, etc. — schools lose track of their academic mission, she writes.

For example, in an effort to prevent drop-outs, we abandon our expectation of educational behavior and lower academic standards until they are functionally meaningless. We divorce the expectation of allegiance to academic achievement and academic behaviors from the expectation for membership in the school community, and therefore undercut the very mission of the school.

If education isn’t the priority, “why not just call schools ‘community centers’ and be done with the hypocrisy?” Ms. Cornelius asks.

If schools were more dedicated to learning, parents and students might be more likely to consider it a priority too, she suggests.

Read the post below about Abdul Kargbo’s experiences in Sierra Leone, where education is a source of pride and prestige, and in a U.S. high school, where many classmates didn’t see education as valuable.

Downtown College Prep, the charter school in Our School, is organized around a clear mission: Preparing all graduates to “thrive” at four-year colleges. Most incoming ninth graders are disengaged from school. Most of their parents are not educated, fluent in English or able to help their children succeed in school. Yet the relentless focus on working hard to prepare for college has created a community that’s all about working hard to prepare for college. Ex-slackers cheer students who raise their grades or make the honor roll. Students talk in the halls about getting “on the matrix” for admission to San Jose State or Cal State Monterey Bay. Their parents show up for evening classes — in Spanish or English — on planning for college.

It’s easier to create a cohesive learning community at a school of choice, but I don’t think it’s impossible to do so at any school with a strong leader.

Update: RedKudu wants her school’s English Department to develop an academic vision for teaching average students, not just those in Advanced Placement classes.

About Joanne


  1. I’m glad you liked the post. It’s been banging around in my head for a long time. I think about it every morning while doing hall duty and watching kids in our halls who have more allegiance to breakfast and baseball practice than to learning.

  2. But, but Ms. Cornelius! Don’t you know that athletics is what keeps a lot of kids *in* school?

    (Boy, I’m tired of hearing that one.)

  3. Catch Thirty-Thr33 says:

    How’s this for a mission statement?
    As a teacher/principal, enter school every single day of your life with the assumption that none of your students will ever drive past a college or university, let alone see the inside of one. Act and teach accordingly.

  4. For me, the questions swirl around how a strong leader can make this possible. This is probably due to the fact that I have never worked under what I would consider a strong principal or superintendent. I have no model, other than what I see on television and in the movies.

    All of the admin in my small rural district pay lip service to strong academics, of course, but our student achievement never goes up. New initiatives are started without adequate communication, then crumble under the inevitable swell of faculty and parent protests. Most of our teachers are not serious about setting high expectations.

    How does a small cadre of committed faculty make a difference? I have worked myself into a lead teacher position. I have a positive impact by mentoring the novice teachers, serving on interview teams and insisting on the best candidates, and providing best practice professional development on an intermittent basis. I see small changes, but the process could be described as slow-moving, at best.

    Things are also inconsistent because we replace our building and district administrators every two or three years. I need advice, people. I know what excellent schools look like; I just have few ideas as to how one gets a real-world school to that point without jumping ship and opening a private alternative. Point me to books I should read, case studies to examine, and strategies I should implement to get things done. Poor farm kids deserve high quality education, too.

  5. I’ve been posting Kliebard’s study of “La Salle High School,” a school chosen for excellence because its students do better freshman year in college than equivalent students in equivalent schools.

    One of their findings, which I have yet to post, was that everything in the school is focused on the academic mission – so all behavior problems are dealt with and framed in terms of that mission, rather than “psychologized” as a problem with the student’s emotions, family life, etc.

    Obviously a student showing behavior problems may well have emotional and/or family problems, but the school’s approach is to deal with behavior problems as they impinge upon and affect academic achievemehnt.

    Good approach.

  6. J

    I don’t know how much help Kliebard’s work will be to you working “alone” as you are, but the passages are definitely worth reading.

    What La Salle has done is so common sense, in a way, that it might be a systemic reform you could sell your district on (or plant the seed for):



    I don’t know what kind of parent resistance you’re meeting, so I’m guessing when I assume that the issue is “raising standards” without (necessarily) raising teaching standards — in other words, placing responsibility on students for raising achievement.

    I don’t say this as a criticism!

    What I’ve learned from programs like KUMON is that you can get kids (and adults) to much higher levels of achievement without working them to death.

    In other words, if you’re trying to raise achievement in a town that isn’t demanding that you do so (big problem!) I think the only way you might do that is the KUMON way…. by breaking material down into very small, easily doable component parts, teaching each incrementally, AND DOING THIS EVERY SINGLE DAY.

    KUMON sometimes gets kids up to calculus by 6th or 7th grade — and they do this with only 10 to 20 minutes of math a day.

    Granted, this is 10 to 20 minutes of math 7 days a week, no time off for Christmas.

    But you don’t need to get kids to calculus by 6th grade, so you don’t need to worry about 24/7 regimens.

    KUMON made me think of the tortoise and the hare.

    I bet there’s a “tortoise” way for schools to raise achievement….