School Mission Statements: Practice What You Preach

“We believe the best education is the result of a strong partnership between parents, teachers, and community members, and taking an interest in your child’s school is a first step to becoming an active part in our educational community.”

“As we move towards the future, our vision is to foster a community
of 21st Century learners who actively seek knowledge and
demonstrate global awareness.”

“ An inclusive school that prepares all students for college and for meeting the challenging demands of a changing world.”

The vision of a school is undoubtedly one of the most important components to its success — without a clear and passionate doctrine, educators and students will not know the expectations of the school environment. However, is this what mission statements actually are? Are they enforced?

A quick survey of various mission statements concludes that most want students to be “prepared for the future” or “21st century learners” and usually care about bringing in the community and safety. So, let’s break down what that means.

“Prepared for the Future” (21st Century Learner)

“21st Century Skills” or “soft skills” consist of students learning communication, creativity, collaboration, reflection, collaboration, and other “human skills” during school. Most of these schools, in-turn, also place a heavy focus on preparing students for college — which is denoted as a separate endeavor. In other words, teaching students important life skills and focusing on the SAT and ACT.

A debate came up recently in a staff meeting regarding if project-based learning required giving up time on standards, and therefore the lessening of test scores. To me, the answer is an obvious yes (and I’m okay with that!), however, many educators are uncomfortable with essentially ignoring government requirements to students. That being said, project-based learning (or any of its variants) are the standard practice for teaching soft skills — these skills won’t typically be associated with standard classroom lesson plans (at least not as a focal point.

Also, this assumes that preparing students for college means that schools should focus on test preparation. The better phrasing would be, “Preparing students for the admissions committee of a standard university,” as SAT test scores are considered to be a prime determinant of college success. There is data that showcases this, although it was researched by the College Board and U.S. News. However, I’d be curious to know if this data is actually correlated, or how this reflects on a classroom. Is the reason why a student is performing poorly in college with low SAT scores because they performed poorly in a high school that only focused on SAT scores? It would seem obvious that if your school was focused on test preparation, and you did not do well at test preparation, you would not learn any readily transferable skills to college.

That being said, there are not solidified studies surrounding if schools were to teach primarily 21st-century skills (and focus much less, if at all, on test preparation), that a student would perform poorly. The other, more drastic option, would also be to consider if colleges are actually preparing students for their real lives — or instead are antiquated with assessment and teaching style where students are great test takers but horrible at life skills.

On the same note, the idea of preparing someone “for the future” is a convoluted mess. How can you predict where the job market will be in 20 years? 50? What are the “skills” of the future that exist outside of just being a good person? There’s a sudden initiative for STEM education and coding — but the jobs of the future might be quite different (those are the jobs of right now!)

Actively Seek Knowledge / Self-Sufficient / Discover New Learning / Autonomous / Random Buzzwords

The majority of schools also state this — but definitely do the opposite. It’s one thing to say your mission statement and it’s another thing to actually practice it. A student who is seeking knowledge would not be limited to the core subject areas forced in outdated practice. They would not have the standard curricula and schedule that practically every single school has. You cannot write a mission statement that is unique, at all, when your school looks entirely like the school five miles down the road. Your mission statement should read, “Our school is similar to most schools, including the one you (the parent) attended, however, we transferred all of our work to iPads!”)

The fact of the matter is that mission statements, for the most part, are useless. Faculty may have meetings over the importance of connecting with students, building relationships, teaching them soft skills, or whatever else — but if the standard curricula and structure of the school is the same as everywhere else — the core values of the school are already outlined.Everything else is a mask to hide the standardized, boring, outdated ideas that have existed for more than a century.