Mission Statement Follies and the Chancellor’s Purse

Mar 21, 2018 by

The Department of Education thinks of everything in terms of “optics” and makes every major policy decision based on meticulously reviewed contemplation of its potential public relations payoff.

This linkage is evident in even the littlest displays, including that military-sounding phenomenon known as a “mission statement.”

There are roughly 1800 schools, all with their own. They all sound alike, reflecting a non-controversial, philosophical template that promises ideal attitudes, goals and outcomes. There are no disclaimers, as there are with television advertising of medical products.

The mission statement is often on school letterhead and is usually posted at entrances and elsewhere, where nobody reads them unless they have plenty of time to kill.

These statements are as innocuous as they are unrealistic.

They read like bold proclamations with implied warranties, assuring that in their school there is an uninterrupted flowering of broad-based learning and rocketing self-esteem in every child, regardless of the age of the students, the theme of the school, degrees of academic readiness, level of social maturity, community supports, institutional assets, available talents, and the overall interplay of complex, sometimes contradictory factors.

Behind the alarm-activated doors, every school is indeed a sanctuary for happy thoughts. It is a garden of nurturing delights, a no-excuses fortress for high standards and the pride of its community.

Mission statements do no harm. Nobody takes the seriously, though no doubt teachers can be disciplined for failing to staple them to their bulletin boards if so instructed by a a rookie supervisor. Not one in a million students in the public school system or a single adult staff member can recite their from memory or even get close. There is no connection between what the mission statement says and what actually happens in the school building.

Perhaps I’m overthinking what hardly is worth thinking about at all. But the omnipresence of mission statements suggests they are important. Not to education in the classroom, but to the feather-bedded publicity department of the Department of Education.

They had better be on their toes, now that we have a new chancellor who must be formidable and selfless indeed, since the mayor has granted him overnight a 47 percent pay raise above that of his predecessor. This increase by itself is more than double the total salary package of two young teachers. The new chancellor, who transparently embodies the noble truth that nobody goes into education for the money ( not into the classroom, anyway) kindly consented to this hike as testimony of his devotion to children.

Sorry, readers. That came out of left-field.

Ron Isaac

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