Begin With The End: What’s The Purpose Of Schooling?

Michael Horn:

What’s the purpose of schooling?

Even though it may seem like a straightforward question, once you scratch the surface, it’s anything but.

There are countless views on the topic. But as we seek to build schools back better—and not just return to how schools operated prior to the pandemic when the system writ large didn’t serve anyone particularly well—individual schooling communities must be clear about purpose and priorities.

That means, as Stephen Covey wrote in one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all time, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” beginning “with the end in mind.” Or, as Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe wrote in the context of education in “Understanding by Design,” good teachers start with the goals and how they would know if students have met them and then backwards map all the things they need to provide to get to those outcomes.

Although it’s unlikely there will be any consensus across all communities in the country around a central purpose, that’s OK. That’s part of a robust pluralism underlying our democracy that values the fact that students sit in different circumstances and will have different needs.

But clarity in any specific schooling community is critical.