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What is the 21st Century Mission for Our Public Schools? (NIF Issue Guide)

One of the National Issues Forums Institute’s issue guides, What is the 21st Century Mission for Our Public Schools? outlines this public issue and several choices or approaches to addressing the issue. National Issues Forums do not advocate a specific solution or point of view, but provide citizens the opportunity to consider a broad range of choices, weigh the pros and cons of those options, and meet with each other in a public dialogue to identify the concerns they hold in common.

From the very start, Americans have held widely divergent views on issues related to public schools. Many of these have to do with the methods by which we achieve an educated society. How do we ensure that our schools are accessible to all children? By what means do we hold students accountable for learning and schools accountable for teaching them? What is the role of families in the education of their children? What is the responsibility of schools in addressing social issues that affect their students? What is the most efficient and fair way to fund public education? Underlying all of these questions is a more basic one: what is the mission of our public schools?

This 32-page issue book presents three possible approaches to consider:

Approach one: Prepare Students to be Successful in the Workplace
There are alarming signs that the United States is losing its competitive edge in a burgeoning global economy. If we are to continue to prosper as a nation, the guiding purpose of our public schools must be to prepare students for an increasingly complex workplace.

Approach two: Prepare Students to be Active and Responsible Citizens
Public schools were founded to foster the skills and behaviors citizens need to govern themselves and contribute to the public good. A 40-year decline in civic education has taken its toll on the citizen participation our democracy depends on. Instilling civic values is the most important contribution public schools make to society.

Approach three: Help Students Discover and Develop their Talents
A one-size-fits-all model does not serve our children or our society. The mission of public schools should be to help each child make the most of his or her abilities and inclinations. Schools must be able to respond to the variety of ways children learn.

More about NIF issue guides…

NIFI’s issue guides introduce participants to several choices or approaches to consider. Rather than conforming to any single public proposal, each choice reflects widely held concerns and principles. Panels of experts review manuscripts to make sure the choices are presented accurately and fairly. By intention, issue guides do not identify individuals or organizations with partisan labels, such as Democratic, Republican, conservative, or liberal. The goal is to present ideas in a fresh way that encourages readers to judge them on their merit.

NIFI offers various materials for each of the issues it produces issue guides on. The moderator guide or “guide to the forums” for each issue is available as a free download. Discussion guides (or “issue guides”) for participants are generally available in print or PDF download for a small fee ($2 to $4). DVD’s can also be purchased for some issues for just $6, for use at the beginning of your forums to introduce the topic and approaches.

All NIF issue guides and associated tools can be accessed at www.nifi.org/issue_books/.

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