What is the Purpose of Public Education?

Instructor: Kim-Kathie Knudsen

Kim-Kathie has taught high school and college Spanish and has worked as a professional development specialist and instructional technology administrator. She has a master's degree in Teaching and Curriculum and is currently working on her doctorate in Educational Leadership.

Public education was conceived as a way to educate children in order to prepare them to be productive members of society. Learn how the goals and the role of the educator in the school improvement process have changed over time.

Why Public Education?

How has the role of public education changed?
Public School

In the U.S., children are sent to school from around the age of 5 until graduation at the age of 18. During these dozen or so years, they are expected to transition from illiterate children to mastering the skills and knowledge needed for their futures, however varied they may be.

Public education educates children during this critical time in their lives, but why does public education exist in the first place? According to the National School Boards Association, public education exists to serve the following purposes, among others:

  • Prepare students for college and the workforce, including preparing them for jobs that may not even exist yet due to rapidly changing technology
  • Help children fulfill their diverse potentials
  • Enable students to become well-rounded individuals, focusing on the whole child and not just mastery of academic content
  • Prepare students to live a productive life and become good citizens, while obeying the social and legal rules of society

Add to that mastery of Common Core and state standards, assessment after assessment, activities, sports, technology, literacy, etc. That's a lot to accomplish. How does it do all this and what is the role of the teacher as well as teacher learning communities in public education?

The Changing Role of Educators

Educators these days have a difficult job. Typical pre-service preparation focuses on content knowledge and instruction, yet any teacher will tell you that is only a piece of the puzzle.

The days of a teacher acting as a 'sage on the stage' and lecturing all day while students take copious notes in a book are over. Today's teachers need to be a facilitator of knowledge and encourage students to be self-directed in their learning. The 4C's of 21st Century Learning are vital to public education in order to prepare students for the future:

  • Collaboration - most jobs are not done independently; students need to learn how to work well with others.
  • Communication - communication today is not always face to face; students should learn how to communicate effectively through multiple means.
  • Creativity - jobs in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) fields are abundant and require creativity in order to combine elements and problem solve.
  • Critical thinking - in the age of abundant information available on the Internet, students need to take knowledge and think critically in order to solve problems.

The role of educators today is to incorporate the 4Cs with curriculum standards and help students learn. Educators have other roles, including acting as a behavioral specialist, coach, social worker, disciplinarian, technology expert, and parent. It's a lot to juggle, but teachers are up for the challenge.

Support for Public Educators

Teachers can work together in a professional learning community

How can teachers be supported in the classroom? One way to support both new and veteran teachers is the formation of a professional learning community (PLC). A PLC is comprised of a teachers, coming together by grade level, content area, or through an interdisciplinary group.

The purpose of a PLC is to build a community of teachers to focus on a common goal or objective collaboratively. One may involve school personnel other than classroom teachers, such as administrators, aides, or instructional coaches.

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