Stakeholder Starting Points

What is the main purpose of education?

Local Leaders
& Administrators

Their chief goals include preparing students for jobs, college, and the world. A recent survey found that more than half of school administrators see “implementing a challenging, world-class curriculum” as a key to improving schools. But many also have broader educational goals in mind. A Chicago administrator said: “Students have [to have] exposure to a vast cross-section of what is really out there in terms of life, history, and culture [and they need] to be able to function in the world doing something productive.”


Many teachers think that providing students with 21st-century skills would improve academic achievement, but they see other aspects of teaching and learning as even more important. A New Jersey teacher said her goal was “to reach each child’s full potential and make them life ready.” In Baltimore, another said: “[The aim is to] educate the whole child. You should educate them not just intellectually, but socially, emotionally, and physically.”

Parents & The Broader Public1
Polling shows that parents broadly agree on the goals of education. There should be a strong emphasis on reading and math, science and other technical skills, communications, study habits, and critical thinking. Recent surveys also show that just over half of parents believe public schools are preparing students for college and to be good citizens, and less than half believe schools are preparing students for work or adult life. Confidence in public schools remains low among the broader public nationwide.

1In this analysis, we combine insights from parents and the broader public. There are of course important distinctions between the two. Parents generally pay more attention to education issues and view local schools more positively. But because the views of parents and the broader public do overlap in many areas—and because existing accountability systems generally omit the pivotal roles of both groups—we linked them together in this brief overview.

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