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Mission Creep

June 21, 2014

Timeless Posts XXI

Mission Creep in Public Schools

Posted in January 2012

I recently received a copy of the Weekly Legislative Report from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns urging town officials and school board members in Vermont to prevail upon legislators to stop “mission creep” in our public schools. “Mission creep”, according to Wikipedia’s definition is “the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial success”.

I wrote this article for the Valley News in 2007 because I was concerned that our schools were being asked to do too much. The article implies that schools should have a limited role: we should focus on education and education alone. I’ve changed my thinking on that: as noted in my posted White Paper on Reformatting Schools I think that the schools should become the nexus for providing social services to students and should assume the primary responsibility for before-and-after school child care. The White Paper on waivers reinforces this by pointing out that by the time a student takes their first standardized test in 3rd grade they’ve spent 6% of their life in school… and yet the school is 100% responsible for the student’s performance. I don’t think our responsibility is going to change… so it is then imperative for use to work collaboratively with social agencies to prepare children to be successful learners once they set foot in our schools. 

Here’s the op-ed piece from late 2007:

The recent Dresden School Board meeting offered two examples of “mission creep”: v    A review of a proposal by concerned parents that we forbid the sale of junk foods in our vending machines v    And a review of the Code of Conduct agreement signed by parents and student athletes in which athletes pledge to abstain from the use of drugs or alcohol, with an eye toward expanding this agreement to other extra-curricular activities. Implicit in these deliberations is the assumption that public schools are responsible for students’ diets during the hours they are in our schools and for the behavior of student athletes around the clock during sport seasons. There are arguments for and against the schools assuming the responsibility to provide only healthy foods on campus. If we serve students junk food and soda during the hours they are in school, we are effectively endorsing their consumption despite the lessons we teach in the health classrooms about nutrition. If we ban these foods, however, we are effectively denying students the chance to exercise the good judgment we are teaching in those same classes. Similarly, there are arguments for and against the efforts of the school to assume responsibility for the off-campus behavior of student athletes. If we don’t ask students to sign a pledge that they will not use drugs, tobacco, or alcohol when they are participating on a sports team, we are tacitly accepting these behaviors as acceptable off campus and indicating that training rules only apply during the hours students are under our direct supervision. If we require students to sign a pledge, though, we are effectively intruding in their personal lives and holding them to a higher standard than their peers who do not participate in sports. In both cases, our schools considered or accepted these responsibilities with the best of intentions. Both the high school and middle school decided to stop selling french fires and other unhealthy foods because of health concerns, so an outright ban of junk food in vending machines would appear to be the next step in assuming responsibility for students’ diets. The high school instituted their code of conduct agreement because everyone has witnessed how the use of drugs and alcohol affect the health and well being of high school students. In both cases, the roles and responsibilities of parents and the community come into play and, too often, have a limited effect on our efforts. How can the school ban junk food within its cafeteria and allow students to bring junk food in their lunches packed from home and local businesses (not to mention our cafeterias) that depend on revenue from the sale of junk foods? How can the school forbid the off campus use of alcohol by athletes when some parents and community members believe that those of us who attempt to regulate the use of drugs and alcohol around the clock are somehow intruding into the private lives of student athletes or being moralistic. As state legislatures convene in the coming months and our local school boards deliberate on policies and budgets, keep your eyes open for “mission creep”… and let your public officials know when you think they are accepting responsibilities beyond their original goals.

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  1. October 23, 2014 at 2:00 pm
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