What’s The Purpose Of K–12 Schooling?

Plus, David Gergen On University Leadership

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to lead a multi-day workshop with several K–12 school principals and education leaders. When I asked what was the top item they were sick of hearing around education right now, the top response was: “Returning to normal.”


These school leaders don’t want traditional schools to return to the way they were. If we return to “normal,” in their minds, that’s a failure because we’ll have propped up a system that was failing far too many students before the pandemic.

I couldn’t agree more.

As we seek to build schools back better, 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.”

In a piece for Forbes titled, “Begin With The End: What’s The Purpose Of Schooling?”, I tackled the question head on.

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.

For my part, I’d argue that the goal at a high level is producing students who are prepared to maximize their human potential, build their passions and lead choice-filled lives, participate civically in a vibrant democracy, contribute meaningfully to the world and the economy, and understand that people can see things differently—and that those differences merit respect rather than persecution. As such, I’d encourage schools to think through five domains as they build specifics around their central purpose and priorities:

  1. Content Knowledge

  2. Skills

  3. Habits of Success

  4. Real-World Experiences and Social Capital

  5. Health and wellness

After reading the piece, I’d be curious your take. What would you add to—or take off of—the list and why? What about your schooling community leads you to make that suggestion?

Eyewitness To University Leadership

In the wake of COVID-19, many university presidents have struggled to communicate amidst a fluid and fast-changing set of circumstances outside their control. What does it take to lead in these times?

One of my mentors, David Gergen, an advisor to four U.S. presidents and several university presidents, joined me and Jeff Selingo for a wide-ranging conversation on leadership on campus in these challenging times—as well as the role of higher education in repairing the nation’s civic fabric. The conversation was illuminating and enjoyable. Suffice to say we gave David a lot more time to opine than he usually gets on CNN.

You can listen to the conversation here.

Follow The Money

With an unprecedented cash infusion going to public schools from the federal government, Diane Tavenner and I interviewed noted school finance expert Marguerite Roza to understand the contours of the new funding landscape and what are the opportunities—and risks—for schools and districts.

From asserting that school finance is in fact a sexy topic to putting all the spending in a perspective that shows just how much money is flowing to schools, Marguerite’s analysis didn’t disappoint and taught me a lot. You can listen to the Class Disrupted podcast with Marguerite here.

In keeping an eye on the federal dollars, I also interviewed my friend and colleague Efosa Ojomo, coauthor with Clay Christensen and Karen Dillon of the “Prosperity Paradox,” about what infrastructure is and why it matters.

Infrastructure is a term that’s become a political football as of late. Efosa’s writings on the topic—and where infrastructure investment will and won’t spark growth—are important right now as we think about investments not just in education, but also across our society. For those who pay to subscribe to my newsletter on Substack, you will receive a transcript of the full conversation soon, but for those who don’t, you can watch the interview from my YouTube Live channel here.

As the conversation around free community college heats up given President Biden’s announcement yesterday, the lessons from Efosa’s research should be heeded.

As always, thanks for reading, writing, and listening.