The Center on Education Policy is a national, independent advocate for public education and for more effective public schools. The Center helps Americans better understand the role of public education in a democracy and the need to improve the academic quality of public schools. We do not represent any special interests. Instead, we try to help citizens make sense of the conflicting opinions and perceptions about public education and create the conditions that will lead to better public schools.
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This report highlights the history and importance of public education in the United States, dating back to its establishment as a necessary institution for the young republic and Horace Mann’s efforts to promote a common school for all. The report focuses on how and why the U.S. system of public education came into being; the six core public missions that public schools have been expected to fulfill, such as unifying a diverse population, preparing people for democratic citizenship, and ensuring equal opportunities for all children; and why these missions are relevant today and why the nation must maintain them while pursuing reforms to help all schools live up to these core ideals.