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Source: Center on Public Education Policy

Six Principles of Public Education

  1. Universal Access

    Public education is open to include all children, regardless of race, economic class, health status, or family background. Public education is every child’s civil right.

  2. Effective Preparation for Life, Work and Citizenship

    America needs high-quality public education that can prepare young people: (a) to lead fulfilling and productive lives, (b) to be gainfully employed, and (c) to be responsible and participatory citizens in a democratic society.

  3. Equity and Non-Discrimination

    Public education should treat all children justly and without any form of discrimination. It is the responsibility of every citizen of the United States to encourage elected officials and policymakers to provide the same quality of education to poor children as to non-poor children.

  4. Social Cohesion and Shared Culture

    High-quality public schools bring together children from diverse backgrounds and encourage them to develop tolerance and understanding. Public schools help to form a shared American culture and to transmit democratic values.

  5. Public Accountability and Responsiveness

    Education supported with public dollars is accountable for effectiveness and results to taxpayers and public authorities. Public schools need to be responsive to the needs of local communities and afford citizens a voice in the governance of their schools.

  6. Religious Neutrality

    Public education must remain respectful of religious freedom. Public schools must prohibit lessons and classroom content that endorse a particular religion or faith.

Trends such as charter schools, technology, and new standards and testing are spurring major changes in U.S. public education. When discussing fundamental principles about public education, here are questions that should be examined about any proposal to reform public education.

  1. EFFECTIVE PREPARATION FOR LIFE, WORK,AND CITIZENSHIP Will the proposed reform produce an education of the quality needed to effectively prepare young people: (a) to lead fulfilling and contributing lives, (b) to be productively employed, and (c) to be responsible citizens in a democratic society?
  2. SOCIAL COHESION AND SHARED CULTURE Will the proposed reform promote a cohesive American society by bringing together children from diverse backgrounds and encouraging them to get along? Will it help to form a shared American culture and to transmit democratic values?
  3. UNIVERSAL ACCESS AND FREE COST Will the proposed reform guarantee a public education that is universally accessible to all children within the governing jurisdiction and is free of charge to parents and students?
  4. EQUITY AND NON-DISCRIMINATION Will the proposed reform provide the same quality of education for poor children as for non-poor children? Will it treat all children justly and without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, disability, religious affiliation, or economic status?
  5. PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY AND RESPONSIVENESS Will the proposed reform ensure that education supported with public dollars remains accountable to taxpayers and the public authorities that represent them? Will the reform be responsive to the needs of local communities and afford citizens a voice in the governance of their schools?
  6. RELIGIOUS NEUTRALITY Will the proposed reform provide a public education that is religiously neutral and respectful of religious freedom?

Source:National Congress for Public Education


The first National Congress for Public Education, meeting in Washington, D. C. in September, 1998, vigorously affirms that public schools are essential to the health of our democratic society. To advance our nation's commitment to public education, the participants endorse the principles set forth in the accompanying list.


Public education has deep roots in our nation's past. James Madison, "Father of the Constitution" and architect of the Bill of Rights, elegantly described the link between the education of citizens and our system of government in an 1822 letter: "A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." Madison envisioned a future where the "education needed for the common purposes of life would be diffused" through the entire Society.

Our country developed public education over the course of a century and a half, not only to provide each and every citizen a quality education to meet their individual needs and purposes, but in order to ensure a more cohesive society and a democratic form of government. Public education should promote an understanding of the diversity among us, and the unity that flowers only through honoring that diversity. Furthermore, the health of our democratic republic depends upon public schools fostering fundamental constitutional values--justice, freedom, and equality. As James Madison expressed it, "What can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of Liberty & Learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual & surest support?"

The following principles reflect our intent to promote these values, as we work to support and strengthen public education.


  1. Effective public schools are essential if our nation is to maintain a vibrant democracy, a strong community, a civil society, and a prosperous economy.
  2. Strong public schools require sufficient resources, equitably distributed.
  3. Effective public schools prepare all students for the responsibilities of citizenship, as well as for college and employment.
  4. All publicly supported schools must be equally accountable to the public and open to all students.
  5. Genuine improvement in public schools is essential. Substantial improvement will require open, deliberative processes and the exploration of a range of new possibilities.
  6. The foundations of public schools must be respect for children as learners, respect for teachers as professionals, respect for parents as major stakeholders in education, and responsibility to the public for perpetuating the ideals and values of our democratic form of government.
  7. National, state, and local efforts to improve the public schools must go hand in hand with efforts to improve the social, economic, and physical health of the communities they reflect and serve, since the quality of each depends upon the quality of the other.

(From Education, Volume 72, Number 11, 29 July 1991 : front page.) that posted on New South Wales Teachers Federation website.

Here is a different take on principles from a teacher's perspective.

Principles of Public Education

Principle One:

The public system must deliver equal opportunity for all children to develop their abilities to the fullest, regardless of where those children attend school. This will be achieved through:

  • Strong core curriculum
  • The recognition and addressing of disadvantage
  • An equitable distribution of adequate numbers of qualified and skilled teachers
  • Principle Two:

    The public school system is primarily concerned with the education and welfare of its students. School and system administration must reflect the primacy of teaching and learning.

    The central relationship in schooling is that between student, teacher and parent. This relationship should be reflected in decision making throughout the system.

    Principle Three:

    A successful public education system is one which provides a service to the community and attracts students because of the availability of that service. To see this service in market place terms is totally inappropriate. Governments must be held accountable for public education and not allowed to privatise this vital public service, or to separate themselves from responsibility for resourcing schools adequately by transferring those responsibilities onto local administration.

    Principle Four:

    A strong public education system with a well-qualified and supported teaching profession, free from political interference, is among our greatest safeguards of democracy.

    This profession must have:

  • Appropriate pre-service teacher training
  • Substantial opportunities to enhance professional expertise
  • Assessment and promotions systems which enhance professionalism
  • No system of education can flourish unless it develops and supports the profession of teaching.
  • Principle Five:

    Public schools must be able to continually attract new teachers and retain the experienced teachers. Not only should teachers receive public support in their work, but they should also receive working and employment conditions which are competitive and attractive. Among the major benefits of teaching in the public education system are security, tenure and a state-wide transfer and promotions system.

    Principle Six:

    A public education system flourishes with active parent and community involvement. To ensure this, opportunities must be created to strengthen parent and community participation.

    12 Ideals Worth Pursuing In Public Education

    In a good school both teacher and student define the right challenge. Here are 12 educational ideals worth pursuing. They become powerful when we apply them not only to students but to everyone in a learning community of students, teachers, parents, administrators and staff.

    Students should be:

    Readers of literature. Literature opens the door to conversations with people of other eras and makes them contemporaries. The particulars of one story can reveal general truth about all lives. Well-read students encounter an array of books that address the familiar and the unfamiliar. They read authors of different religions, race and gender to gain perspective on the world.

    Poets whose words envision new ways of being. William Carlos Williams wrote, “It is difficult/To get the news from poems/Yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” Poetry is often mistakenly thought to be a powerless escape from life, but poetry can open possibility, restore feeling and recharge desire.

    Writers who reflect thoughtfully. Writing activates an inner voice that can take multiple points of view, ask questions and pose possible answers. Writing is also a public endeavor. When writers share with others, they put themselves on the line and risk criticism of others.

    Problem solverswho can use mathematics. In the 16 th century, mathematicians discovered that fractions could be stated as decimals by changing the unit of measurement from ones to tenths or hundredths. From this seemingly simple conceptual shift, mathematical calculations became dramatically easier. Today, math is the global language of economics, engineering, banking, measurement, navigation and architecture.

    Observers who sense the wonder of science. Observers look outward to the large and far away or inward to the near at hand. Early in the 17th century, Galileo turned the telescope toward the heavens to find a new world.

    Citizens who study history and take action. An educated populace is necessary to preserve and renew democracy. Democratic ideals can be identified on many levels. To be citizens, students must learn to act in the school, community, state, nation and world. Human dignity is preserved only when the just take action.

    Speakers of two languages who cross cultural borders. Students who are encapsulated in one language can cross borders to learn different ways of doing things, gain perspective and meet people with whom they can create new knowledge that would not have been possible in one culture alone.

    Workers who can create with their hands and use technology. The field worker, the carpenter, the baker and the seamstress create and harvest with calloused hands. Technology extends the hands of workers to accomplish much. Students can learn technology to apply their craft creatively in the service of others for a just wage.

    Artists who sculpt, draw or paint. Children seem to have no trouble seeing themselves as artists. In Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, the young aviator becomes frustrated with adults because they cannot see his drawing for what it is—a boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant. To see oneself as an artist requires a child-like faith that can take joy in the act of creating.

    Musicians who sing or play an instrument. In many African cultures people not only celebrate with singing, but they sing to make the work go easier. Music is created on many levels: the composer writes a score, musicians play the piece, and the audience listens and appreciates. These require overlapping and distinct skills.

    Athletes who exercise for a lifetime. In athletics few perform and many watch. Yet physical activity is for everyone. Students are aware of their muscles when they stretch. They learn to push themselves and to rest. A sport provides the exhilaration of legs churning, a heart beating and lungs pumping in unison.

    Leaders who recognize the moral dimension. Moral leaders take the time to reflect, examine their actions and ask questions. Did I do unto others as I would have them do unto me? Have I taken what life has offered and used it to the best of my ability?

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    Last modified: April 13, 2004

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