Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Louann Bierlein Palmer

Second Advisor

Dr. Sue Poppink

Third Advisor

Dr. Nancy Mansberger


Education purpose, purpose of education, teacher beliefs, K-12 education, teacher survey


This study explored the perceptions of teachers regarding the purposes of K-12 education and the influence of belief sources on their perceptions. Purposes of K-12 education and the ways in which they have changed over time are topics for which researchers are concerned (Carpenter, 2005; Labaree, 2013). Addressing this concern, there is existing literature focused on understanding purposes through K-12 school mission statements (Schafft & Biddle, 2014; Stemler & Bebell, 2012), and a multitude of reflections regarding what K-12 education purposes should be (Biesta, 2015; Macallister, 2016; Robinson & Aronica, 2014). Less is known regarding what frontline K-12 education practitioners (teachers), believe about K-12 education purposes and from where their beliefs orginate. Such knowledge is needed to better understand which purposes are implemented at the school and classroom levels, processes for which teachers have an outsized influence (Weatherly & Lipsky, 1977).

The study used a quantitative, non-experimental design and collected data with an online survey instrument. The sample consisted of 423 teachers recruited from two Midwestern states. Participants were nearly equally divided between elementary, middle, and high school teachers while over half (54.1%) taught in suburban school districts and a vast majority (83.5%) had at least 11 years of teaching experience. The survey asked participants to rate the importance of 11 education purposes twice; first, based on their ideals and second, based on what they experienced in their schools. Participants were also asked to rate the influence of 14 belief sources on their ideal importance ratings. Data was analyzed using descriptive statistics, ANOVA, MANCOVA, multivariate regression, and non-parametric tests.

Results showed that, for both ideal and experience-based importance, teachers rated providing a safe and nurturing environment significantly higher than any other purpose, followed by fostering cognitive development. Teachers rated 10 of the 11 purposes as at least moderately important, based on their ideals. Results also showed that teachers rated their own teachers or role models as significantly more influential as a source of their purpose beliefs than any other belief source, followed by life’s daily routines, and immediate family or associates. There were scarce differences in teacher importance ratings based on school level, school locale, or teaching experience, although elementary teachers tended to rate emotional development as more important than their middle and high school colleagues.

These findings add a valuable element, the perceptions of K-12 teachers, to the existing educational purpose literature. This study offers insight into the education purposes that teachers perceive to be most important, and the sources that influence K-12 teacher beliefs. Implications of these results include a call for more clarity in purpose from education policymakers and the potential for more targeted educational change strategies.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access