Crafting a mission statement is a common practice in schools, but we know little about how and when faculty, staff, and parents put these statements to use or whether these statements yield tangible effects. What mission statements contain, how they are developed and used, how well they capture the underlying shared beliefs of teachers and principals, and the extent to which these shared ideas influence student achievement are open and under-studied questions. In this dissertation, I present three analyses examining different aspects of mission using a variety of data and methods.
In the first analysis, I examine the content of mission statements prior to the enactment of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program and seven years later to consider how mission statement topics may be changing in the presence of choice policies. In this exploratory and descriptive analysis, I use structural topic modeling to code a representative sample of mission statements in Indiana from two time points into topics. I investigate differences in statement topics between school sectors, over time, and within sectors over time to consider how school choice policies may be influencing the content of mission statements. I find distinct differences between sectors but few differences over time and within sector.
The second analysis considers how teachers and school leaders understand and use mission statements in the school, based on interview and focus group data from 17 schools in one community. Using these data, I developed a measure of mission statement familiarity for each principal and group of teachers in order to examine variation across roles and schools. I then analyzed the data in an abductive manner, looking for plausible reasons for mission familiarity as well as where the statement content was salient and had opportunities for resonance, drawing on concepts from cultural sociology. I find that mission statements were familiar and salient within more than half of the schools, and schools leaders and teachers described moments of resonance for the mission statement in roughly one third of the schools in the sample.
In the third analysis I explore possible links between school mission statement content and student achievement. Using mission statements from a state representative sample of schools in Indiana, I use measures of topic proportions within school mission statements calculated through structural topic modeling. I focus on four academic-focused topics—academic success, achievement and standards, believe children can learn, and every child—and test whether there is a relationship between having a high focus on one of these topics in the school mission statement and student achievement outcomes. To do so, I analyze longitudinal student achievement data, using grade level fixed effects models and a matched sample comparing students who used a voucher to move to a private school with students who stayed in public schools. I find that schools with mission statements that contain a high focus on academic success and every child demonstrate positive relationships with achievement outcomes for students using a voucher to attend a private school.