Grading Schools On…Creativity?

February 17th, 2012

Category: News

In our global economy, businesses are placing an ever-increasing premium on the ability to problem-solve and innovate. When educators in academically top-performing countries like South Korea and Finland gather, they talk about one thing: how better to foster creativity—often, in fact, looking to the U.S. for ideas.

Yet even as countries abroad consider this “next frontier” in education, it seems that here at home, our focus remains elsewhere. With accountability targets looming large, some would say too much of our attention seems to be turned toward basic skills and factual recall. In response, several states have begun attempts to provide more balance.

California, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma are each independently creating a “creativity index” that will add to their existing data by measuring a school’s ability to foster innovation and encourage creativity. While the indices are still in development, legislators propose looking at fine arts, independent research, and extracurricular opportunities.

Giving grades to schools is not a new idea. Oklahoma (along with states like Florida and New York) already gives each of their schools letter grades, and all states are required to provide information about their schools to the public. Internationally there is the PISA test, which focuses more on measuring problem-solving as opposed to factual recall (incidentally, the U.S. does very poorly on the PISA). But when it comes to school-level ratings of creativity in the U.S., this is the first real traction the idea has gotten.

Critics have expressed concern over the idea, worrying about having yet another label for schools—especially if the labels are used to be punitive or cause extra pressures on already burdened schools. Others argue that schools may try to “game” the system, emphasizing quantity over quality.

Even supporters concede this point, worrying about how best to objectively measure an abstract like creativity. At the same time, they argue that now more than ever, a renewed emphasis on creativity is critical, especially as curricula across the country become increasingly unbalanced (in favor of math and language arts). They say the index will reward schools for having environments that foster creativity as well as provide a counterbalance to pressures on schools to “teach to the test.”

For my part, I like the idea of focusing on creativity, but worry about the implementation. It sounds like for now, the proposals will look at inputs, which tend to perpetuate a “check-the-box” mentality that not only would defeat the purpose of the measure, but also further strain increasingly limited school budgets. After all, on average, no education system in the world has as wide a variety of extracurriculars available to their students. It seems we might be better served by looking at outputs—whether a school’s graduates are creative, regardless of how it was done.

In any case, Delaware should keep a close eye on the proceedings.

We’ve dangled our feet at teaching creativity—project-based learning at schools like Stubbs and Glasgow and arts-based schools like Cab Calloway and Sussex Academy. But if we are to truly be able to compete internationally, we need a more comprehensive and broad-scale focus.

What do you think, should we grade schools on creativity? How? What do you think your school would get?




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Author:
Brian Yin

byin@rodelfoundationde.org

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