Keep Calm and Innovate

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Over the past two weeks various members of my administrative team and I attended national education conferences. It is always good for educators to connect with other educators and share best practices.

The conference themes included words like ignite and design thinking. We heard from keynote speakers about the need for administrators to exercise creative leadership, about the need for students to think like designers, and for teachers to promote 21st century skills.

Much of the discussion centered on how to promote innovation in schools.

At one workshop, however, a presenter shared that their students spent 97 out of 180 days taking standardized tests at their public high school. Another educator shared that they administered 22 different standardized tests to each student at their public middle school.

Seriously? Some of our nation’s public schools are spending more than half of the year administering standardized tests? I don’t get that. Here’s why.

How do we promote innovation in American schools when many of our public schools spend half of their time testing and the other half getting ready for tests?

While we have history on our side, the future may not be as bright.

Over the last three decades of the 19th century, we saw new patents double in America. As we became known as the land of opportunity, American ingenuity blossomed when many European scientists, recognizing the creative potential, migrated to America between the two world wars.

Innovation boomed throughout the 20th century in America.

Today, however, we stand at a crossroads.

As legislators became increasingly concerned over math and science test scores lagging behind China, we strove to close the gap. In order to bring up math and science test scores, however, we began slowly killing creativity in our schools. We cut arts and recess time and replaced it with more standardized testing.

Prep for tests. Take tests. Repeat.

It’s ok, right? America has a long history of ingenuity. We are still the king of innovation, aren’t we?

What most people don’t realize is that right around the time we introduced NCLB and began our race to catch up to China in math and science test scores, China also introduced revolutionary education reform – they began to focus on creativity.

What does this mean for the future? Time will tell. However, we cannot idly sit by resting on the laurels of past American ingenuity. Otherwise, we might as well start teaching our students how to ask, “Do you want fries with that?” in Chinese.

These conferences reminded me that our nation is hungry for innovation. Our students, our teachers, and our schools need to keep the spirit of innovation alive. But right now, we are KILLING creativity in our schools. We are stomping out imagination with an overabundance of standardized tests.

I’m not saying that standardized tests are evil. They are important. However, they are just one small part of a child’s story.

We are testing this week in my school and I write this partly to remind our parents that this provides data to help us help your children. It does not and will not provide data that will predict your child’s future success.

Don’t allow these tests to form labels that turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.

I also write this partly as a challenge for us to think differently about the future of education in America.

I returned to my school inspired to hear about schools creating maker spaces to promote design thinking and innovation centers to guide students through the stages of creativity in many of our nation’s independent schools.

This gives me hope for the future.

The words of Albert Einstein, “imagination is more important than knowledge,” ring true today when we think about education in America.

keep calm and innovate

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