Archive for February, 2011

Measuring Creativity and Innovation in California Schools

February 24, 2011

By Laurie Schell and Joe Landon, California Alliance for Arts Education

Last week Senator Curren Price introduced Senate Bill 789, sponsored by the California Alliance for Arts Education, which will establish an Advisory Council charged with crafting a creative and innovative education index for schools. The index would provide schools and districts throughout California with an opportunity to share evidence of how they are cultivating creativity and innovation as part of a comprehensive education.

What is a Creativity and Innovation Index?
A creativity and innovation index would provide a way for schools to rate their progress in teaching, encouraging and fostering creativity in students. Index scores would be voluntarily compiled by school and district staff from a survey of curricula and teacher reports. It would quantify the opportunities in each school as measured by the availability of classes and before and after-school programs offered by and through school districts that nurture creativity and innovation in students. Examples might include visual and performing arts education classes, debate clubs, science fairs, theatre and dance performances, music concerts, film-making, creative writing, and independent research.

The scores of individual schools and districts would be published, establishing incentives for schools to promote an overall environment that fosters creativity and innovation through visual and performing arts, science, humanities and other educational opportunities. Public evidence of a school’s active commitment to developing the full potential of its students would benefit schools in building partnerships with both parents and the broader community.

Why Do We Need One?
Standardized tests use assessments of student learning to provide one measure of school achievement. But, because the tests are the only public measure of school success and are attached to high stakes accountability measures, schools have an incentive to “teach to the test” and to ignore the broader spectrum of accountability measures that examine what it means to provide a complete education for the whole child. Those narrow test-related expectations fail to encompass the responsibility our public schools have to prepare students to meet the challenges and expectations of the workforce of the 21st century. As we have moved into an economy driven by ideas and innovation, our schools must respond by providing all our students with the opportunity to develop creative skills.

According to recent findings of a broad coalition of researchers, 81 percent of corporate leaders in America believe that “creativity is an essential skill for the 21st-century workforce.” In addition to creativity, these business leaders look for such skills as “collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, and oral communication.” (Corporate Voices for Working Families, Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the Society for Human Resource Management.)

Further, researchers at the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University have identified the conditions that are needed for creative work. They include collaboration, cross-cultural exchange, interdisciplinary exchange, time and resources, and tolerating failure.  It would indeed be exciting to bring together educators and business leaders across sectors to develop a set of indicators to determine the presence of creativity and innovation in our schools.

This analysis aligns with recent statements by Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who commented that: “The arts are a critical component of a complete education, providing an opportunity to see and think in new ways and to innovate.”  Last year, Massachusetts passed legislation to establish a creativity index and related legislative efforts are under consideration in other states across the country.

Conclusion
As we seek to build a future where both the entertainment and technology industries continue to thrive in California, an essential component of that mission is our investment in the human capacity for imagination, creativity and innovation that drives those industries. To that end, an “Index of Creative and Innovative Education” will demonstrate California’s commitment to lead and to raise the bar in preparing its students to meet the needs of the industries that are so vital to the success of California’s creative economy.

Want to support SB 789 and other efforts to provide California students with quality arts education? Join our Action Alert List.

Update: Right now SB 789 is on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s suspense calendar. If your Senator sits on this committee, you can send a message urging them to creativity in our schools and move the bill to the Senate floor.

One Superintendent’s Vision

February 10, 2011

Opening Remarks  at the Launch of the Alliance for Arts Education in Humboldt County, on January 27, 2011


By Garry T. Eagles, Ph.D., Superintendent, Humboldt County Office of Education

Editor’s note: The California Alliance for Arts Education in Humboldt County is one of the 25 Local Advocacy Network coalitions sponsored by the Alliance in our efforts to build advocacy capacity at the local level. Read more about our Local Advocacy Network.

“Welcome to the Breakfast Gathering of the California Alliance for Arts Education/Humboldt County.

I want to thank all of you for your willingness to spend some of your valuable time today hearing about the various ways in which the community as a whole can help insure that a rich, meaningful, education is provided for all children by keeping the arts alive and flourishing in our schools.

The Humboldt County Office of Education is pleased to support and participate in this Alliance.  Our commitment to the arts extends over three decades, beginning with our sponsorship of one of California’s first model arts education curriculums: Project MADD: Music, Art, Drama and Dance.

We are continuing our commitment to promote the arts today through our participation in the California County Superintendents Education Services Association (CCSESA) Arts Education Initiative funded in part by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.  The CCSESA Arts Initiative is partnering with other education and non-profit organizations throughout the state to embed arts education firmly into every school’s core curriculum.

We firmly believe the arts should not be viewed as “add-on” or “supplemental” programs that can be eliminated when the budget is tight and we need to cut the “extras.”  The arts are not extras; quite the contrary, the arts are integral elements of a quality education.

One of the seminal works on education, John Holt’s How Children Fail, was a great influence on me as I began to develop my perspectives as a young educator.  In that book, Holt observed that children are born with an extraordinary capacity for learning and intellectual growth.  Undoubtedly, Holt would have concurred that the arts, approached correctly, are a particularly strong vehicle whereupon we can embolden young people by stimulating their natural curiosity and wonder about the world around them; helping them to have a greater appreciation for their own culture and the contributions made through the diversity of others; encouraging their risk taking and, in the process, uncovering hidden talents, tapping new areas of interest, and exploring new paths of engagement.

The arts help evolve one’s identity and individuality as each of us learns to express ourselves.  And just as important, as we evolve, we learn to love learning even more.

It was Holt’s premise that since we cannot judge what knowledge will be needed in forty, twenty or even ten years from the present, we in education should focus our efforts on trying to turn out young adults who love learning so much—and learn so well—that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned over their lifetimes.  We therefore need to provide the kind of education that helps each student know how to seek and find meaning, truth and enjoyment in everything he/she will do.  After all, these are critical components of lifelong learning.

As a child, my best friends were Bobby Eilmas, Melanie Murphy, and Crayola Crayons.  Oh, how I loved coloring books.  I remember to this day how excited I was at receiving one of the new 64-crayon coloring boxes—with sharpener I might add—when I was just seven.  I looked forward to the times in class we could color.  I was very proud of learning when it’s good to stay within the lines and when it’s alright—maybe even better than alright at times—to go beyond them.My elementary teachers found many ways to reinforce my interest in the arts.  In addition to drawing and coloring and mosaic making, they were also there to introduce me to music and singing and dancing—although the dancing was, obviously with my handicap, always a bit more challenging.

In fourth grade, I was blessed to have been offered the opportunity to try and learn a musical instrument.  I excitedly chose a violin.  However, I will be quick to admit that after just a few nights, I gladly traded my violin in for a saxophone—after discovering my fingers were much better at pushing down keys than plucking strings and that I was much better drawing a tree than drawing a bow.  I remember how important each of these experiences was to me and my development as a human being.  Collectively, these experiences no doubt serve as the basis for why I advocate so vociferously for maintaining the arts for all students, everywhere.

The philosopher Israel Sheffler defined education in this way:  “The formation of habits of judgment and the development of character, the elevation of standards, the facilitation of understanding, the development of taste and discrimination, the stimulation of curiosity and wondering, the fostering of style and a sense of beauty, the growth of a thirst for new ideas and visions of the yet unknown.”

I find that this definition of education frames very clearly the argument as to why the arts must be a significant component of the curriculum we provide our students.  There can be no diminishing of this role despite our schools’ declining fiscal condition.  We must all be committed to finding ways to ensure the arts have their rightful presence.

Garry T. Eagles, Ph.D.Superintendent, Humboldt County Office of Education

To read Dr. Eagles’ bio and about the office of county superintendent