A Need for Improvement; America’s Flawed Education System

Posted: February 12, 2014 by Paige Hess in Editorial

Kendra Engstrom 1-27-14

How many of you have ever felt stupid because you don’t get very good grades? How many of you struggle year after year with learning at school the way its being taught? Here’s one… How many of you have ever been discouraged by even a teacher who tells you you won’t make anything of yourself because you don’t make very good grades. I’ve got news for you. You are not the only one who feels this way. And you are not stupid at all. In fact, you’re awesome the way you are. You have many talents that don’t always have the opportunity to shine behind a desk at school. And that’s a shame. It’s a shame that any child or person at all should ever feel discouraged or stupid because of a flaw in a system. Don’t get discouraged. You are not the problem. There is one HUGE problem with something in America, and that is out education system.

According to the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2012, a test designed to be taken by students in schools around the world has shown that the U.S. has slipped from 25th to 31st in math since 2009; from 20th to 24th in science; and from 11th to 21st in reading, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which gathers and analyzes the data in the U.S. The U.S. education system is mediocre compared to the rest of the world. What happened to America being the #1 in education? Here’s another statistic for you: In some parts of the country 60% of kids drop out of high school. In other parts, 80%. Why do you think so many kids are dropping out. What is happening to America’s Education?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with America’s education system. Schools are failing to intrigue these kids. They seem to think these kids can be measured using their test scores. Students are more than test scores. Some students have amazing talents that aren’t being noticed with these standardized tests. With such a narrow spectrum of achievement, school systems cannot learn true talents and skills of these students. Testing is essential in school systems, but they should not control the system.

I’d like to bring something to your attention today. Creativity is decreasing in children and adults in America. It’s true! The reason for this is because school systems in America are failing to develop creativity. School systems in America NEED to focus less on standardized testing and more on teaching creativity in schools. And that is what my speech is about.

With the help of many resources from Authors, Psychologists, Professors, I was able to research this in detail, to get their insight on this topic.

Creativity is decreasing for children and adults in America. Recent studies have revealed statistics explaining why this statement is true.

Have you ever heard an adult say, “Kids these days are narrow-minded and just not as creative as they used to be.”? But researchers say they are finding exactly that. In a 2010 Kyung Hee Kim, a creativity researcher at the College of William and Mary, conducted a creativity test among around 300,000 American children. The results showed that creativity has in fact decreased among American children in recent years. Since 1990, children have become less able to produce unique and unusual ideas. They are also less humorous, less imaginative and less able to elaborate on ideas.

What is creativity and why is it important? Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity with wise words. He says, “Human life is inherently Creative. It’s what makes us all different. We create our lives and can recreate them. It’s why human culture is so interesting and dynamic. We all create our lives through imagination and creativity and possibilities of life.”

We often think about creativity as making something, but in fact the root meaning of the word means ‘to grow’. Creativity is not just art. Creativity is an essential tool for the human minds. It allows you to think outside the box. It allows you to think innovatively. These are natural problem solving systems that humans naturally use. If creativity is not exercised, then this trait is diminished.

Marvin Bartel, Professor of Art Goshen College, Indiana says “The world needs more and more compassionate creativity to solve the many very difficult problems confronting us. Creativity is important because creative people do not have answers, but they habitually wonder. They habitually ask better questions. They have optimism. When combined with empathy and compassion, creativity is bound to be a force for good.”

So, Why is the decline in creativity a bad thing? People who are less creative think more close minded, versus a creative person, who thinks innovatively  with their situations given. When creativity is lost, curiosity is lost. Curiosity is an essential part of human nature. Curiosity lights the spark to learn without further assistance. Curiosity is the engine of achievement. Imagine a world without these three things. How would our country grow or improve? The answer to this question is simple: it would not.

So where has creativity gone? Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is born an artist. The problems begins once we start to grow up.”

The reason our country is seeing a huge decline in creativity is because public schools in America are failing to teach creativity. The core reason schools do not worry about creativity is because our education system is under the policy of “No Child Left Behind”. “No Child Left Behind” is the system that American public schools are under. It requires schools to produce certain test scores every year. Whoever thought of this title has to know irony, because in fact, millions of children are being left behind.

The problem is not that America is not spending enough money on school systems. The trouble is, it’s going in the wrong direction.

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson spoke out once more about this topic on a TED talk. His piece was titled: “How to escape education’s death valley”. I agree 100% with statements such as these he has made:

“The problem is the culture of education is testing. Testing is important in education, but should not dominate like it is. Testing should support learning, not obstruct it. What school systems in America are doing is, they figure what children can do across a very narrow spectrum of achievement. Math and sciences are essential in education. But a real education has to give equal weight to the arts, to humanity, & to physical education.” -Sir Ken Robinson

Education experts have argued that standardised education can, in fact, “train students out of their creativity” with relentless memorization and testing.  Author and psychologist of the sciences and humanities Jonah Richard Lehrer says “We have to expand our notion of what productivity means. Right now we are grooming our kids to think in a very particular way, which assumes that the right way to be thinking is to be attentive, to stare straight ahead—”

Dan Meyer is right when he describes today’s curriculum as “paint-by-numbers classwork, robbing kids of a skill more important than solving problems: formulating them.”

Who is to blame for this?

Praise is given to schools for “getting the job done”. The government steps in and decides they are going to tell you what to do. The problem with this is, and that government officials do not understand is that learning is not going on where these decisions are being made, but in the classrooms. It is up to the students to learn and the teachers to teach. This should never be forgotten. This idea that better numbers and statistics for education will create a wonderful future for the country and everything will sail smoothly will never work, and never did.

Students: In some parts of the country 60% of kids drop out of high school. In other parts, 80%. People either want to learn or don’t. Every student who drops out of school has a reason for it. They may find it boring or irrelevant and of no use to them. School systems should be more diverse and use ways to involve students and engage them both in and out of school.

Teachers are often encouraged to follow routine algorithms rather than to excite imagination. Individualized teaching and learning is enforced. The school system is responsible to engage students with their curiosity, their individuality, and their creativity. Thats how you get students to learn! Education is about learning, and children are natural learners. Teaching should a creative profession not a delivery profession. Great teachers, mentor, stimulate, and provoke students.

A solution for this problem is to teach more creativity in public schools in America. Why should public schools teach more creativity and what are some benefits of schools teaching more creatively?

Benefits of this include predictions from Sir Ken Robinson, stating his belief that the economy may benefit with an estimate net gain of nearly one trillion dollars for the economy.

In school systems today, old-fashioned gradebooks and multiple-choice tests aren’t good enough. Teachers need better tools to track several dimensions of student progress. Through Classroom Relationship Management, this is possible. The narrative is important, and teaching demands a new type of CRM (classroom relationship management) to capture anecdotal notes and evidence of student growth. Teachers must become disciplined and analytical about identifying students’ strengths and skill gaps, continuously turning classroom data into a plan of action.

Kids prosper best under a curriculum that celebrates their various talent. The arts not only improve mathematical talents, but also speak to kids in different ways. IDEO founder David Kelley spoke on TED’s talks as well. He spoke about creative confidence. He says, “People hold themselves differently and more confidently when they have creative confidence. They think of themselves as a creative person.”

Kyung Hee Kim spoke about her studies that we conducted at the beginning of the speech that I mentioned. She says, “If this trend continues then students who think differently will suffer, because they are not accepted,” Research shows that if creative personalities don’t adjust to the school system, they can become underachievers and drop out of school, she said. Is that what we want? More dropouts? As if we don’t already have enough.

How might schools be able to accomplish this? The primary purpose of teaching can now school systems need to shift away from “stand and deliver” and be relentless about making sure every student graduates ready to tinker, create, and take initiative.

Sarah Beth Greenberg, a visionary elementary school principal in New Orleans, describes this as the balance between the art and science within teaching. The art is in the relationships you build with kids, and the science is purposeful assessment that generates real evidence of student growth.

I recently read an article titled “Ten Ways to Teach Innovation”. The article was written by Author Thom Markham, Ph.D., and psychologist. These were the ten listed, that I believe are ways to execute this process.

1. Move from projects to Project Based Learning. These methods include developing a focused question, using solid, well crafted performance assessments, allowing for multiple solutions, enlisting community resources, and choosing engaging, meaningful themes for these projects.

2. Teach concepts, not facts. Concept-based instruction overcomes the fact-based learning. Use knowledge and resources to teach ideas and deep understanding, not just test items.

3. Distinguish concepts from critical information. Preparing students for tests is part of the job. But they need information for a more important reason: To innovate, they need to know something. Find the right blend between open-ended inquiry and direct instruction.

4. Make skills as important as knowledge. Innovation and skills go hand in hand. Choose skills such as collaboration and critical thinking. Incorporate them into lessons. Use detailed rubrics to assess and grade the skills.

5. Form teams, not groups. Innovation emerges from teams and networks—and we can teach students to work collectively and become better collective thinkers. Group work is common, but teamwork is rare. assess students through teamwork and work ethic.

6. Use thinking tools. Hundreds of interesting, thought provoking tools exist for thinking through problems, sharing insights, finding solutions, and encouraging divergent solutions. Use these tools!

7. Use creativity tools. Industry uses a set of cutting edge tools to stimulate creativity and innovation. These tools include playful games and visual exercises that can easily be used in the classroom.

8. Reward discovery. Innovation is mightily discouraged by our system of assessment, which rewards the mastery of known information. Step up the reward system by using rubrics with a blank column to acknowledge and reward innovation and creativity.

9. Make reflection part of the lesson. With today’s learning, teachers are eager to finish a chapter and move on, but reflection is necessary to anchor learning and stimulate deeper thinking and understanding. Without reflection, there is no innovation.

… And the most important one of all…

10. Be innovative yourself! Innovation requires the willingness to fail, and to  focus on fuzzy outcomes rather than standardized measures.. But the reward is  liberating creativity that makes teaching exciting and fun, innovation engages students, and—most critical—helps students find the passion and resources necessary to design a better life for themselves and others.

Isn’t that ultimately what education is about? Making students feel great about not only themselves but their future? Education is about learning, and with these ten methods this CAN be done.

Imagine a world were a textbook is replaced with an open-ending and countless opportunities to question the world around us. Imagine the world where students are asked to think and to solve problems not just by plugging numbers into equations. What if quizzes measured kids’ ability to question, not answer? This is the main idea of my speech.

In a better world, I believe school systems should teach creativity and focus less on standardized testing. What we have in America is a culture of standardized learning. It doesn’t have to be that way. Unfortunately, people are in fact becoming less creative. This is being caused by the poor methods of our schooling systems. This can all be changed if schools focused more on creativity. I will leave you with a visual:

A desert receiving no rain will have no life or production whatsoever. Once it rains you will see life. This is related to school systems in America. Under the surface of the ground are small seeds of possibility waiting for the right condition to sprout. This is like students in America. If the conditions are right, life is inevitable.

You take a school system, change the condition, give people a new sense of possibility, new expectations, more opportunity, and give people room to be creative and to innovate, and schools that were once deprived, spring to life.

The role of leadership in a school should not be command and control, but rather climate control. A climate of possibility. If this is done, people WILL rise and achieve things unexpected.

We have to realize that under a human education system, people will always thrive, rather than under standardized schooling.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “There are three sorts of people in the world. Those who are immovable (those who do not get it and do not want to get it), movable (those who see the need for change and improvement), and there are those who move (Take action to make a change).”

If we encourage more people to move, that will be a movement. If we create a movement strong enough, that is called a revolution. And that’s what we need in America.Kendra (2)

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