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States Exploring a Creativity Index for Schools

Should states develop a creativity index for their schools? When I first learned that Massachusetts was exploring the idea, I was intrigued. What would it look like? How would it work? Are any other states interested?

I examine these and other issues in an EdWeek story published online today.

The idea of such an index comes as many political and business leaders have become increasingly concerned about the need to better foster creativity and innovative thinking among today's students. It also comes as a lot of educators worry that the pressure of high-stakes testing may be squeezing out opportunities for students to develop those very qualities.

The concept of a creativity/innovation index, at least at this point, is about educational "inputs," not "outputs." That is, it's meant to gauge the extent to which schools provide opportunities that will foster creativity and innovation in young people.

In Massachusetts, a new state commission began meeting last fall to draft recommendations for such an index for all public schools. The action came in response to a 2010 law. (I'm told that the legislature would have to pass another measure to actually require that the index be implemented.)

Meanwhile, the California Senate in late January approved a bill calling for the development of a voluntary Creative and Innovative Education Index.

And Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin recently announced plans for a public-private partnership to produce an innovation index for schools, which she described as a "public measurement of the opportunities for our students to engage in innovative work."

As my story explains, a variety of experts and participants in the state efforts caution that no one is exactly sure what a creativity index should look like. The Massachusetts legislation suggests that it might include such indicators as access in schools to arts education, debate clubs, science fairs, filmmaking, and independent research. But several people I interviewed say they want to be sure the index goes beyond a superficial checklist. And they emphasized that creativity can be nurtured in all sorts of activities and subjects, from robotics to mathematics.

How educators and schools would respond to a creativity index remains to be seen. Certainly, some folks are likely to be leery of adding still another public measurement for schools. But the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association said his union is supportive of the idea, arguing that it fits with the desire of many teachers to move toward a "multiple measures" approach to evaluating schools that gets beyond test scores in reading and math.

In any case, a creativity index is certainly a provocative idea, and one that is starting to be taken seriously in at least a few states. But the efforts are still in their very early stages. Stay tuned.

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