By Owen Boss
It’s a question that seems impossible to answer: How do you measure creativity? Yet that is what a new state commission, trumpeted by state Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, will aim to do at every public school in the commonwealth.
Thanks to ground-breaking legislation signed into law this summer, public schools in Massachusetts will be ranked not only on how they perform on standardized tests but also on whether their respective curricula encourage students to think outside of the box.
“Employers are increasingly saying that they don’t just need people with basic job skills, but people who are creative (and) who can generate new ideas and new ways of solving problems,” Rosenberg said.
Last week, as he signed off on an economic development bill, Gov. Deval Patrick made Massachusetts the first state in the country to call for the formation of a creativity index aimed at rating public schools statewide based on their ability to teach, encourage and foster creativity in students.
Rosenberg said it’s a step toward boosting the commonwealth’s financial health via the “creative economy,” a means of increasing a region’s overall cash flow through the fostering of the arts and intellect-driven industry. “When we talk about a creative economy, we aren’t just talking about artists, musicians, painters and dancers, but architects, landscape designers and a variety of fields that rely upon creativity well beyond just the arts themselves,” he said.
The bill, which was presented by Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, was the brainchild of Boston University creative writing professor Dan Hunter, who pitched the idea to Rosenberg while at his former post as director of the Massachusetts Advocates for the Arts, Sciences and Humanities.
“We need to recognize as a society that our economy has changed,” Hunter said. He cited two recent studies that say 82 percent of American CEOs and 62 percent of CEOs worldwide, when asked what they look for in a new hire, identified creativity as a requisite skill.
“The current situation in our schools has already been called a creativity crisis by Newsweek magazine,” Hunter said. “Studies have shown that our children are not experienced in doing creative work. Creative work cuts across all disciplines, and there is a general consensus among business leaders that developing a creative skill set is what they want for our students going forward.”
The legislation calls for the formation of a 15-member commission of experts representing various interest groups from all corners of the state. Seven members will be appointed by the governor; one will be a representative of the Massachusetts Advocates for the Arts Sciences and Humanities; one will be a representative of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts; one will be a representative of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable; three members will be appointed by the president of the Senate; and three will be appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives.
Each commissioner will serve a two-year term and will meet with a panel of experts before deliberating on how best to produce an index that will be based in part on the creative opportunities in each school as measured by the availability of classes and the before- and after-school programs they offer.
The commission must be fully staffed in the next three months, according to the legislation, and at a series of meetings will come up with a list of recommendations for how a school’s creativity index will be measured and what kind of funding would be needed for its implementation. And, sometime before Dec. 31, 2011, members will submit a written report to the governor and several educational subcommittees detailing their findings.
Rosenberg said creativity index scores will likely be based on, but not limited to, the availability of arts education, debate clubs, science fairs, theater performances, filmmaking and independent research.
“Creativity is not a gift,” Hunter said. “The more you stimulate a student’s creativity, the more adept they become at it. The craft of being creative is something that is learned from repeated efforts.”
Easthampton Superintendent Nancy Follansbee said she was encouraged to hear that the state’s leaders have recognized the importance of promoting creativity in local schools and noted that in Easthampton, it has been labeled a top priority.
“One of our major initiatives is to promote the integration of 21st-century skills and the knowledge that our students will need to be career and college successful,” Follansbee said. “Creativity is one of those skills that has been identified as being particularly important and is one that we will be looking to integrate into all of our instruction and curriculum.”
Also pleased with the state’s decision to try to quantify learning beyond a student’s ability to perform on a standardized test was Northampton Superintendent Isabelina Rodriguez, who called the legislation a “step in the right direction.”
“We’ve known we have a governor who has been a strong educational advocate and (who) is trying to look at education the same way we do in Northampton, which focuses on a holistic approach to learning,” Rodriguez said.