Ken Robinson – Creative Schools – Chapter 1

Last year I purchased Ken Robinson’s ‘Creative Schools’ book after viewing his highly popular TED talk video in which he made quite a lot of sense. 

To be honest, I’m not much of a reader. I tend to stick to picture books. So I’m even less into writing about reading a book, and the idea of writing a book review is far from the forefront of my to do list. However, I was immediately blown away by how much sense Ken makes within his first chapter, that I probably could have highlighted every word as reference material.

So as a means of collecting the best parts of his book, I’ve decided to write down and paraphrase some of the key quotes Sir Ken makes. While he writes regarding the UK and US education policies, it is quite evident that these models are being dishearteningly enforced and entrenched into New Zealand’s current education direction. At times, you could be mistaken that Robinson was in fact writing a historical account of the reform that Aotearoa is currently undertaking.

Chapter 1

The Standards Movement
  • “Reform isn’t new in education. There have always been debates about what education is for and what should be taught and how. But now it’s different. The modern standards movement is global… National education policies used to be mainly domestic affairs. These days, governments scrutinize each others’ education systems as earnestly as their defense policies.” – p6
  • “Since 2000, the standards movement has been turbocharged by the league tables of the… (PISA). These tables are based on student performance in standardized tests… The political impact of PISA has grown… Ministers of education now compare their respective rankings like bodybuilders flexing their biceps.” – p7
  • “Governments everywhere are now yanking firmly on the reins of public education, telling schools what to teach, imposing systems of testing to hold them accountable, and levying penalties if they don’t make the grade.” – p9
National Curriculums
  • “Most national curricula are based on the idea of discrete subjects. In most systems there is a hierarchy to these subjects. At the top are literacy, mathematics, and now the STEM disciplines. Next come the humanities, including history, geography, and social studies. Be cause the standards movement emphasizes academic study, it places less value on practical disciplines like art, drama, dance, music, design, and physical education and on ‘soft subjects’ like communications and media studies, which are all thought to be nonacademic. Within the arts, visual arts and music are usually given higher priority than drama and dance. Often these last two are not taught at all.” – p12
  • “When it comes to assessment, the standards movement emphasizes formal, written examinations and extensive use of multiple choice tests so that students’ answers can be easily codified and processed. It is skeptical too of course work, portfolios, open book tests, teacher evaluation, peer assessment and other approaches that are not so easily quantifiable.” – p12
  • “One of the aims of testing is to increase competition between students, teachers, and schools…Students compete with each other, teachers are judged mainly on their students’ test results, and schools and districts go head-to-head to win resources. Standards-based tests influence funding allocations, staff promotions, an whether or not schools stay open or are placed under different leadership.” – p13.
Charter Schools
  • “Some governments are now encouraging investment in education by private corporations and entrepreneurs. Their involvement ranges from selling products and services to schools to running their own schools for commercial profit. Governments are promoting different categories of public school – such as academies, charters, and free schools – in which some strictures of the standards movement are deliberately relaxed. There are several motives here. One is to intensify competition; a second is to promote diversity of provision; a third is to ease the burden on the public purse; and a fourth is profit. As I said, education is one of the world’s biggest businesses” – p13
  • “If the standards movement were working as intended, there would be nothing more to say. But it isn’t. Take the three R’s. In spite of the billions of dollars spent, the standards movement has been at best a partial success. Countries like the United States and England have sacrificed much in a desperate drive to raise standards in literacy and numeracy. Yet test scores in the targeted disciplines have hardly improved.” p13-14.

  • “The standards movement is not meeting the economic challenges we face. One of the declared priorities is to prepare young people for work. And yet, youth unemployment around the world is at record levels…
    The blight of unemployment is even affecting young people who’ve done everything that was expected of them and graduated from college. Between 1950 and 1980, a college degree was pretty much a guarantee of a good job… They don’t now. The essential problem is not the quality of degrees, but the quantity… A college degree used to be so valuable because relatively few people had one. In a world bristling with graduates, a college degree is no longer the distinction it once was.” p14-15
Education & the Economy
  • “Yong Zhao… calculates that in the twenty-eight years from 1977 and 2005 more than a million jobs annually disappeared from existing firms in the United States. During that same time, new firms created more than three million jobs a year. Many of these new jobs needed significantly different skill sets from the old, lost jobs – and there was very little advance warning over what those skill sets might be. The work went to employees who had refined those talents already and to people with the creative and entrepreneurial ability to make career and training adjustments.” p16-17
  • “In 2008, IBM published a survey of what characteristics organization leaders need most in their staff. They spoke with fifteen hundred leaders in eighty countries. The two priorities were adaptability to change and creativity in generating new ideas.  They found these qualities lacking in many otherwise highly qualified graduates… On the contrary, standardized education can crush creativity and innovation, the very qualities on which today’s economies depend.” p18-19.
  • “The standards movement is not achieving the objectives it has set for itself. Meanwhile, it is having catastrophic consequences on student engagement and teacher morale…the teacher attrition rate is alarmingly high. In the United States, more than a quarter of a million teachers leave the profession every year, and it is estimated that more than 40 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Thi scenario is especially bleak in high-poverty schools, where turnover is approximately 20 percent every year.” p20-21
  • “The standards movement came about because of legitimate concerns  about standards in schools. There are many factors that affect students’ achievement in schools. They may include student motivation, poverty, social disadvantage, home and family circumstances, poor facilities and funding in schools, the pressures of testing and assessment, and myriad others. These factors cannot be ignored, and any attempt to raise achievement in schools has to take them fully into account.” p24
  • “The best ways to raise (achievement) are to improve the quality of teaching, have a rich and balanced curriculum, and have supportive, informative systems of assessment. The political response has been the opposite: to narrow the curriculum and wherever possible to standardize content, teaching, and assessment. It has proved to be the wrong response.” p24-25
  • “The evidence is everywhere that the standards movement is largely failing by its own terms and creating more problems than it is solving.” p24
  • “The fact is that our children and our communities need a different sort of education, based on different principles from those that are driving the standards movement.” – p24.

And that’s pretty much the highlights from Chapter 1; and only Chapter 1! So many more to go, so I will continue making posts when I come across more in the pages that follow.