Standardize Me

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In her bold article for Education Week, “Schools Need a Culture Shift,” Betty J. Sternberg identifies “the skills and competencies needed to thrive in today’s world—teamwork, collaboration, creativity, and innovation,” and refers to “the culture of thriving, cutting-edge business environments.” So here’s the question: is the United States currently preparing its students to take on roles in the 21st-century workforce, positions that rely on what Eric Liu and I call the ICI Continuum (Imagination-Creativity-Innovation)? Sternberg, a former commissioner of education and superintendent of schools in Connecticut, doesn’t think so. In her view, the No Child Left Behind Act has focused the attention of too many American administrators and teachers on tests and the “progress” they measure, to the exclusion of other, richer aspects of learning.

At Lincoln Center Institute, we believe that holding teachers and school leaders accountable for their students’ learning—and measuring this growth—requires multiple measurement tools. We believe in clear and focused standards, but reject standardization. We embrace accountability, but reject teaching to the test as the sole means toward that end. The goal is to make connections between methods, based on the needs of students. Let’s be bold enough to do this.

The core of Sternberg’s argument is her belief that drilling kids to perform well on state tests is a shortsighted practice because it fails to foster the qualities that really make them successful students, workers, and citizens: love of learning, the ability to work with others, the desire to solve difficult problems, and so on. “They all deserve to grow into extraordinary individuals,” she writes, “not just a record of test scores.” As a commissioner, Sternberg did help develop methods of K-12 assessment, so she knows that measurement of knowledge is necessary and can be implemented “in authentic and meaningful ways.” But, according to her, we’re moving farther away from this ideal each day.

We at LCI have our own idea of what imaginative learning looks like; for more information, visit our Web site at www.lcinstitute.org. What is your vision of imaginative learning? And how do you think we can spread it throughout our schools in order to produce both happier, more engaged students and a stronger, more competitive America?

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Imagination Conversations

Corporate Lawyer Stanley Pierre-Louis moderates an Imagination Conversation in June 2009

Corporate Lawyer Stanley Pierre-Louis moderates an Imagination Conversation in June 2009

Love of the arts has guided and inspired me my whole life. I was a dancer before I was an executive: I breathed and lived the arts. They have, in large part, made me the individual that I am: using the arts as the foundation of understanding I have approached the people in my life and taught my children.

At Lincoln Center Institute, which is a part of Lincoln Center, my love of the arts is shared across the board, from staff to leaders of LCPA’s affiliate organizations. As well, we all share the understanding of the mission and importance of the arts in the lives of all.

“Scott,” you say, “you’ve got a terrific job and we’re jealous. But what is your point?” The point is that I have always believed that the arts—or art for art’s sake, if you will—were a blessing in and of themselves: an extraordinary expression of humanity that has a transformative ability within our society and allows us, people from vastly different traditions across the globe, to meet and to share our cultural aesthetic in peace.

A rich and self-sufficient treasure then, I thought. But I have had to revise my thinking. I did not change an iota of my belief, but I’ve had to add new elements to it. The arts will always be an unequaled educational experience. But the scope of that vision has widened. The arts now have to be part and parcel of educational preparation for college, and, above all, for the workforce. The arts are a natural portal into imagination, its product and its fuel. Imagination is, in turn, the fuel of creativity and innovation, essential components of a résumé in this century. Lincoln Center Institute’s 50 Imagination Conversations project is an ambitious new initiative to explore the role and importance of imagination in all areas of human endeavor, from the artist’s studio to the classroom to the boardroom. Continue reading