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Education and Business Share One Particular Need

By Walt Gardner — June 13, 2011 1 min read

Although business and education have different missions, there is one exception worth examining. I was reminded of this by a provocative essay written by Kate Canales in The Atlantic with the apt title “Finding Creative People Is Easy (and Here’s How).”

Canales maintains that the most creative people don’t do things “by the book.” They engage in behaviors that workplace cultures don’t support. Specifically, they occasionally break rules, push things through without first getting permission, and don’t make numbers. (The latter means not hitting stipulated targets.) Canales says that “just about everyone is looking to bring creativity into his or her organization. The theory seems to go that hiring creative people could bring much needed innovation, new thinking, and organizational revitalization.” A similar point was made by Byron Lewis Sr., chairman and CEO of UniWorld Group, a major advertising agency (“Got an M.B.A.? Great, but I Prefer Uncommon Sense,” The New York Times, June 12).

Yet when it comes to education, just the opposite is taking place. Instead of creativity, reformers demand conformity. Can anything be more non-creative than requiring teachers to follow scripted lesson plans? Then there’s the problem about questioning authority in schools. Which teachers who don’t have tenure are willing to take on their principal? Even when they have earned tenure, do they dare risk an unsatisfactory rating because they have spoken up in faculty meetings?

Finally, what about not making numbers? I’m referring now to standardized test scores and the value-added model, which are essentially quota systems for teachers. For example, several states have already mandated that 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is to be based on progress made on standardized tests. If that is not a quota, what is? These performance measures are precisely what Canales correctly argues are enemies of creativity.

In fact, so many proposals offered today are the antithesis of the ideal model. I’m not saying that all teachers have the same potential to become creative influences in the education of young people. As in any population, there is always a distribution of abilities. But whatever talent that teachers innately possess or can develop through mentoring in this area is being vitiated by the accountability movement. It’s something to think about over the summer.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.