Creativity in the Education System

Review of Literature
Ronee Goldman and Karuna Nandkumar


Research Question


Research Rationale


Review of Literature
The Loss of Creativity
The Need for Creativity
Reintroducing Creativity


Works Cited


Research Question

How does the structure of our public education system contribute to the loss of creativity in
students and what changes can be made to amend this?

Research Rationale

In an independent school in Surrey, England, pupils from the ages of thirteen through eighteen
construct their own curriculum. They are given a central idea, and work with the administrators to write
their own program of study and course objectives. This process in itself helps the students find meaning in
their work, something that is sorely lacking in American public schools today. To be fair, the school in
Surrey is private; however, it should not be impossible to integrate creativity, even if on a smaller scale, in
any school.
Our teachers, parents, students, and even politicians have been calling for education reform for
many years, but we continue to stubbornly push in the same direction as before: towards standardization
and away from creativity, teacher and student autonomy, and focus on subject matter and fulfillment. If
we cannot create ways to encourage creativity in our public schools even with so many examples
operating around us, perhaps the loss of creativity has already had a greater effect than we imagined.
Creativity is glorified in all aspects of American media and business, especially in the current age of
technological innovation; but our current education system is stripping students of the very attribute we
praise so highly.
In the following study, we are defining creativity as the production of something original and
useful. Creativity involves divergent thinking, coming up with many unique ideas, as well as convergent
thinking, and then synthesizing those ideas into the best usable result. The gradual loss of creative
teaching and active learning in American schools negatively affects both students’ mental and emotional
health. Creative thinking encourages students to take risks and solve problems more effectively and
efficiently, skills important for their current and future lives.
With the rise of standardized testing, the focus of education shifted from engaging and teaching
students to encouraging memorization and drilling test material. Our current system is the product of the
standards movement which began in the 1990s. These standards were hastily created and highly focused
on incentivizing teachers, which then translated into a high-pressure incentive system for students. We
have found, however, that extrinsic motivators such as pay raises, promotions, demotions, and, in this
situation, grades, can be counterproductive. Extrinsic motivators make people strive to get the task done

in the fastest way possible, often resulting in cheating, especially when projects are rubric-bound and
have a rapid deadline. Possibly the most detrimental effect of external motivators is the creation and
perpetuation of the mentality that school, and therefore schoolwork and learning, are obstacles to get
through in the process of reaching a certain reward or goal. This discourages student engagement, effort,
and interest in subject matter.
The current system also puts impoverished students at a disadvantage. Major curriculum cuts
have been made to place focus on tested subjects under the assumption that creativity can be fostered at
home or through extracurriculars. Students living in unstable family situations, however, are less likely to
have access to such opportunities.
A lack of creativity can have extremely detrimental effects on the emotional health of students.
Creativity empowers students to come up with many possible solutions to the emotional or social
problems they might encounter in daily life. We have even found that students who think more creatively
are less likely to commit acts of self-harm or suicide.
The purpose of this study is to identify the negative effects of the loss of creativity and to propose
realistic ways to create a curriculum that teaches creativity in public schools today. Education systems
around the world are moving away from our current testing model, while the United States continues to
replace valuable class time with tests and test preparation. Teachers feel more pressure to improve student
test scores, so they put less emphasis on creative areas of instruction and curriculum is adjusted to drill
test skills. The way that students are educated, primarily with powerpoints, lectures, or worksheets, does
not require active thinking or participation. We have had the opportunity, unlike the majority of students
in the public education system, to explore a subject that we truly care about; and the amount of internally
motivated research that we have completed exceeds anything either of us have produced in the past.
Creativity does not mean ease; hard work, research, and many other important skills are part of the
creative process.
Our research can hopefully allow us to understand the root of these problems and the best ways to
remedy them. The timeliness of this issue with the recent implementation of the Common Core Standards
and PARCC testing makes this review acutely important. Our system must be more focused on equality of
test subjects and non-test subjects to help students develop with a broad array of skills. Teachers must
have greater autonomy over the making of the curriculum, and schools should devote less time and
energy to standardized testing. Education reform cannot be another problem that we hand down to our
children. With this study, we hope to provide readers with a comprehensive aggregation of literature that
illustrates the importance of igniting a different wave of reform in the system.

Review of Literature

The Loss of Creativity
In the following review, creativity is defined as the production of something original and useful.
This production involves the use of previous knowledge and resources that combine to make an end
result. Creativity requires intrinsic motivation, which is the drive or passion that compels an individual to
do something, because without this drive, the student has no real interest in producing something original
or useful. This review stems from the findings of Kyung Hee Kim, an associate professor of educational
psychology at The College of William and Mary.
Kim conducted a widespread study, examining the synthesized scores of 272,599 American
kindergarteners through twelfth grade students and adults on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking
(TTCT). The version of the TTCT administered, known as the TTT-Figural, contains three activities with
ten minutes allotted to each. In Activity I, the subject makes a picture using a pear or jelly bean shape on
the page as an integral part of the picture; in Activity II, the subject must use ten incomplete figures to
make an object or picture; and in Activity III, the subject must create a picture or pictures with three
pages of lines or circles. The TCTT is recognized as one of the best existing measures of a skill that is
difficult to measure based on prediction of creative achievement, and the trials are “...utilized extensively
in both the educational field and the corporate world” (Kim, 285).
Kim compares the changes in TTCT scores over the course of the five years in which the tests
were administered, first in 1974, and later 1984, 1990, 1998, and 2008. The results indicate that creativity
scores have significantly and steadily decreased since 1990 (Kim, 293). Initially, we struggled to find
quantitative evidence to support our ideas about the causes of this drop; but eventually we realized that
the arguments could not come before the evidence was found. We had to put aside our preconceived ideas
in order to proceed with our research.
For both of us, when we entered high school we were also entering the public school system.
Collectively, we had minimal previous experience with standardized testing and were unprepared for the
centrality of testing in high school curricula. Our perspective as outsiders has helped foster an interest in
the essential lack of creativity in our new environment. Because we know that a different approach is
possible, we find it essential to examine how we could amend the parts of the public education system
that we consider detrimental to students’ learning.


Towards the end of the twentieth century, a major shift in the direction of education policy began.
The policies outlined almost twenty years ago have continued to grow in recent years with a massive
increase of testing and educational standardization known as the Standards Movement. Those who
supported the political accountability reform model grew until the discussion was no longer about the
nation’s goals for education, but rather about the standards to which educators must be held accountable
to ensure our nation’s future success. In this way, much like within the education system itself, the focus
switched from the process to solely the result. The emphasis on testing, test preparation, rote
memorization, and grades rather than on the learning process forced creative activities out of the
curriculum. Creativity is fostered by an environment of intrinsic motivation, but the only motivators that
most current curriculums include are extrinsic. The pressure that teachers face for their students to do well
on tests pushes them to change their curricula, giving the students the easiest way to improve their scores
instead of teaching them in the most interesting, involved, and creative ways possible.
When faced with economic pressures in the late twentieth century, politicians decided that
education needed reform. A paper by the CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy,
Marc Tucker, outlines the history of the standards movement in American education, identifies the four
standards-driven reform models, and examines the consequences of the eventual adoption of the political
accountability model. The paper that suggests the main causes of the failure of the standards movement
include unclear framework of the standards themselves, as well as lack of clarity in implementation.
At the time, there were four possible previously defined models to choose from. The business
model was a system of clear goals with rewards and punishments based on strides made towards those
goals. The ministry of education model entailed high and explicit standards with an aligned curriculum
framework that is universal. The educators’ accountability model focused on clear standards and tests
developed around those standards. Lastly, the political accountability model also focused on standards
and testing, but “...the content of the standards and assessments was much less important than the ability
to use standards to call educators to account” (Tucker, 2). Under the economic pressure of jobs lost to
companies operating in low-wage countries, American politicians decided that the best reform model was
the fourth. The wave of reform required new standards and a set of incentives to make educators
accountable for student performance; however, the politicians cared little about the specifics or quality of
the standards. The goal was, rather, to educate people at least to seventh and eighth grade levels of
literacy en masse so that businesses could afford to continue to pay the prevailing wages in industrialized
Because the policymakers’ goals were not to create a comprehensive set of standards, enormous
pressure was put on states to formulate these standards. This pressure, along with a shortage of resources,
caused the implementation of many standards that lacked the unity and specificity included in other

standard models. Only three elements from the previous models remained: the standards, the measures,
and the accountability system, in which those who produce improved student performance are rewarded,
and those who do not are punished.
Missing from this model, but part of the other models, was: (1) high standards that incorporate a
"thinking curriculum," (2) assessments that teachers would like to teach to, (3) granting the
school principals and others who will bear the burden of accountability the authority they need to
do the job, (4) creating clear curriculum frameworks that would make it possible to build fully
aligned instructional systems, and (5) making the heavy investments in the tools and training the
school people would need to do the job (Tucker, 2015, p. 4-5).
An environment of pressure is not the best way to nurture new policy, especially faulty policy such as
this; pressure on the states rapidly became pressure on the teachers to improve their students’ test scores
or face the consequences. The majority of the state tests were narrowly focused and highly fact-based,
failing to measure a student’s understanding of a subject or complex application of skills. Teachers began
to spend more and more time preparing their students for tests with worksheets and practice problems, so
much so that eventually “. . .teachers who focused almost wholly on test preparation ended up greatly
narrowing the curriculum” (Tucker, 4).
Tucker concludes that the transition to the political accountability model in the 1990s lacked the
framework for a “thinking curriculum,” and avoided putting in the resources to train teachers to teach to
specific standards; instead, the teachers began to teach to the test in desperation, cutting creativity and
active learning out of their curriculum in the process. Ever since, as countries such as China, Japan,
Korea, and Taiwan model their education systems off of our previous model, the U.S. educational system
has been moving towards theirs. A technical report and study administered by the National Center for
Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) at the UCLA Graduate School of
Education attempts to discover the effects of standardized testing on the teaching and learning processes
in schools. This report includes all the data and statistics from the conducted study as well as brief
overviews of more than fifteen other studies that concern accountability pressure, teacher attention to
testing in instructional activity and planning, attitudes of teachers towards fairness and utility of testing,
time spent on test preparation, and teachers’ sense of professional pride. The report concludes that
increased testing leads to increased pressure on teachers, which then leads to decreased attention to
creative activities and “higher-order” thinking, as well as decreased attention to the arts. Higher-order
thinking is defined as important skills other than basic memorization and test-taking skills; it includes
practicing research methods, creativity, and active discussion. CRESST’s report doesn’t assume these
effects of testing to be good or bad, but instead indicates that this depends on whether the standards that
the tests adhere to are viewed as educationally valid. The standards put in place in the 1990s, however,

were not educationally focused, with the primary goal being to better student achievement on tests.
Teachers, especially ones who have entered the system in recent years, feel increasingly strong pressure,
mainly from administrators, to improve their students’ test scores. This can lead to less emphasis on other
more creative and active areas of instruction (Herman and Golan, 23). This high-stakes testing
environment has caused an unwanted shift, leading to “...the elimination of content areas and activities
including electives, the arts, enrichment and gifted programs, foreign language, elementary sciences, and
elementary recess (playtime), which leaves little room for imagination, scholarship, critical or creative
thinking, and problem solving (Gentry, 2006)” (Kim, 293).
A study commissioned by Adobe revealed that, “When asked to name the single greatest barrier
to creativity in education, the most common response for U.S. teachers was ‘an education system that is
too reliant on testing and assessment’” (Nagel, 3). It is not, however, testing in itself; rather, it is the
amount of testing, the content of the tests, and the effects that the testing has on the school as a whole.
Namely, testing decreases creative opportunities by placing emphasis on test preparation, and thereby
causing major curriculum changes. In his article The Testing Obsession and the Disappearing
Curriculum, Tim Walker highlights this loss, describing the classes that are being cut or funded less
because of the nation’s shift in interest. Schools feel the need to teach to the test, and therefore often cut
curriculum that is not present on the math and language arts focused standardized tests throughout the
country. A national survey in 2011 found that two-thirds of teachers said that many academic subjects
were being marginalized (Walker, 2). The lack of equal focus on subjects such as foreign languages,
social studies, and sciences decreases opportunities for deeper exploration of these topics; instead, the
lesson plans for these classes are made up of lectures, fill-in-the-blanks, and quizzes for the purpose of
“teaching” the correct amount of material by the end of a course. Adjustments are also made within the
curricula to make sure that plans cover all test subjects, and curriculum pacing and order is changed to
ensure success on tests, instead of presenting subject matter in the most interesting or coherent format.
Teachers report that “ devising their plans for instruction they (a) look at prior tests to make sure that
their curricula includes all or most of the test content, and (b) plan to assure that they cover test
objectives. Further, they report that to some extent they adjust their instructional plans based on the test
performance of the class they had last year and more so on the most recent test performance of their
current class. They also adjust the sequence of their curriculum based on what is included in the test”
(Herman and Golan, 30). The amount of time devoted to testing preparation activities can exceed four
weeks of class time that could have been devoted to student-motivated projects, deeper understanding of
subject matter through interdisciplinary studies, or simply class discussion. Any of these activities foster
greater student interest than “...having students complete worksheets that review expected test content,
having students practice item formats expected on the test, and instructing students in test-taking

strategies” (Herman and Golan, p. 30). This excludes the amount of time devoted to actual testing, which,
when looked at class-by-class does not seem like much; maybe two quizzes and a unit test per month. In
total, however, this adds up to weeks in which students have one or more tests every day. At the end of
each semester, entire weeks are dedicated to exam preparation and exams, simultaneously taking time
away from class and forcing teachers to cram the body curriculum into the previous weeks of the
In the minds of teachers, however, test results are of uncertain meaning and of uncertain value in
school improvement. Teachers do not believe that standardized testing is helping schools to
improve. Neither do they believe that such testing helps clarify school goals, provides useful
feedback, or adequately assesses the most important learning goals for students (Herman and
Golan, 61).
If the teachers themselves do not believe testing is beneficial, we should not be letting our curriculum
continue to be entirely dictated by tests.
At this point in our process, we had to pause and refocus because our research was becoming
increasingly broad. Our topic can easily lead to tangents on everything from the political reasons behind
the influx of testing to a broad discussion of creativity. Most importantly, we needed to ensure that our
research did not become a rant against testing, and that it instead addressed specifically how to
reintroduce creative activities in our schools.
Faulty standards and the detrimental influx of testing are only part of the problem; motivation is
essential for students to want to engage and produce creative work, and currently, students are being
educated out of their internal motivation. Extrinsic motivation, or rewards and punishments, is constantly
used in schools, although we have found extensive research disproving the efficacy of these methods.
Intrinsic motivation, the drive or passion that compels an individual to do something, as defined by John
Shindler in his book on the subject, must instead be fostered if students are to have the motivation to be
creative. The education system operates on an externally motivated incentive plan, making the primary
motivation grades rather than the production of quality work. For the most part, incentive plans do not
increase productivity, and can even be counterproductive. First, grades have no inherent value, but are
symbolic representations of the quality of an action completed by a student, and are supposed to act as
incentives. These motivators, however, can easily also encourage lack of motivation because, “[S]tudents
commonly see grades as something “given” to them by the teacher (the external agent). Too often they
view grades as a representation of their aptitude, ability, or even self-worth rather than the quality of their
investment…” (Shindler, 1). If students see the causes of their grades as external, the students will not
feel that their grade reflects “concrete and constructive feedback,” and therefore will feel no motivation to
improve or try harder in the future (Shindler, 1). In addition to this, extrinsic motivators often have

undesirable by-products, actually decreasing students’ internal motivation. Extrinsic motivators act like
bribes: when you complete this task, you can do something you actually want to do later, or get a result
that will let you do something you actually want to do later. The side effects include, “...while it may
work in the short run, like other bribes it will lose its effect over time...Moreover, they [students] will
become accustomed to the bribe and likely demand it. Second, it will reinforce the principle that the work
that is being done in the academic time is something that is undesirable” (Shindler, 3). Long-term use of
rewards can also discourage self-responsibility and the inclination to reflect on bettering oneself because
of the focus on the reward, erasing the desire to do hard work for fulfilling inner results. Personally, we
have found that since we entered the public school system our desire to put effort and thought into a
project has decreased greatly because of this mindset, and instead, we try only the amount necessary to
get an adequate grade. There is little motivation to be creative, because we feel that once we finish this
worksheet, or this project, or this review packet, maybe we’ll have time to do the activities that we truly
want to do.
A writer for Harvard’s Business Review, Alfie Kohn, concludes outright that rewards discourage
creativity. Kohn argues that, “Excellence pulls in one direction; rewards pull in another” (Kohn, 5). His
research has shown that rewards can cause unethical behavior, as well as encourage use of the easiest
route to the completion of projects. Thane S. Pittman, a professor at Gettysberg College, points out that
“‘...features such as predictability and simplicity are desirable, since the primary focus associated with
this orientation is to get through the task expediently in order to reach the desired goal’” (Kohn, 5). The
reward system teaches students to get by with the bare minimum necessary to get the reward, and
perpetuates the negativity surrounding school subjects and work. Any improvements made to the system
should encourage less focus on the reward and more on the behavior.
The Need for Creativity
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately twenty-five percent of
teenagers have severe anxiety disorders. That is one out of every four teenagers, and a quarter of every
high school class. Because our findings have shown that creative activities can reduce anxiety and
depression, and even prompt positive moods, the loss of creativity may very well contribute to the high
levels of unhealthy mental states in American students. Creativity helps to equip young people with the
skills and confidence that enable them to work imaginatively, to transfer and apply new knowledge in
different contexts, and to think about more than one possible correct answer to any problems that may
arise. In addition, it is essential that creativity be infused into our schools’ curricula, not only for the
future success of our students, but also to help remedy inequality in the system. Presenting students with

creative projects and opportunities in schools is the only way to ensure that all students explore these
skills; some are exposed to creativity through extracurriculars or by their family, but many lower-income
families do not have the time or resources to go the extra step in finding creative opportunities for their
children. Infusing creativity throughout the school curriculum could help lessen this inequality while also
keeping students healthier and fostering real interest in subject matter.
In our school, about seven-hundred and fifty students potentially experience severe anxiety on a
daily basis. Data from NIMH also concludes that over eleven percent of students in the United States
between the ages of twelve and seventeen have experienced one or more major depressive episodes.
That’s approximately four students in every average class, a frightening figure. The American Journal of
Public Health composed a review of current research on the effects of creative activities on mental health.
The research was primarily conducted through controlled studies of voluntary test groups with mental
disorders such as anxiety and depression. Authors Stuckey and Nobel assembled the research in four
categories: music engagement, visual arts, movement-based expression, and expressive writing. Every
single study resulted in the improved emotional states of the majority of their participants. The results
included significantly decreased anxiety, decreased depression, decreased tension and stress levels, and
increased self-esteem. Overall, the review concluded that “ is likely that creative engagement
contributes to the many aspects of physiological and psychological conditions typically associated with
improved health status” (Stuckey and Nobel, 261). University of Georgia’s Mark Runco conducted a
similar study on the topic, instructing a group of college students to come up with a list of problems and
create as many solutions as possible. Though the students immediately came up with many problems,
they “...demonstrate[d] a complete lack of flexibility in finding creative solutions. It’s this inability to
conceive of alternative approaches that leads to despair. Runco’s two questions predict suicide ideation—
even when controlling for preexisting levels of depression and anxiety” (Bronson and Merryman, 8). In
Runco’s subsequent research, students who performed better at both problem-finding and problemsolving have better relationships and are better able to handle stress. The lack of creativity, therefore, can
be a real risk factor, and most probably contributes to the disturbingly high levels of unhealthy mental
states in teenagers today.
Another cause for which is essential that creativity be encouraged is equality; the system in place
puts students from low-income families at a further disadvantage. The curriculum changes that resulted
from the standards movement disproportionately hinder the learning and skill development of students
with parents that can’t afford to provide them with creative activities and extracurriculars; for example,
children who were brought up in middle-class families are often taken to museums and other cultural
outlets outside of school, while “...many poor urban and rural students rely on their teachers to expose
them to the kind of background knowledge that is essential to subject mastery” (Walker, 5). This was

something we had not considered before. In the aforementioned study, The Creativity Crisis, Kim
explains that if creative thinking is not taught from a young age, children can be set up for creative
failure. She reveals why missing out on exposure to creativity as a young child is “...especially
concerning as it stunts abilities which are supposed to mature over a lifetime. The decrease of creative
thinking for younger children probably arises at home rather than in schools, because kindergarteners and
first graders tend to be influenced more by home than school, or possibly both environments contribute to
the effect” (Kim, 293). Children’s capacity for creativity starts at a young age and when schools are not
helping all students develop creative skills, the learning disparities between lower and higher income
students only grow.
Next, creativity is necessary for the success and survival of future generations. Issues ranging
from global warming to education reform are in need of creative solutions, and “Such solutions emerge
from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and
receptive to the ideas of others” (Bronson and Merryman, 2). Because schools teach us not to take risks,
that experimentation is dangerous and it is better to stick to the formula, some of our creative instinct is
lost to this push for conformity. In his most famous TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson compares our education
system’s effect on creativity to the effect of strip-mining on the environment. Robinson is an
internationally recognized leader in development of creativity, human resources, and innovation in the
fields of education and business. When children are growing up, they are not afraid of taking chances, a
skill necessary for creative thinking; but as they get older and are subject to more and more years in the
standardized system, this skill is trained out of them. If you aren’t prepared to make mistakes and to be
wrong, Robinson explains, “'ll never come up with anything original…by the time they get to be
adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our
companies like this. We stigmatize mistakes. And we're now running national education systems where
mistakes are the worst thing you can make” (Robinson, 5:21). As previously discussed, the movement
towards standardized testing is one of the greatest factors in promoting conformity and discouraging risktaking. Studies included in Kim’s analysis have concluded that a fall in curiosity and creativity takes place
“...when children in Western cultures are confronted with new stresses and demands and are expected to
conform to classroom etiquette and peer pressure, and thus their creative abilities are discouraged” (Kim,
Over the course of our research, we came across another surprising point. Robinson discusses the
problem of increasing numbers of qualified people in the workforce. Our education system is designed to
make people who fit into our society: lawyers, doctors, engineers, businessmen, teachers; but as the
population keeps increasing and our education system keeps educating more children to fill these
positions, we will soon run out of positions to fill. According to UNESCO, within the next thirty years

more people will be graduating from higher-level education throughout the world than ever before, and
“Suddenly, degrees aren't worth anything. Isn't that true? When I was a student, if you had a degree, you
had a job…It's a process of academic inflation” (Robinson, 12:23). The influx of qualified people for jobs
in which there used to be a shortage requires a monumental and timely change in our education system.
Reintroducing Creativity
There are four distinct ways in which the current curriculum can be improved to include more
creativity. The greatest factor is standardized testing; a decrease in testing, replaced by creative
alternatives, would help decrease student stress levels and allow teachers more time to give creative
assignments. This brings us to the next consideration: teacher autonomy. The more freedom our educators
have in formatting their curriculum, and the less pressure they have to improve their students’ test scores,
the more they can focus on interesting, involved projects that still allow students to complete the course
requirements. Student involvement is essential to the creative process in that creativity blossoms when
passion and interest are behind it; this intrinsic motivation, as opposed to extrinsic motivators, must be the
focus of the new curriculum. The process should be emphasized rather than the grades. Lastly, money that
is spent on resources used for standardized testing, such as chromebooks, could instead be used to pay
teachers, buy resources, or create field trip opportunities.
Decreasing testing is an obvious step that we can take towards regaining creativity. Fewer tests
would allow schools to stop encouraging the busy work that drowns many classrooms today. Students
need projects that give them space to come up with their own solutions instead of memorizing
preconceived answers. Once there are fewer tests, however, there must still be ways to assess learning.
Anya Kamenetz discusses possible alternatives for monitoring learning, noting that none of the options
are mutually exclusive. Instead of fully removing standardized testing, schools could use samplings.
These require districts to give a smaller but statistically representative group of students the tests each
year. The same data could be drawn from this form of testing. The next alternatives are known as stealth
assessments; this would require a more integrated use of technology in schools, but many schools are
moving towards that already. Stealth assessments would be given by major textbook companies who
distribute software to schools. As they already do on a lesser scale, these companies would record all the
answers students give throughout the year on their programs as opposed to the current stop and test
method of dealing with data collection. The last option we found to be feasible uses multiple different
examination methods to collect data. These measures would be able to test skills that standardized tests
cannot. The measures include social and emotional skills surveys for both students and teachers, game-

based assessments that test student ability to take feedback, and performance or portfolio based
assessments which provide a direct presentation of student accomplishment.
The next step goes back to the political accountability system installed in the 1990s. New
standards must be created that help teachers regain autonomy in their classrooms. Currently, teachers and
students are not greatly involved in the process of curriculum-making. This does not make logical sense.
Education reform needs to be a collaborative effort that is not politically motivated, which can be difficult
in an increasingly polarized system. To construct a creative classroom environment, curriculum planning
must be content-centered. Tim Burgess, funded by the National College for School Leadership, an
executive agency in the United Kingdom, led a case study on four British primary private schools . He
focused on how each unnamed school strives for creativity in their structure and curriculum and by what
means they achieve their goals. The authorities of these schools did provide the teachers with framework
for content, but “...they have to allow the freedom to let teachers and pupils own their curriculum, ask the
questions and create the areas of inquiry” (Burgess, 15). The teachers given autonomy and trust in their
classrooms work harder and report greater enjoyment and job satisfaction (Burgess, Herman and Golan).
Aspects that many of the four curriculums include are outdoors learning environments, emphasis
on kinaesthetic learning, free time for the students to play and think, open debate about the curriculum
itself between students and teachers, interdisciplinary units, high prioritization of art and display, and
longer chunks of time dedicated to each subject for depth. The interdisciplinary organization ensures that
“...timetabling is simpler and more flexible. There is more time for children to gain hands-on experiences,
have more problem-solving tasks and learn in depth” (Burgess, 10). The fourth grade class at one of these
schools was learning about the Tudors. In Technology, they studied Tudor furniture, in Geography, maps
of the explorers, in Art, portraits from the era, and in Science, Tudor food and scientific advances during
the era. Another school reveals that students effectively “...write their own programme of study and pose
the key questions to answer. Having established this they then devise the activities that will lead to
answering those questions” (Burgess, 14). In these ways, creativity can and should be applied throughout
our daily processes of school and work. Yet another example of this emerged in a public middle school in
Akron, Ohio that met their curriculum standards by requiring students to come up with solutions to
problems rather than giving them the exam material to memorize. The teachers at the school worked
together to come up with a project in which the fifth graders were asked to “...figure out how to reduce
the noise in the library. Its windows faced a public space and, even when closed, let through too much
noise. The students had four weeks to design proposals… Along the way, kids demonstrated the very
definition of creativity: alternating between divergent and convergent thinking, they arrived at original
and useful ideas. And they’d unwittingly mastered Ohio’s required fifth-grade curriculum—from

understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing” (Bronson and
Merryman, 6).
All of these curriculum improvements serve to cultivate the inner motivation of students by
involving them deeply in the topic as well as the process of their learning. If rewards are used at all, they
should be timed and randomized to place focus on the behavior; for example, rather than stating the
reward at the beginning of a project, a teacher would wait until the end and reward the group that put the
most effort into the process, thereby creating the best result (Shindler, 5). We described earlier the loss of
interest that we both experienced after entering the public education system; however, as both Burgess
and Shindler assert, we find that when we have teachers who foster our own engagement in the
curriculum, our desire to do our absolute best on a project increases greatly. In our AP Language class this
year, we have had opportunities that range from choosing a nonfiction book on any topic for an analysis
project to writing short humor pieces in groups and sharing them with the class. In our Research
Methodology class, we have been given the opportunity to lead discussions and even begin a school-wide
discussion on racism. When we are more involved in the process of our own learning, we are able to find
a passion within ourselves to create and engage.
In the summer of 2014, Montgomery County Public Schools spent fifteen million dollars on
Chromebook technology (Lewis). Spending such as this shows that our priorities desperately need
changing. We’re trying to reform our education system with technology, but this cannot address the real
problem, which began with the standards. Allocating this money towards teachers, resources, and working
on new curriculums that cover the material while engaging students in creative activities would allow for
smaller class sizes, improved teaching, more lab equipment and other resources, and field trips for greater
numbers of students.

The correlation between the standards movement and the loss of creativity is more than simply a
correlation. The policies implemented during the movement caused the formation of a test-based rather
than content-based curriculum, taking autonomy away from the teachers and erasing creativity from the
core of the system. We need reform that allows students of all ages to practice creative activities daily,
and there is an abundance of examples that demonstrate how to achieve this. Thousands of private schools
throughout the world, even some public schools like that of Akron, Ohio, and, most importantly, a small
number of teachers in public schools who put in immense amounts of effort to teach creatively exemplify
the new direction necessary. Creativity results in emotionally healthy, able, and engaged students, and we

have the ability to give that opportunity to millions. In The Creativity Crisis, Bronson and Merryman
write that creativity flourishes only in the space between anxiety and boredom. It’s time we made that
space possible.


Works Cited

Bronson, Po, and Ashley Merryman. "The Creativity Crisis." Newsweek. October 2010. Pp. 1-8.
Burgess, Tim. “Lifting the Lid on the Creative Curriculum.” National College for School
Leadership. 2007. Pp. 1-15.
Herman, Joan L., and Shari Golan. “Effects of Standardized Testing on Teachers and Learning—Another
Look.” Tech. No. 334. National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student
Testing. 1991. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.
Kamenetz, Anya. “What Schools Could Use Instead Of Standardized Tests.” nprEd. January 2015. Pp.
Kim, Kyung Hee. “The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores on the Torrance
Tests of Creative Thinking.” Creativity Research Journal, 23:4. 2011. Pp. 285-295.
Kohn, Alfie. “Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work.” Harvard Business Review. 1993. Pp. 1-6.
Lewis, Kevin. “Montgomery Co. Public Schools to spend $15M on 40K laptops, tablets.” July 2014.
N/A. “Statistics.” National Institute of Mental Health.
Nagel, David. “Report: Creativity Hindered in the Classroom by Testing, Mandates, Lack of Resources.”
THE Journal. 2013 1-6.
Robinson, Ken. “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” TED. February 2006. Web. 19:24
Shindler, John. “Transformative Classroom Management: Positive Strategies to Engage All Students and
Promote a Psychology of Success.” Allyn Bacon Publishers. 2008. Chapter 7.
Stuckey, Heather L. and Jeremy Nobel. “The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A
Review of Current Literature.” PubMed Central. February 2010. Pp. 1-11.
Tucker, Marc S. "Standards Movement in American Education - Governors Take the Initiative,
Standards-Driven Reform Models, The Rise of the Standards Movement."
Web. 10. Nov. 2015.
Walker, Tim. “The Testing Obsession and the Disappearing Curriculum.” September
2014. Pp. 1-7.