The move to “create” accountability in the educational system has backfired. The push by lawmakers and business leaders to turn our public education system into something that resembles an industrial assembly line has not only left children behind, but has essentially destroyed the ability of teachers to teach creatively.

Standardizing education was never a good idea. Of course, there are basic standards that every child should master, but we’ve gone way beyond that. Standardizing works when producing washing machines or cars. However, human beings are all different.

We have different learning styles and come from different backgrounds. Because of that, there is no common baseline from which to start. In industry, defective materials are discarded and only the best are used to manufacture a product. We can’t discard our students because they learn differently or are traumatized. The factors that affect how they learn are beyond the control of the teacher, yet the system penalizes teachers.

Teachers are different, too. They have different perspectives and teaching styles. Using business standards, therefore, to measure productivity and progress isn’t applicable. The intense pressure put on educators has proved to be devastating for public education, for our children, and for our future.

Certainly, there have been some benefits. Teachers are able to use data to more accurately pinpoint areas of student need. However, when collecting and analyzing the data becomes the focus, rather than actually helping a child to learn, we have lost our way.

For the most part, standardization removes creativity. There is a model, it is copied, and you continue to produce it. Teachers must have the ability to deviate from the model. They must have the creativity to effectively reach the students across the spectrum- from those who need more help to those who need less help. Administrators must support them to ensure that students succeed.

After years of “No Child Left Behind,” we find that we are still “leaving” children behind. In addition, our teachers are leaving. We’ve snuffed out the light of creativity in our students and teachers.

Students educated under “No Child Left Behind” are more afraid to take chances. They don’t want to deviate from the norm. Students were once encouraged to write creatively and were given credit for a creative method of solving a math problem. They must now follow a prescribed method. These students are now becoming teachers. They have no clue how to actually teach. They continue to follow the guide, prepare students for tests, and check off the boxes.

Change must come. We are just starting to remove some standardized tests. States are beginning to separate teacher evaluations from student test scores. To help these young professionals actually learn how to teach will come at a great cost and take many hours of professional development and retraining. Many will resist and leave the profession because they have been raised through the system that provided a “safe” template to follow.

Administrators must also be retrained on how to evaluate teachers who actually teach. They, too, have been given checklists that assess if a teacher is checking off the boxes.

We see the loss of creativity, in our schools, and as a result, in our society. Movies, TV shows, clothing styles, and even music are mostly remakes of what has been done before. We see sequels or recreations from the past rather than something new and unique. Are we returning to creativity of the past because we are no longer encouraged to think differently or to explore new ideas?

We must reverse the damage and bring creativity back into the classroom and into our lives.

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Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator and Culpeper County

School Board member.

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