school district killing creativity

I need to self-regulate in a major way. I’ve become obsessed with finding our next home, less so about the actual homes and more with regard to the school districts. I’ve been comparing reading level test scores, student / teacher ratios, math scores, ethnic composition, state percentiles, total number of students. I’ve compared elementary schools, then the eventual middle schools and high schools. It makes me very anxious.

We’ve been looking at homes zoned for Jericho school district, where the kids are now, small schools with 7 students per teacher (though it certainly does not feel that way). These stats can all be gathered on the site: I get anxious at the idea of sending them to a new school district, all of us starting over, yet again. And I’m struggling with what makes a good school a good school. Test scores aren’t the full picture. I have to keep reminding myself of this.

Though, when I think of the bigger picture, I think small. Meaning, I keep returning to what I know. My graduating high school class had all of 98 people, maybe. 108? We were all together since kindergarten, with only one elementary school, one middle school, one high school. It was like private school. And it was a blessing, and somewhat of a curse. You knew who shit himself in kindergarten and thought twice about going to Prom with him. I didn’t love all my teachers, adored most of them, and I felt understood and heard there–not liked, but at least seen for my strengths and talents. Encouraged, pushed, encouraged some more. The teachers really cared.

Ken Robinson says it best: “creativity is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” I can’t wait for his new book to be released this May. Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life! We are educating people out of their creative capacity by teaching them not to guess without thinking, that they should want to be right. We teach that the “right” answer is better than coming up with the wrong one. And in teaching this, we also teach people to fear being wrong. You don’t come up with many new interesting creative ways of thinking if you fear being wrong. When they’re young enough, kids don’t fear this. Robinson is a wonderful speaker. I think his talk has put me at ease some because ultimately if I pay close enough attention to these beans, we can together explore what puts the color on their canvases.


In the meanwhile, I’m going to look at more houses now.



  1. As a teacher who also really likes Ken Robinson’s ideas on creativity, I think you’re on the right track. Step away from the charts and graphs for a moment! I am so frustrated by the approach to education that I am trapped in right now, where the only things that are valued are the quantifiable ones. Teachers who understand and hear you as a person? Doesn’t show up on our test scores, so not important. I also see the fear of failure every day and how it narrows my students’ willingness to try new things. This is especially true in my AP class, where the students only care about learning if it helps them pass the AP exam. If you’re happy in Jericho, I’d say stick with it and save plenty of time for unstructured, non-competitive creative activities.

  2. In my experience, one of the biggest determinants of the quality of a school is the collective involvement and support of the parents. I don’t mean helicopter parents who interfere. I mean parents who deeply care about the quality of the school, teachers, administration, not just for their kids but all the kids. We went to one above-average school that I was satisfied with. Moved about two miles to a different school and I couldn’t believe the difference. The two schools looked about the same on paper by objective measures but the new school had an amazing sense of community.

  3. I should probably read that book. My daughter is extremely creative and fun to be around, but is basically failing 6th grade math (and I’m a mathematicican)

    I don’t comment often but I wanted to speak up on behalf of bigger, more diverse schools. My kids go to school in our to a very urban, very mixed and quite large school district. Test scores aren’t what they are over the hill in the white suburbs. But, is all of education about conjugating verbs and solving for x? I don’t think so. My kids are learning to live in the real world, the one they’ll live in when they graduate.

    When my son was in kindergarten, he was telling me one of the teacher’s aides and I was trying to help him identify her. I asked if she was black. He said, “no, but she’s kind of brown.”

  4. I just wanted to reply to this to share the following: As someone who had her choice of any district in Nassau County, I considered not only how the school district stacked up “by the numbers” but also the atmosphere of the school and town.

    Yes, I want my children to go to a top school, but I also don’t want them surrounding by a homogeneous community of entitled, rich kids and/or vacuous, competitive parent. Yes, everyone *says* this is important to them as well, but often this issue gets a mere “nod” in its general direction. And no, one cannot escape this entirely in Nassau County. But…

    I am perennially grateful to be in a district below the “top 100” radar, but providing an education and overall experience superior to surrounding “top” districts (in my opinion).

    This is my long-winded way of suggesting that choosing based on school “scores” alone isn’t a good idea. But you know that already, I think.

  5. I have so many opinions about this especially since I work in education and we’re just off of a massive rally in Albany against high-stakes testing, teaching to the test, teacher evaluations and the general dismantling of public education. Actually the rally and the stuff leading up to it was why I asked what grade The Beans are in but then I totally didn’t follow up. Gah. Anyway, it’s a big problem and people in Albany – where these laws and regulations are coming from – are aware but they need to hear more from parents. The educators can’t do it alone.

  6. I went through school in a large district and graduated from a high school that was labeled a “drop out factory” but never realized it until I was in college and compared my experience to my peers. The college-bound kids were pretty separated from the rest, and I think I got a pretty great education. My classmates and I scored well on AP tests, and had some great teachers who gave us some pretty unique assignments that helped me solve problems and learn to work with people I didn’t like. When we were in 10th grade (the year of the BIG state test in TX) my teacher got permission from our principal to administer the previous year’s exit-level test to our class and if 100% passed it, we could skip the mindless worksheets and prep that would otherwise occupy our year. Thank god we all passed, or English class would have been hellishly boring instead of inspiring.

    My husband and I are looking to have a baby and move to a more permanent home, and the school district decision is so scary. I don’t want our hypothetical baby to go somewhere that requires them to have played club baseball since age 8 in order to make the JV team, or get pushed out of the top 10-20% of graduates because of an 88 in Calculus and non-AP classes like Art or Orchestra, which is a reality in some of the larger Dallas-area suburbs.

    Good luck in your decision! I guess the point of my (long) comment is that sometimes a school without perfect test scores won’t hurt two smart kids, and finding out the reputation of teachers is more indicative of the experience they’ll have.

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