Last week saw the release of Sir Ken Robinson's latest book, "Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education." In it, Robinson, best known for his viral 2006 TED Talk, "How School Kill Creativity," urges schools to color outside the lines, detailing how he sees standardization killing creativity and student achievement. Instead of focusing on tests and rote memorization, he recommends personalized learning that is organic and molded after the specific interests and needs of students.
In the book, Robinson profiles the Boston Arts Academy, an inner-city school where 94% of students are accepted to college — a pretty remarkable number. According to Robinson, Boston Arts Academy is able to achieve these numbers not because of test scores or academic drills, but rather because of its broad curriculum and flexibility. Educators at the school have the freedom to engage students and adapt lessons to meet their interests.
Boston Arts Academy isn't alone when it comes to creative approaches to education, either. Here are three other schools coloring outside of the lines and still meeting rigorous benchmarks.
The Grace Lee Boggs School - Detroit, MI
A community-based charter school opened in 2013, the Grace Lee Boggs School is founded on the lessons and teaching of political activists and writers Grace Lee Boggs and Jimmy Boggs. With their theories in mind, the school has embraced a place-based education (PBE) approach, making "local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences" the foundations for all traditional studies of reading, math, social studies, science, etc.
In this type of environment, students are encouraged to actively participate and be a part of their community, with learning coming through service projects. Students at the school, which currently supports grades pre-K-5, can be found gardening or conversing about critical thinking, or the evidence they've found to support the theme of a story they read or a video they watched. The school is also proud of its collaboration with author David Eggers on a book of the student's writing, illustrated by the author.
It's not just the way that students are educated that is unique. Unlike other charter schools, the district's educators are unionized members of the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (MI ACTS)/AFT/AFL-CIO, a move that indicates its administrators' desire for teacher voice and input.
Cristo Rey Columbus High School - Columbus, OH
Featured by The Atlantic in a fall article about creative ways to educate low-income students, Cristo Rey Columbus High School is one of 28 in a network of Cristo Rey Schools nationwide. While we're calling out the Columbus campus, all of the schools have been praised for debunking the common education argument that poverty holds low-income students back. Instead of focusing solely on standards and traditional modes of learning, the Cristo Rey network is known for putting students out in the workforce.
Through the Professional Work Study Program, students are placed in a real work environment five days a month. This process isn't only informative for students, who get hands-on experience in fields they are interested in, but it allows them to earn a little less than $7,000 a year, which goes toward tuition. Why do they need the funds? Well, the school likes to put $18,000 into each student when starting up the school. A spectacular number, compared to many states. (For example, the average per pupil funding in Ohio is between $8,000-10,000.)
So how does this model pay off? The network had a 100% college acceptance rate in 2014. That's nearly double the average rate of students in parallel socio-economic positions. Since 2006, 74 Cristo Rey alums have enrolled in the prestigious Georgetown University, and while it may be taking some longer than others to graduate, none have reportedly dropped out thus far.
NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies - New York, NY
The NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies does just what its name implies, supporting the intermingling of students working together. Most importantly, the people behind the school feel strongly about taking the time to focus on social and emotional learning and the needs of students.
In 2011, the Manhattan-based school was lauded for its bold participation in New York's iZone project (the "i" stands for innovation), which asked schools to think outside of the box and actually veer away from the standard rules binding education. At the time, the school's principal, Brooke Jackson, told BBC News about the importance of experimental innovative practices coupled with schools not working in isolation.
"We have students who are ready for graduate level work now - and we have students who will not make progress unless they're in a three to one staff situation," she told BBC News. "Having them in a class of 30 is not going to get results." With this in mind, the school operates more like a college campus, with some classes working as big lectures and others pared down to more intimate groupings.
Would you like to see more education news like this in your inbox on a daily basis? Subscribe to our Education Dive email newsletter! You may also want to read Education Dive's look at 4 tools and resources helping autistic students navigate K-12.