This is a guest post by Sari Levy who consults with education reform organizations, including Democrats for Education Reform, A+ Denver and the Colorado Legacy Foundation. Follow Sari on Twitter @saril78 and visit her blog. Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk has been popping up on my Facebook feed about once a week for five years. It’s called “Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity” and has been viewed 9,696,582 times. You’ve probably seen it. I’ve seen it twice. “It’s education that’s meant to take us into a future that we can’t grasp,” Sir Robinson says. “All kids have tremendous talents and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly. My contention is that creativity is as important as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.” Both times I watched the video, I dismissed Robinson’s point because after spending seven years working in education reform, I know how far behind U.S. students are academically. I don’t mean to dismiss creativity, but shouldn’t we nail reading, writing, science, math and history first — and worry about creativity later? After all, 90% of U.S. students (including myself) never even get to calculus in high school. Even our “best and brightest” are dead last (and second-to-dead-last) in math and physics compared to other developed countries. Then, last week I flew to New York to see a solo show that my college friend Max had created. It was jaw-dropping. He’s since been asked to do other shows in New Orleans and Amsterdam. He is starting to gain traction in the kind of career we tell most kids they’ll probably never have. Statistically true but dream-killing all the same. Max had been a very good artist when I met him at 17, and has become astoundingly good in the 15 years since then. I asked him if he’d been born with talent. “All kids are born artists,” he told me. “They usually just stop when they realize that what they’re drawing doesn’t actually look like the object in front of them. I was lucky that my dad encouraged me to keep drawing and helped me. Then I was able to go to a (private) arts high school. By the time I got to college, I’d already been drawing and painting for 14 years.” It occurred to me that it was a very unique set of circumstances that had allowed Max to follow his dream, that he’d had the kind of opportunities most of us didn’t. It occurred to me that it wasn’t fair. Maybe Sir Robinson has a point. In a strange coincidence, the day after I returned from New York, I got a call from Van Schoales, the Executive Director of A+ Denver. A+ is an education advocacy group chaired by Federico Pena. Traditionally, the group has focused on academic achievement. “I’d like to look at arts programs in Denver,” Van said. “Do you have time to help? No one has done this in a serious way. How many kids at Julliard and Rhode Island School of Design are coming from Denver? Let’s find out what opportunities (like Denver School of the Arts) are out there, who is getting in, and where those kids are going next? Are there places in Denver where students are learning to play in mariachi bands and create great short films? Where are they? How do people learn about them?” And so, over the next two months Van and I are going to talk with experts, visit schools, look at other cities, and read up on the literature. We want to continue this conversation where Sir Robinson left off: How can we give kids opportunities to live their dreams if those dreams are off the beaten path?