Top Ten Scariest People in Education Reform: # 9 – David Coleman   70 comments

David Coleman:  Bye Bye, Classics

Countdown # 9

This is the second in a countdown series of introductions, a list of the top ten scariest people leading American education reform.  (#10 on the list is posted here.)

David Coleman, lead “architect” for the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the Common Core, is not an educator, but a businessman.  Recently promoted to president of the College Board, he has promised to align the SAT with the Common Core that he built.  He plotted education for K-12 students, and now he’s plotting it for postsecondary students, too.

How can a one-size-fits-all alignment make sense for all students –whether bound for a minimum wage job, a two-year college or the top university in the world– prepare each using a one-size-fits-all Common Core program?  Either the lower-level students are to be pushed beyond reasonable expectations, or the higher level students are to be dumbed down.  Or both.

Coleman is an outspoken antagonist to narrative writing and is no fan of classic literature, so he singlehandedly slashed most of it from the education most children in America will know, either already –or soon.  Ask your kids, but remember, Common Core testing begins in 2014, so the intense pressure for teachers to conform to Common Core is yet to be fully felt.

What did Coleman do to Language Arts? He mandated that dreary informational text, not beautiful, classic literature, is to be the main emphasis in English classes, incrementally worsening as students get older.

What it looks like:  little children in an ELA classroom may read no more than 50% classic literature. High school seniors may only read 30% classic literature. The other 70% must be informational text, which means everything from historical documents (um– why not read those in history classes?)  to insulation installation manuals,  presidential executive orders, environmental programming, and federal reserve documents.  These are actually on the recommended reading  list.

Another weird twist to Coleman’s Common Core is that he says students must “stay within the four corners of the text” as if that were possible.  Context is not to be part of a discussion?  Outside experience is not to be compared to the informational text?  For a thorough, and eloquent, explanation of what has happened to English Language Arts because of Coleman’s influence, please read “Speaking Back to the Common Core” by Professor Thomas Newkirk of the University of New Hampshire.

What Coleman does not understand (–hmmm, maybe actual English teachers should have been invited to those closed-door meetings–) is that narrative is so much more than a style of writing.

Narrative isn’t just using the “I” word.  It’s more than “What I Did Last Summer.”

Narrative is a pattern woven (often unconsciously) into every style of memorable writing, whether argumentative, persuasive, expository, etc.  The best informational texts are narratively satisfying.

Coleman’s knocking down of narrative writing and slashing of it from academic standards is both ignorant and, to English teachers and astute kids, really confusing. For a funny, punchy review of the muddly ELA writing standards, read Professor Laura Gibbs’ “Inspid Brew of Gobbledygook”.

David Coleman is largely ignorant in the field of writing language arts standards.  One member of the official Common Core validation committee, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, pointed this out and refused to sign off on the validity of the Common Core standards.

And David Coleman is not even nice, as you’ll see from the video linked here, where he mocks student narrative and uses the “sh–” word in a professional development seminar for teachers.

Lastly, Coleman’s large financial contribution to the campaign of  Education Committee Senator Todd Huston (Indiana) whom Coleman hired for the College Board after his election, forms another branch of reasons that I can not trust this man to make wise decisions affecting children.


70 responses to “Top Ten Scariest People in Education Reform: # 9 – David Coleman

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  1. He also believes in data mining students and allowing big Ed firms to profit. “After college he did consulting work with the McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting company. He then developed the Grow Network which worked to acquire education performance data and deliver this data to parents. He sold this company to the McGraw-Hill company, and he left the company in 2007. Thereupon, he created Student Achievement.[4]” from Wikipedia

  2. “Today The Atlantic published my profile of David Coleman, the MicKinsey consultant turned education entrepreneur who is one of the school reform movement’s most idealistic believers in the power of the traditional liberals arts as a social justice tool.”

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  6. Coleman also disregards the past forty years of research in literacy. He insists that providing background information to students, giving a purpose for reading, introducing vocabulary, and any attempt to personalize the text to “hook” student engagement is a waste of time. In his model of what the CCSS calls “close reading,” the teacher becomes the font of all knowledge and the students are made to felt dumb and inadequate. I’m amazed how the entire educational establishment has been bullied into silence by this crackpot and his big money backers.

    • I disagree with the assertion that the close reading strategies pushed by CC standards in ELA create a “fount” teacher. In fact, I think that the CCSS requires students to do the thinking and the educator to be a facilitator to independent learning. Students will naturally connect the text/make sense/derive meaning based on their own experiences. The text to self connections are inherent in most students. Context is not void in the ELA standards, it just not the first step. because we have such a wide variety of students in the US, it is important that we teach close reading strategies. Every student has access to the text; but not every student has access to the same level of experiences. So in a sense, the close reading strategies are trying to promote independent analysis while taking into account the equity and validity of assessments by basing all questions on what the students all have in common: the text.
      I teach in KY. We adopted and implemented the CCSS for Math and Reading along with full assessment three years ago. It was a rocky transition, but I will say that all teachers above grade 4 have started to see a massive difference in the quality of student created by our school system. I don’t know enough about Coleman to comment on the findings of this article, but I know enough about the instructional shifts necessary to accommodate the CCSS to confidently say that many comments here and in the original article come from a place of fear of the unknown and are somewhat unfounded.

      • Admiring –or criticizing– Coleman’s Common Core “close reading strategies” seems, in the long term, extremely pointless to me. At least, it’s only temporarily meaningful. It’s like admiring –or criticizing– the paintings on the walls of the Titanic. Who cares? The ship’s foundation is disasterous and doomed.

        And why? Because the Common Core Initiative is SO MUCH bigger and more powerful than the little set of printed standards themselves, which can and will change– (not by your will or mine, but by the will of the non-elected, non-transparent groups who developed and copyrighted them, CCSSO and NGA).

        The issue at the foundation is that the governance of our people is being altered by Common Core.

        No longer can school boards analyze and discern what is best for the students in that state or district. It’s all standardized by the NGA/CCSSO. It’s standardization of the scariest sort, cemented by the tests and the data collection systems that will control and coerce teachers and students increasingly as technological and professional implementation gets more and more entrenched.

        There are often things to admire with efficiency and national standardization. But it’s a cheap win when we lose the power to reverse it. And we have.

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  14. How have we allowed this to happen? Why is big business running our schools? Are the parents and teachers who want to teach both asleep? How can we stop this?

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  20. Christel, what a great site you and your friends have! I’m looking around and see that you folks know what you’re talking about. I hope that this essay on how public education has been hijacked over 20+ years now gets a good look over by you. And I hope that you share it with folks who really care about quality education. Cheers! – Luis

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  35. It up to us as teachers to stand up. Our founders pledged their life.liberty, and sacred honor, when they signed the Declaration of Independence. If we get to the point that our life or liberty is in danger we have already allowed it to go to far. At this point all you need to do is put your annual rating to the test. Non tenured teachers will just have to do their best against this attack on education, but those of us with tenure must stand up. I am trying hard to earn as low a rating as possible, to be as ineffective as possible against these standards. Unfortunately, as bad as the standards are, as bad as Danielson is, good teaching is good teaching. The worst thing we can do is to stop doing our best to teach children. We must challenge every inane edict that comes down the pipe. Unfortunately,at least in NYC the administrators are in a bind. They have to show that they have helped me to develop, or their rating suffers, and then the schools ratings suffer, and then our ability to attract students suffers, and we become a dumping ground. They are forced, in effect, to rate us all well, the few truly bad teacher as well as those willing to stand up against tyranny. We must fight.

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  44. Excellent article. I’m dealing with a few of these issues
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  46. Sorry, but in general I agree with the new ELA standards … and I’m a guy who focuses on Classics! (See my link.) Don’t get me wrong: AP English Literature & Composition should never disappear. And English lit, not English “language,” is a Subject Test.

    But there needs to be more emphasis on non-fiction. One reason: There’s simply too much junk on the web and students need to learn how to critically analyze it.

    In days past, this wasn’t an issue. But now it is. With extreme (extremist?) points from Fox and MSNBC, and drivel from CNN, students really need to learn how to analyze, to critically analyze, non-fiction. And they have to learn how to communicate in the “real world,” a world where non-fiction dominates. After all, how many of us intentionally write fiction as part of our work-related writing?

    We need to be more responsive to the needs of the many. And this means non-fiction. I’d even go a step further and argue that non-fiction writing has been dumb downed. How many 4,000 word non-fiction essays do you see these days? Only kids in IB Diploma programs is my guess. (Or those writing for publication in TCR.)

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  55. This guys a idiot. Common core is the downfall of american education. Its a cheap turn over to push students through so teachers don’t have to pay attention on individual levels. I don’t let my kids do it. They still do work like I did in school and when the teachers raise hell they answer to me. I’m DAD !!! Not a three piece suit dumbing our kids down!!!

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  57. Reblogged this on Chastisement 2014.

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  66. Where’s the number one and number two scariest people in educational reform can someone let me know I can’t find that anywhere I’ve looked for hours???

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