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 The other 70% must be informational text, which means everything from historical documents (um– why not read those in history classes?)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.
University of Oklahoma professor Laura Gibbs has given her permission to post her pointed observations
about the Common Core writing standards here:
COMMON CORE WRITING STANDARDS = BLAH BLAH BLAH
by Laura Gibbs
In light of the brouhaha about David Coleman, Common Core and informational reading, I thought I would see what I could find out.
I went to the language arts standards and, as always, I found the usual blah blah blah – http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards/english-language-arts-standards – but there is nothing that gives any clue about balance; if there is a hidden agenda to drive out fiction in favor of non-fiction, that is not clear from the standards. However, what is clear from the standards, in my opinion, is that they offer NOTHING of substance to really change how writing is being taught in this country.
As someone who teaches writing, esp. narrative writing, I find nothing here that makes me feel like students who go through this Common Core system will be any better prepared than the students I have now.
ADDENDUM: I did post about what I personally would prefer to see here: https://plus.google.com/111474406259561102151/posts/RfejMC8wH5A
Worse, reading through the standards makes it really hard for me to understand how and why people take this kind of thing seriously.
I’m a practical, problem-solving kind of person. I don’t see how these standards do anything practical here to help us in the problems that students face in their writing skills. Note the conscious use of the word SKILLS here –
I believe very much in the teaching of skills, but the blah-blah-blah of these standards does not give me a vocabulary of skills I can use to develop a curriculum and inspire my students to see themselves as skilled writers. Instead, I see here an insipid brew of gobbledy-gook that MASQUERADES as being a sequence of standards, but really – what is happening here between Grades 6 and 12, during six years of students’ lives as writers? I would really like to hear from any teachers out there who find the way these standards are written to be helpful in any way, shape or form in guiding a writing curriculum:
Here is the Grade 6 standard for narrative writing:
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
Grade 7: verbatim identical to Grade 6
Grade 8: verbatim identical to Grade 6
Grades 9-10: Now it says “well-chosen details” instead of “relevant descriptive details”… huh? Were they just embarrassed to keep copying and pasting from one grade to the next?
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
Grades 11-12: verbatim identical to Grades 9-10
It’s too tedious to really do this for all the substandards, but here’s just one example of a narrative writing sub-standard:
Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.
Grade 7: Oh look, now the conclusion “reflects on” the narration, instead of just following from it:
Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events.
Grade 8: Verbatim identical to Grade 7.
Grades 9-10: Oh look, now they have decided that we are going to study not “narrated experiences or events” but “what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative” – in other words, we will change one blah-blah-blah for another blah-blah-blah.
Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.
Grades 11-12: Verbatim identical to Grades 9-10.
Just to prove I am not being a Momus here, let’s take one more substandard:
Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.
Grade 7: verbatim identical to Grade 6
Grade 8: Oh look, now we will “capture the action” (I guess we were not capturing action before now):
Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.
Grades 9-10: Oh look, now instead of “relevant descriptive details” we have “telling details” (???), and now instead of “capture the action and convey experiences and events” we will “convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.” That is worse than no change at all – just one kind of blah-blah-blah replacing another kind of blah-blah-blah.
Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
Grades 11-12: verbatim identical to Grades 9-10.
Now, I personally find this kind of puffery to be a waste of time, but if we are going to engage in such puffery at least it should accomplish something, right?
But what this tells me is that teachers are going to be doing the same thing as they teach writing between Grades 6 and 12. Which is probably a good reason just to abolish the factory-based model of putting students in grades anyway, ha ha… but I suspect it is instead just a way for the textbook publishers to publish separate, expensive textbooks for every grade – even though the SO-CALLED “standards for narrative writing” in Grades 6-12 are not changing in any meaningful way from grade to grade.
Laura Gibbs (Ph.D., UC Berkeley) teaches mythology and folklore at the University of Oklahoma.