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 The other 70% must be informational text, which means everything from historical documents (um– why not read those in history classes?)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.
There’s a fine line between watching a state leader hold multiple roles in business and politics that are a bit too close for comfort, and having a leader hold multiple roles that clearly create unwarranted favoritism –or even corruption.
I don’t know exactly where this line falls.
But I’ve noticed an uncomfortable “two-hats-wearing” pattern with some businesspeople-turned-politicians. And it’s harming the process of proper vetting, voice and vote of “We, the People.” The people’s debate never takes place. The business-side-of-education “experts” rise to positions of political authority and they then make the calls. I am not comfortable with it.
Two examples: Todd Huston of Indiana and Aaron Osmond of Utah– both are Republicans and both are youngish family guys, seeminlgy “nice guys”.
But each is employed by education-product sales companies while also serving in the state legislature in positions that influence decisions about which educational products will be needed, and will be purchased, using state tax dollars.
Huston works for the College Board, whose president financially contributed to his political campaign. Osmond works for Certiport-Pearson which has huge contracts with the state, and would probably have more if Osmond’s recent bill had passed.
The president of the College Board, David Coleman, recently gave Todd Huston a large (his second largest) campaign contribution, of $10,000. Other campaign contributers included Stand for Children, another controversial political group. David Coleman also hired Huston to be Senior Vice President of the College Board.
(Remember: prior to running the College Board, you will recall, Coleman served as chief architect of the ELA portion of the Common Core Standards. Coleman’s now working to alter the SAT to match his creation, the Common Core. Surely Huston has a role to play in that. David Coleman, Todd Huston and Aaron Osmond, are each influencing governmental education policy despite the fact that they work for these educational business companies.)
Will we file this information under “Things that must be exposed and changed” or just “Things that make you go hmmm”?
It’s more than corporate aggression that comes into play. The organizations (Pearson, and now Coleman’s version of the College Board) hold extreme philosophical positions that many are uncomfortable with.
For example, Pearson pushes the idea of having not just every state, but every country using the exact same educational standards, and Pearson pushes public-private-partnerships, which means having business and government collude over education policy and funding. These ideas are promoted in the very public speeches of Pearson’s CEA, Sir Michael Barber.
Meanwhile, Coleman, the College Board president, pushes for the minimizing of classic literature and mocks narrative writing– and he doesn’t do it politely.
These people are not educators. They are businessmen– setting education policy.
I remember watching Senator Osmond, in a Senate Education Committee meeting last summer when Ted Rebarber and Jim Stergios testified that Common Core was set to harm Utah education. Senator Osmond was visibly agitated by their testimonies, and said that “the train had left the station” concerning Common Core, and he said that people should stop talking about the problems with Common Core.
His company sells Common Core implementation products. It wouldn’t do for him to side with Rebarber and Stergios, would it?
This two-hat wearing circumvents the American process of representative government. We trust our leaders to be objective enough to weigh options openmindedly. Someone whose paycheck comes from education technology and testing can not possibly be objective. Osmond, Huston and others in similar career paths should not be in roles of education policy making over a state.
We should question the financial and philosophical motivations of our education leaders. We should not allow the niceness of these individuals to wilt our resolve to make sure we are doing what is actually right for our children and not harming our educational system irreparably.