From Common Core to College Board

After helping write English Language Arts standards that will be used in 46 Common Core states, David Coleman is going to head College Board, which controls SAT and AP exams. A 42-year-old former McKinsey consultant (and liberal arts-loving Rhodes Scholar), Coleman is The Schoolmaster, writes Dana Goldstein as part of The Atlantic‘s excellent education report.

“I’m scared of rewarding bullshit,” Coleman told Goldstein. “I don’t think it’s costless at all.”

By bullshit, Coleman means the sort of watered-down curriculum that has become the norm in many American classrooms. For nearly two centuries, the United States resisted the idea, generally accepted abroad, that all students should share a certain body of knowledge and develop a specific set of skills. The ethos of local control is so ingrained in the American school system—and rifts over culture-war land mines such as teaching evolutionary theory are so deep—that even when the country began to slip in international academic rankings, in the 1980s, Congress could not agree on national curriculum standards.

As a result, states and school districts were largely left to their own devices, and test-makers were hesitant to ask questions about actual content. Education schools, meanwhile, were exposing several generations of English teachers to the ideas of progressive theorists like Lisa Delpit and Paulo Freire, who argued that the best way to empower children and build literacy skills—especially for students from poor or racially marginalized households—was to assign them books featuring characters similar to themselves, and to encourage them to write freely about their own lives.

Coleman wants students to read challenging materials and learn to answer questions by citing the text, not chatting about their personal experiences. (ACT’s report on building a content-rich curriculum.) His expectations are high. 

But Common Core’s “career ready” is exactly like “college ready,” says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. A “one size fits all” college-prep curriculum will leave behind many students who might be motivated by a career track, Carnevale argues.

When he takes over at College Board, Coleman plans to change the SAT from an aptitude test to a test of knowledge linked to Common Core Standards. He hopes to level the playing field for diligent, low-income students. (Good luck with that.)

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  1. “Coleman wants students to read challenging materials and learn to answer questions by citing the text, not chatting about their personal experiences.”

    Someone should inform Coleman that reading comprehension is highly “g-loaded”, and that most people do not have the intelligence to understand books that are written at the college level, as Charles Murray explained in “Real Education”.

  2. J. D. Salinger says:

    And perhaps you should read E.D. Hirsch’s “The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them”, particularly the part about how recruits in the service who came from NY State were scoring higher on their IQ tests than those from other states–and how NY State had a very content rich curriculum.

  3. Florida resident says:

    Dear J. D. Salinger !

    Thank you for your reaction.
    I have actully bought about 5 books by Hirsch and his team, and read about 3 of them (about 4 years ago.)
    By my recollections, those are OK books, but too much of the “Blank Slate” flavor for my taste.
    Sure, I will be happy if my grandkids will digest the material suggested by Hirsch at corresponding age.
    Will they be able to do that, I do not know yet.

    With respectful greetings, your F. r.

  4. I forwarded this article to Dr. Sandra Stotsky:


    “Dr. Sandra Stotsky served on the National Validation Committee for the Common Core State Systemic Initiative and on the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, co-authoring its final report as well as two of its task group reports. She also served on the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. She was Senior Associate Commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education and a research associate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, directing an institute on civic education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She served as editor of Research in the Teaching of English, the research journal sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English. She has taught elementary school, French and German at the high school level, and graduate courses in reading, children’s literature, writing pedagogy, and English language arts standards.

    When Dr. Sandra Stotsky served on the CCSS Validation Committee, she refused to sign off on the standards because they were far from adequate.”

    Dr. Stotsky tried to comment on this site but for whatever reason, it would not post. I obtained her permission to post her response on “From Common Core to College Board”:

    “Tried to leave a message and got back Fatal Memory. Someone else can let Joanne Jacobs know that it is surprising that no one has commented on Dana Goldstein’s poor research skills (she didn’t find all the criticism of Common Core’s ELA standards I’ve written for 3 years) and on her failure to look at the standards themselves to see if they actually require what Coleman told her. He speaks with forked tongue on all occasions and she’s only one of the many reporters who believe everything they are told by him–and Checker.”