Tag Archives: David Coleman

David Coleman, the Common Core, the “Redesigned” SAT and Growing Public Angst: Is the Testing Craze Ebbing?

Every teacher in American is engaged in the Common Core, how many have heard of the architect of the Common Core – David Coleman?

In a lengthy article in The Atlantic Dana Goldstein describes the architect,

David Coleman is an idealistic, poetry-loving, controversy-stoking Rhodes Scholar and a former McKinsey consultant who has determined, more than almost anyone else, what kids learn in American schools.

I first heard Coleman in April, 2011, I was sitting with a network, thirty or so principals and staff watching a telecast of what has become the iconic Coleman speech. (Read transcript of the Albany speech here).

Coleman strutted back and forth across a stage laying out in detail the elements of the Common Core, to be honest my attention was beginning to wane; there was a certain smugness about Coleman, and, maybe I knew too much about his past. He had created the “Grow Report,” one of the first data tools to assess student/school progress; it was widely adopted by school districts and Coleman sold the company for mega-bucks. After attending PS 41, IS70 and Stuyvesant High School he graduated to Yale, Oxford and Cambridge and according to his bio intended to become a high school teacher, instead, he became an entrepreneur.

As my mind was wandering I was jolted upright, Coleman told us,

“…the most popular form of writing in American high schools today …it is personal writing. It is either the exposition of a personal opinion, or, it is the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem … as you grow up in this world you realize that people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.”

It was crass, intended to surprise, and wrong. Yes, employers seek employees with literacy and numeracy skills, they also tell us, as does Nobel Prize winner James Heckman, that it is the non-cognitive skills that employers find most important.

While forty-five states may have adopted the Common Core the debate continues and over the last week Marc Tucker, Anthony Cody, Diane Ravitch and Yong Zhao continued to debate over accountability and testing, debating the Common Core.

A few years ago Coleman moved from the Common Core to the College Board with the goal of redesigning both the SAT and the Advanced Placement exams – to make the exams congruent with the Common Core.

The SAT folks are on the road drumming up support for the new SAT – due out in 2015-2016. At the September 15th NYS Regents meeting a team from the SAT gave the Regents a preview of the new test. The “Redesigned SAT,” as it is called by the College Board is totally different from the current SAT, and, incredibly complex.

Try a few questions from the “Redesigned SAT:” http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2014/September2014/RedesignedSATCollegeBoardPresentation.pdf)

Goldstein tells us Coleman,

… hopes to effect change from the top down, by shifting what is expected of students applying to college and, he hopes, by increasing the number of students who apply in the first place. Coleman’s most radical idea is to redesign the SAT, transforming it from an aptitude test intended to control for varying levels of school quality, to a knowledge test aligned with the Common Core. He describes this change as a way to put applicants on an equal playing field, a message to “poor children and all children that their finest practice will be rewarded.”

To think that an extremely difficult test is going to change the face of American education is both foolish and arrogant.

… the SAT is unlikely to close the large test-score gap between affluent and poor students. “It’s hard to use the SAT as a driver of social justice, because tests tend to reproduce, not upend, social hierarchies,” says Nicholas Lemann, the author of The Big Test, a history of the SAT, … “Everybody is always looking for the test on which people from different races and classes do the same, but it doesn’t exist.”

If Coleman’s College Board really wants to prevent high-school students from dropping out—a focus of the organization’s latest advocacy campaign—it ought to develop an occupationally focused corollary to its Advanced Placement program, [Anthony] Carnevale suggests: not “Math for Harvard” but “Math for Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning.”

Coleman’s problems are not new, the SAT is no longer the college gatekeeper, with each year fewer and fewer students take the SAT, the reductions by state have been drastic. (Read state-by-state data here)

Coupled with fewer test takers is the “test optional” movement. More and more colleges are either giving applicants the option of not submitting SAT grades or have abandoned the SAT totally. A recent study compares students accepted through the SAT process (“submitters”) and students without the SAT (“nonsubmitters”).

… there was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test “submitters” and “nonsubmitters.” Just 0.05 percent of a GPA point separated the students who submitted their scores to admissions offices and those who did not. And college graduation rates for “nonsubmitters” were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores.

The revolution that rolled over New York State over the results of the Common Core state tests will be dwarfed by the tsunami of parent anger if hordes of students “fail” the redesigned SAT. As the SAT team projected “old” SAT questions and “new” SAT questions eyes rolled. The room was packed with principals and superintendents and scores of people with PhDs after their names. Had we all suddenly undergone a plague of “dumbness” or is it the new SAT?

How many thousands of dollars in tutoring fees will parents have to spend to prepare their urchins? And, how about the kids who can’t afford $100 an hour tutors? The current yawning achievement gap will become a chasm.

Regent Tallon is fond of referring to the “folks cross the street,” on the other side of Washington Avenue, where the legislative and the executive branches of state government are housed. As parents railed against the state tests legislators and the governor squirmed, the public’s angst was directed at government officials who have to stand for election every two years.

As College Board revenue shrinks and colleges and state governments retreat the overseers of the SAT will be looking at the bottom line.

One of the lessons of history is that reforms imposed from above without buy-in from below are doomed and ignoring history has dire consequences.

Perhaps David Coleman should consider his original career choice – a high school teacher.

The Common Core, the New Tests and Raising the Bar: Can an Evangelical Commissioner Convert the Masses?

A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.” Mark Twain

The scores are out!!

The State Ed crowd has been whispering the scores from a mountaintop for months … preparing the masses for scores that would decline by 30% … well, not really.

The scores reflect a different examination based on different standards – comparing last year to this year is comparing “apples to oranges.”

A summary of the test results, as well as individual school and district results, are available at:

If this stuff turns you on – see the Methodological Summary – External Benchmark Studies Summary: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/assessment/reports/summary38externalbenchmarkstudies.pdf

The “quick and dirty” results:

• 31.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 31% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• The ELA proficiency results for race/ethnicity groups across grades 3-8 reveal the persistence of the achievement gap: only 16.1% of African-American students and 17.7% of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard
• 3.2% of English Language Learners (ELLs) in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.8% of ELLs met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
5% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 7% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
Across the Big 5 city school districts, a smaller percentage of students met or exceeded the ELA and math proficiency standards than in the rest of the state:
• In Buffalo, 11.5% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.6% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Yonkers, 16.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 14.5% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In New York City, 26.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 29.6% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Rochester, 5.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 5% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Syracuse, 8.7% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 6.9% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard

An acquaintance of mine is an evangelical minister – he travels around the country preaching the gospel, his purpose in life is to save souls. We enjoy exchanging views – this cynical New York agnostic and the dedicated Southerner traveling the nation. I asked him to read, Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2005), and asked since the New Testament was written by many unknown contributors and has undergone change after change how could you really know what Jesus wrote or said? My friend responded, with a smile, “Faith.”

I feel the same way about John King – he is an evangelical preacher of the Common Core, and, yes, there may be many flaws, he has “faith” that the Common Core is the gospel.

The fallacy is that “faith” is not sufficient.

About twenty years ago a new wave of standards swept across the city, standards are learning expectations, for each unit and lesson teachers were expected to write expectations in a “Students Will Be Able To,” (SWBAT) format.


* Students will be able to identify geometric shapes.
* Students will be able to add single digit numbers
* Students will write a five sentence paragraph describing a science experiment
* Students will be able to write an evidence-based essay explaining the causes of World War One
* Students will be able to write a persuasive essay, using the works Friedrich Nietzsche and other philosophers, supporting or opposing the statement, “God is dead.”

Superintendents and principals required teachers to attach appropriate letters/numbers to each unit and lesson plan listing the specific standard.

Some teachers loved the new standards approach, others hated the standards, and with time the latest “new thing” faded away.

The phase out of the Regents Competency Exams (RCT) and the phase in of the Regents-only diploma dominated the educational air in the late nineties.

The Common Core is the latest “new thing.” To put it as simply as possible David Coleman convinced the National Governor’s Association to develop a set of new standards based on college and readiness – what do kids need to succeed in college and plan backwards to kindergarten – take a look at the English Language Arts Literacy Standards here

An example of a 6th grade writing standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.2a Introduce a topic; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

The teacher’s job is incorporating the standard into his/her lesson, and, the April ELA test will ask questions to “test” the student’s acquisition of the standard.

The State crew decided to reduce the “grades” on the new Common Core standards test by 30% – remember that cut scores are established by human beings and based on subjective judgments. In spite of a lengthy explanation of the process by Regents Research Fund fellow Kristen Huff, strangely, the names of the “educators” who reviewed and determined the “level of difficulty” of each question were not released. (Read an account from “inside the room” here.

In reply to a reporter question concerning the readiness of teachers King responded that the State had spent at least $1.5 billion to prepare teachers.

In a New York Daily News op ed UFT President Mulgrew wrote,

While teachers — many of whom helped create the new Common Core — support the new standards, the decision by the state and the city to rush them through has made the situation much worse. The lack of a thorough new curriculum that teachers could use to create lessons matched to the Common Core has meant that children were far less prepared.

A core question: how is the State measuring the effectiveness of the teacher/supervisor training? If the students scored in the 30% range isn’t that “evidence” that the preparation of teachers was insufficient?

The problem with the evangelical commissioner is that rather than “converting” skeptics he is treating them as “heretics.” The last time I looked the Crusades were not successful.

Phasing in the Common Core, working with unions and teachers, building support both from within and without, instead schools have the feeling that the tests are punitive.

There is a wealth of research on personal and organization change: two of the key concepts,

* Participation reduces resistance, and
* Change is viewed as punishment

The Common Core with appropriate curriculum and a collaborative process of including teachers, a school-wide discussion of teaching and learning, always a good idea … will the Common Core prepare a new generation of college and career ready students, probably not.

You cannot separate cognitive skills (reading, writing math, etc.) from non-cognitive skills, Paul Tough is right,

noncognitive skills, like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence, are more crucial than sheer brainpower to achieving success.

How about highly qualified chancellors and superintendents and school leaders guiding teachers to improve instructional practice in a collaborative setting? Nah!! Can’t sell enough stuff.

Brownsville and Manhattan: A Tale of Two Cities, Thirty Minutes and a Continent Apart

The early morning mist shrouded the East River bridges as I pedaled along the riverside bike-jogging path. I cruised past the tracks and ball fields, kids with private school uniforms were running sprints. Asian older folk were engaged in yoga under the Manhattan Bridge, the fisherman were casting for whatever fish ply the murky waters and as I approached the Battery the ferries dumped boatload after boatload from Brooklyn onto the shores of Manhattan. In the Union Square Farmers’ Market chefs clad in their whites perused the produce plucked from the vines hours before and fish fresh from the briny deep. I fill my backpack and pass shiny new buildings where million dollar plus condos are the norm. The new bike-share racks are already filled with brightly colored two-wheelers.

Life is good in Manhattan.

Brownsville is a half hour drive from the glittering streets of Manhattan. Once the landing place for immigrants moving out of the Lower East Side, the streets were packed with kids, the cacophony of languages and the aroma of ethnic cooking. In the postwar years the attraction of the suburbs drew immigrants and their children to Long Island and the migration out of the South changed the neighborhood from Southern and Eastern Europeans to Afro-Americans with roots in the South.

Fiscal crisis after crisis battered the city, housing deteriorated, schools were packed, and slowly jobs began to migrate around the world. The crack epidemic devastated neighborhoods, the “Bronx burned,” and other neighborhood suffered the same fate.

Finally, in the nineties Brownsville started to recover – new housing, the streets were cleaned up, small business began to return, schools were getting better – and “bubble burst.”

The recession of 2008 was a depression for the poorest neighborhoods – foreclosures, unemployment sky rocketed and the hardscrabble communities in the city slid back in the depths of despair.

We wove our way through Brownsville, the streets were virtually deserted, boarded up and abandoned buildings, empty rubble-filled lots, and an eerily silent.

A kid wearing a hoodie was slowly cruising down the street on a very nice bike.

“Wait till he passes,” said my passenger, a long time Brownsville educator, “… these days you gotta be careful. He may be a gang kid patrolling his turf.”

My educator passenger tells me, “During the crack years the gangs were highly organized and they battled over business, now there are cliques within gangs, crips fight crips, bloods fight bloods, teenagers, young teenagers, fight over turf, guns are commonplace, a sign of pride and importance, every kid needs a cell phone, the fights, the violence jumps out of a Facebook post or a video clip, parents and grandparents have gang connections. This neighborhood has a lot more in common with Afghanistan than Manhattan.”

“We used be a school district with a superintendent, we met with teachers and supervisors from neighboring schools, now, we’re in different networks, I never meet my counterpart two blocks away. The charter schools snatch up the families with social capital and chase away the kids who aren’t making it. We get a steady flow of charter school pushouts.”

Sadly, the range of city social services are fragmented, programs come and go, a phone call from a city agency, meetings, more meetings, planning sessions, a program begins with little support, stumbles and fades away. City agencies rarely coordinate services; the only constant partner is the local police precinct.

A frustrated principal told me he challenged a Tweed bureaucrat, “Spend a week in our school, walk the walk instead of telling us what will work, show us,”

He agreed to spend three days in the school.

“It’s a five block walk from the subway, is it safe?” asked the Tweed resident.

The principal jokingly responded, “Just wear the right gang flags – no one will bother you.”

The importantish Tweed apparachnick just couldn’t find the time.

Will the new mayor acknowledge that the Brownsvilles of the city exist?

The teacher union emphasis on community schools, clustering a wide range of health and social services within a school building is a beginning. The funding for the community schools did not come from the mayor, did not come from the department, the funding came from the City Council and private sector (Trinity-Wall Street was a major supporter).

Fifty years ago Michael Harrington wrote “The Other America,” frighteningly not much has changed.

…. tens of millions of Americans are, at this very moment, maimed in body and spirit, existing at levels beneath those necessary for human decency.� If these people are not starving, they are hungry, and sometimes fat with hunger, for that is what cheap foods do.� They are without adequate housing and education and medical care. (1962)

The Bloomberg policies of school closings and choice and charter schools may resonate in the aeries of the reform think tanks and the hedge funds market reformers, the life on the mean streets is unchanged.

David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core movement, at a recent Roosevelt Institute function called the problems of poverty “intractable” and with a snide ignorant comment,

“Those who believe that poverty is an insurmountable obstacle to improving student achievement should offer to cut teacher salaries and redistribute those funds to the poor.”

The anchor of poverty can be lessened by excellence in instructional practices, but not eliminated.

With the proper structures in place, a chancellor working with not battling the unions, superintendents leading principals and teachers in collaborative school environments, parents welcomed into schools, nothing dramatic but antithetical to everything we have seen for the last dozen years.

The next mayor must understand that no matter how thoughtful his/her educational policies without jobs, without a light at the end of the line, all school initiatives will founder.

The recent teenage immigrant riots in Sweden warn us that unless we create a route to employment we may be facing the same poverty issues for the next fifty years.

Before the bike-share program comes to Brownsville we could use supermarkets and employers.

Read wonderful The Nation “Resurrecting Brownsville” article by Ginia Bellafonte (http://www.thenation.com/article/173886/resurrecting-brownsville)