"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Is David Coleman Doing the Humpty Dumpty?

Is the Common Core fairy tale being exposed as just that?

David Coleman, chief architect of the Common Core standards and newly named head of the College Board, is being questioned on not only his motives in crafting the standards and financial gain realized from his participation in their implementation, but also on his understanding of historical documents and the basis of the standards themselves.  

Jim Stergios posted an article, "The Wrong Lesson on National Standards", addressed to Mr. Coleman about his participation in the Common Core:

I’m sorry because I think I may have gotten some of the intentions of Common Core's supporters wrong. Considering the heavy hand of the Gates Foundation and DC-based trade groups and their support of an effort that violates three federal laws; the imposition of $16 billion in new unfunded mandates on states and localities; and the feds’ shoehorning of states into adopting mediocre/community college readiness academic standards; I thought there may have been a well-thought-through plan at work. I thought the fact that many of the same players were involved in the 1990s in similar efforts meant that they had learned from past mistakes and decided to bypass congressional scrutiny and state legislative processes.

I thought they (and by association perhaps you) were consciously flouting the rule of law, the Constitutional Framers, and 220-plus years of American constitutional history. After all, supporters of national standards know their history and what is legal and illegal, and why all this was a bad idea. 

 Stergios then analyzes a statement by Coleman in which Coleman used Madison's Federalist #51 for a pro-Common Core argument.  Coleman referenced Federalist #51 in a video produced by the Hunt Foundation (funded by Gates) and explained his understanding (in blue) of this document:

The video (see especially 2:07 to 2:49) does not dissuade me from my view that the national standards are a mediocre race to the middle, or that they are illegal, or needless centralizing and expensive. 

In it, you articulate how you would use Madison’s Federalist #51 to teach students and teachers about carefully reading primary sources like Madison’s work and how to understand concepts like “faction” as the authors themselves understood these terms. The video comes with a nice-looking pictorial text of Federalist #51 on the screen. Listening for a few minutes, I thought it sounded good, especially where you note:
I want to say a little more about what we mean by building knowledge through reading and writing. It doesn’t mean simply that students can refer to a text they’ve read in history and social studies and mention that in Federalist Paper 51 someone named Madison had some ideas about faction. To be able to read and gain knowledge to analyze that document would be as the [national] standards require to examine precisely what Madison said or didn’t say about faction and from reading that document carefully having a rich and deep understanding about precisely what Madison thought about faction. It’s about the close study of primary documents to understand from whence they come and what they might mean and not mean.

Stergios points out that Coleman's interpretation is not valid:

I’m not sure if Yale and Oxford, while you were there as a Rhodes scholar, forgot to tell you this, but Madison’s Federalist #51 isn’t about “faction.” I know you repeat this point over and over in the video tutorial. But, as any well-educated 10th-grader knows (at least in Massachusetts before we switched to the national standards), Federalist #51 is actually about checks and balances.

In fact, David, I hope you and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Hunt Institute, and the whole swarm of national standards proponents will take the time to read Federalist #10, which, incidentally is the most famous of all of Madison’s works. The term “faction” is mentioned 18 times (including the title) and is the major topic of Federalist #10. Madison’s views on “faction” are thoughtful and far-sighted.

David, I truly hope you and other supporters of the Common Core will come to read the Federalist Papers and demonstrate the skills to understand James Madison’s original intent. I further hope you will gain the ability to reflect on the premises of the American constitutional republic. Perhaps close attention to the section of Federalist #10 regarding not serving as judge in your own case would help you and the Gates Foundation understand that advancing a policy with hundreds of millions of dollars and then paying others to support that view is a no-no. I am convinced that, with this reading and study complete, you will understand why national education standards are anti-constitutional, illegal, and violate the public trust.

In truth, when crafting the Constitution and the Federalist Papers Madison and the Framers very much had in mind the reckless ambitions of the recklessly ambitious. The drive to advance the Common Core outside the boundaries of the Constitution and legal restrictions is just what Madison had in mind. And the EduBlob represents exactly the types of dangerous “factions” whose “common impulse of passion, or of interest” were contrary to the public good and the “aggregate interests of the community.”

The next time you would like to opine about why you and others should set national standards, curricula, and testing for America’s 50 million schoolchildren, I would ask you to reflect on you and your peers lack of even the most basic understanding of our Founding principles.

Stergios isn't the only one questioning Coleman's knowledge or honesty.  Diane Ravitch asked the question in an article, "Why Does David Coleman Dislike Fiction?":

I have been told by several people who attended David Coleman’s lectures that he speaks disparagingly of fiction. That’s why the Common Core standards permit 50% fiction in the early grades but only 25% fiction in high school.

There are some interesting reader comments and Mr. Coleman himself responded:

David Coleman
Dear Diane,

I responded on your other blog post about the vibrant role of fiction in the standards. I accept your warning that my comments are being taken otherwise, and will do my best to be very clear in public and private going forward. I do regret that I did not correct the person who made the remark about reading novels and work, but it is a little strange to claim that i dislike fiction based on something someone else said. But again, i should have objected and i accept that criticism from you and others that have written.

Of course, much more important than my personal likes and dislikes are what the standards themselves say. You have asked me to be clear, so please let me be very clear on 3 essential facts:

1) The 70/30 balance in grades 6-12 does not mean that students read mostly non-fiction in ELA classrooms. It applies to all student reading and explicitly includes the reading of content rich non-fiction in history, social studies, science and technical subjects. The majority of 6-12 ELA remains devoted to literature with some room for literary non-fiction. 

2) The standards require the careful study of poems, novels, and drama in K-12. Such things as the study of Shakespeare is required, American literature and wonderful aspects of poetry. Let there please be no misunderstanding that literature in these standards does not remain a central part of student and teacher work.

3) Of course, the published standards are based on the work of the states who worked on them as well as teachers (not my own likes and dislikes). For example, the literature standards are much indebted to Massachusetts. The NEA and AFT both had working teams of teachers who reviewed and shaped the standards repeatedly in their development; there is an article in the AFT monthly about the specific impact of teacher comments on the standards. 

These three facts are important and I appreciate your concern that they be clarified.


Mr. Coleman's contention about the non-fiction 70/30 statement elicited this reader response:

Frank Little
Coleman sounds like a sensible man and his response even makes sense. Therefore it must have been a different David Coleman whose ‘Common Core’ presenters introduced teachers with the idea of less literature and more “informational text” – does my Ikea DIY manual is “informational text” as well?. Either Coleman doesn’t know what his representatives been telling teachers or he found a way to spin the truth for us. Not to mention the fact that he is part of Rhee’s cultural revolution gang does not support his credibility. But even if Coleman was the reincarnation of William Shakespeare himself we would still demand democracy. This term is becoming a dirty word and some of us might have forgotten its meaning but in essence it is the ability of people – real people not Pearson corporation kind of people – to decide for themselves what is good for their children and communities. This task can be given to professionals, educators, historians and writers – not business people – and eventually be decided by the people.

Aside from that, the method of testing is yet another despicable practice. Teaching literature, poetry, plays and theater, that express the most complex and beautiful ideas, only to be reduced to multiple choice standardize test. If you recall the ‘Pineapple’ debacle, you might remember the author of the short story admitted that he wouldn’t have known the answer regarding his own creation.

Back to Coleman, if one looks at his response, one can identify a corporate maneuver. He never takes responsibility for the program he runs and again refers us to a set of standards that can not be questioned or evaluate but are all given and have to be followed. He is merely Moses on the mountain who delivers it to us from above.

Yet the Coleman who wrote in this blog should attend the other Coleman’s Common Core presentation and he might get vary angry, especially when he would be told about potentially reducing percentage of literature far beyond the 70/30.

Mr. Coleman's memory was called into question by another reader, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, who helped develop Massachusetts standards:

David Coleman makes false claims about the major influence on Common Core’s literature and reading standards (e.g., “the literature standards are much indebted to Massachusetts”). Only in a perverse way could that statement be true. He misparaphrased and misplaced almost every literature standard he may have taken from the 2001 MA ELA Curriculum Framework.

I regularly showed during the spring and summer of 2010 the mismatch between what was in the MA standards and what was in CC’s ELA standards. In a series of White Papers (# 56, 61, 63. and 65), released by the Pioneer Institute in 2010, I provide a variety of systematic comparisons of the two sets of standards showing how inferior CC’s ELA standards were to the MA 2001 standards in ELA for both K-5 and 6-12, and to even its proposed revision of these standards. 

I was told that Coleman and Sue Pimental had visited the MA Department of Education several times to consult with the staff there on the ELA standards. Never once did they ask to speak to me privately or publicly (by 2009-2010 I was on the Common Core Validation Committee and no longer at the MA DoE). Nor did they ever speak to the people who created the MA ELA standards (like Mark McQuillan, by then Commissioner of Education in Connecticut; William Rice, by then at the National Endowment of the Humanities; or James McDermott, an award-winning English teacher in Worcester) or to the people who worked on the entire MA ELA curriculum framework under my supervision at the MA DoE in 2001 (Holly Handlin, a former English teacher; and Janet Furey, a former reading teacher—both still in MA). 

Given how CC’s ELA standards turned out, it is a mystery what Coleman and Pimentel learned from their visits to the MA DoE in 2009-2010. It is not possible to claim with a straight face that Common Core’s K-5 or 6-12 reading and literature standards were modeled on the MA standards.

Sandra Stotsky

David Coleman is being challenged on his intellectual knowledge and his spin on the model of the standards.  Does this Common Core issue in terms of how it was adopted and who is writing the standards cause you concern for the future of American public education?

Who can taxpayers complain to?  School boards can't do much, most states signed over their right to set their standards, and if you live in Missouri, you'll have to figure out what bureaucrat to call in Washington state when you find factual errors in curriculum.  Do you trust these people to write national standards when they can't be held accountable for errors or answers not based in fact?



  1. "The drive to advance the Common Core outside the boundaries of the Constitution and legal restrictions is just what Madison had in mind. And the EduBlob represents exactly the types of dangerous “factions” whose “common impulse of passion, or of interest” were contrary to the public good and the “aggregate interests of the community."


    Love it, hoisted on his on petard!

    And Proregressives have always opposed fiction and anything that smacked of imaginative language... their first targets in doing away with how Americans educated themselves, were Homer, Virgil, Plutarch, The Bible... preferring quantities of meaningless & dead facts, and when forced to offer some relief, they will substitute for them what is simply jarring or random (see your friendly local grammar school's list of 'fun' activities for reference: "Inside out clothes day!", "Pajama day!"), while mugging and saying "WEE! Isn't that fun?!" in hopes that the kids will nod along with them for a while longer.


    Because the poetic excels in teaching principles, excels in integrating what Is and what Ought to be, ideas which lead students to be virtuous, self-governing people who question authority and aspire to lives worth living... and when you're just trying to crank out bodies who aim no higher than operating machinery and punching in numbers, that just will not do!

  2. Our kids can't read or write, or do mathematics well in general. Considering parochial schools and even homeschoolers do an average better job of educating students, public schools need some work.

    Too much dumbing down and "feel good." And while all the lofty educators defend their teaching methods, and try to justify the existence of more and more administrators, our children lose one grade at a time by not learning.


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