Will the College Board ever force David Coleman to resign?

Vicki Wood over at Powerscore has posted an article on that company’s blog calling for David Coleman to be removed from his position as head of the College Board.

Citing the numerous problems that have plagued the redesigned SAT, including the cheating scandals resulting from the decision to reuse tests internationally and the hundreds of questions reportedly leaked to Reuters, Wood writes: 

David Coleman is the leader of the College Board, and the responsibility for these numerous failures rightly lies with him. We believe that the only acceptable solution to these breaches—and really, the only way to save the integrity of the SAT and begin the long process of repair—is for Coleman to resign immediately. Given the arrogance he has displayed in the past we aren’t counting on him stepping down voluntarily, so it’s up to the College Board: admit responsibility, remove David Coleman, and immediately repair your broken test security system. The future of millions of college applicants is at stake.

While I am in complete agreement with Wood — the repeated disasters of the Coleman regime are the predictable result of appointing a self-involved Gates-funded hack who nonetheless believes himself to be the savior of American education   — I’ve also become quite cynical about the prospect of substantial change occurring anytime soon.  

Probably the most intriguing aspect of the SAT redesign for me was watching as the College Board deliberately concocted a collection of distortions, half-truths, and outright falsehoods, which were promptly lapped up and unthinkingly disseminated by such august publications as the New York Times and The Atlantic (among many others), and eventually swallowed by the public at large. 

Even people who were largely skeptical about the new test were often taken in to some extent. As I heard one $450/hr. tutor say earnestly, “It’s great that they’re asking students to use evidence.”

It was kind of like watching a mini edu-version of 1984 unfold in real time, a lesson in propaganda I never expected to experience. It was fascinating, but it was also bizarre and more than a little terrifying. No matter how vague or ridiculous the assertions, it never seemed to occur to anyone — college admissions officers and high school counselors included — to question them or to press for specifics. It’s not as if anyone would have had to dig particularly deep to find the problems. 

Not only that, but state testing committees in Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, and Connecticut accepted at face value the College Board’s vacuous assertion that the redesigned test reflected “what students were doing in the classroom.” Leaving aside the fact that Common Core was only implemented in public schools, which many students in those states presumably do not attend, the members of these committees appear not to have noticed that the Common Core ELA standards are devoid of specific prescriptions (meaning that any test purporting to test skills laid out in the Standards may or may not reflect what students have actually done in class), and that there is therefore absolutely no way to ensure consistency between districts.

These are basic commonsense concerns that should be apparent to anyone who has spent more than 30 seconds thinking about the issues involved, and the fact that so many presumably educated professionals failed to notice the gap between the College Board’s rhetoric and the reality of the situation raises some very serious questions about the mindset of the people in charge of education at the state level. How on earth can students be taught to think critically when the people responsible for overseeing the school system are so easily taken in by fancy PowerPoints? 

As far as I can tell, the Washington Post and Reuters are the only major media outlets to regularly display anything resembling skepticism about the overhaul of the exam. And any prestigious publication that has written glowingly about Coleman in the past is unlikely to turn around and admit to how badly it was taken in. Not to mention the fact that anything involving Common Core has become so toxic that no one even wants to touch it. 

As a result, the true extent of these problems is just not on most people’s radar; beyond a relatively narrow slice of the edu-blogosphere, it’s largely a non issue. When people have so many other things to worry about, education gets stuck on the back burner, and it is highly unlikely that there will be any mass outcry. 

In addition, Coleman is presumably a key force behind the replacement of the PARCC with the SAT in some states, the switching of one Common Core test with another being very much to his advantage. Given that not all that states involved have made the change yet, it stands to reason that the details of some of those deals are still being worked out, and it is highly unlikely that the College Board would risk jeopardizing the prospect of gaining so much market share.  

Besides, the redesign of the SAT is an established fact, and it is very, very hard to undo things that have already been implemented, especially on a national scale. At this point, the College Board has no other option but to keep going on the track it’s established for itself, regardless of how involved Coleman is on a day-to-day basis. Save for a complete institutional implosion (which is of course not entirely out of the question), there is no other option.

The forces propping up Coleman are not about to back down and admit they were wrong either. If there’s one thing that’s become clear about “data-driven” reform, it’s that when the data don’t show the desired outcomes, the solution is to obfuscate the issues, massage the numbers, then double down and do more of whatever wasn’t working in the first place. 

And thus the crises continue. 

When it eventually becomes clear that the situation is unsalvageable, the powers that be will walk away and leave someone else to clean up the mess. And it will be a big, big mess.

Now, I could be wrong, but I suspect we’re still a fair distance away from that point. The College Board is still functioning, however ineptly, and for the time being, that is reason enough not to shake things up. 

The great educational conversation

The great educational conversation

Passage 1 is excerpted from a speech about the Common Core State Standards given by David Coleman at the senior leadership meeting at the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Learning in 2011. Passage 2 is from Sandra Stotsky’s June 2015 Testimony regarding Common Core, delivered at Bridgewater State University. Stotsky was a member of the Common Core validation committee who, along with R. James Milgram, refused to sign off on the Standards. Student Achievement Partners is a company founded by David Coleman that played a significant role in developing Common Core.

Passage 1

Student Achievement Partners, all you need to know about us are a couple of things. One is that we’re composed of that collection of unqualified people who were involved in developing the common standards. And our only qualification was our attention to and command of the evidence behind them. That is, it was our insistence in the standards process that it was not enough to say you wanted to or thought that kids should know these things, that you had to have evidence to support it, frankly because it was our conviction that the only way to get an eraser into the standards room was with evidence behind it, ‘cause otherwise the way standards are written you get all the adults into the room about what kids should know, and the only way to end the meeting is to include everything. That’s how we’ve gotten to the typical state standards we have today. (Mercedes Schneider, Common Core Dilemma, 2015, p. 2440 Kindle ed.) 

Passage 2

Professor Milgram and I did not sign off on the standards because they were not internationally competitive, rigorous, or research-based.  Despite our repeated requests, we did not get the names of high-achieving countries whose standards could be compared with Common Core’s standards. (We received no “cross-walks.”) Nor did the standards writers themselves offer any research evidence or rationale to defend their omission of the high school mathematics standards needed for STEM careers, their emphasis on writing not reading, their experimental approach to teaching Euclidean geometry, their deferral of the completion of Algebra I to grade 9 or 10, or their claim that informational reading instruction in the English class leads to college readiness. They also did not offer evidence that Common Core’s standards meet entrance requirements for most colleges and universities in this country or elsewhere. (https://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/dr-sandra-stotskys-june-2015-testimony-at-bridgewater-state-university-public-hearing/)

1. In comparison to David Coleman’s remarks, Sandra Stotsky’s are more

(A) lucid
(B) reverent
(C) defensive
(D) apathetic
(E) convoluted

2. Sandra Stotsky would most likely respond to David Coleman’s assertion regarding the “evidence” by

(A) praising its thoroughness
(B) concurring about its necessity
(C) suggesting that it was biased
(D) defending its findings
(E) questioning its existence

Unfortunately, this isn’t an empty rhetorical exercise. This “debate,” like all others, takes place in a real-world context from which it unfortunately cannot be separated. Were we to focus exclusively on analyzing how the author of Passage 1 made his argument and ignore the backdrop against which that argument was made, we might miss some very important pieces of information. That type of “close reading,” alas, has its limits.

First, the garbled (i.e. convoluted) nonsense in Passage 1 was uttered by the person responsible for not only writing national ELA standards but for redesigning the SAT. This is one of the most powerful figures in American education. 

Let that sink in for a moment.

Second, Coleman made those statements in 2011, before Common Core was fully rolled out. He was, in essence, asserting that he had evidence for a system that had not yet been put into practice — evidence that, as Stotsky indicated, was never presented to the people responsible for approving it — and that that alleged evidence overrode the fact that he and his committee had no business creating the system in the first place.

Sandra Stotsky, by the way, is an emerita professor of education and former Senior Associate Commissioner of Education of Massachusetts who is recognized for having authored some of the most rigorous ELA standards in the country. (I graduated from high school right around the time Stotsky was appointed, but having gone through the Massachusetts public school system, I can attest that high school English there is no joke – or at least it wasn’t in the late ‘90s.) She is nothing if not qualified. (In case you’re wondering, the answer to the question of what she would think about Coleman’s evidence is (E)). 

Now it’s time for an inference exercise! 

Based on what know about David Coleman, his relationship with Bill Gates, his involvement with Michelle Rhee, and his longstanding ties to the testing industry, we can infer that he actually meant something like this:

Well, if we’d gotten a bunch of people in the room who actually had experience doing things like teaching, they might have kept bringing up irrelevant points, like how stuff might not work in their classrooms, or how some students might not be able to meet some of the standards, or how more than 30% of reading should be fiction or whatever. And then we might have had to be, you know, detailed and include all sorts of specific things that not everyone would agree on, and then we couldn’t get on with the business of shoving what we’d done through as quickly as possible, without any field testing, because if we took more time people might start to notice just how radical what we were doing was, and they might have tried to get in our way.

You know, it was just easier to get together a bunch of people from the testing industry who don’t really know or care what goes on in actual classrooms, and whose companies would make a lot of money from what we were doing, because we knew that if we scratched their backs, they’d scratch ours. 

So basically, I cooked up the phrase “command of evidence” because hey, it’s catchy and makes it sound like we’re in charge, and we knew that if we just kept repeating it, no one would bother check it out, and even if someone did, we’d just keep insisting that we had the evidence and accuse them of not wanting students to be college and career ready and be competitive for the 21st century, blah, blah, blah. By the time anyone bothered to investigate, it’d be too late anyway, and really, who would listen to them? 

I mean, let’s get real, no one gives a shit about what a bunch of schoolteachers think.

If you’ll allow me to play armchair psychologist, I would posit that David Coleman is obsessed with evidence precisely because he has no evidence (or at least no valid evidence). 

Call it overcompensation, mixed with more than a dash of grandiosity.

Furthermore, based on the way the term is used in both Common Core and the new SAT (more about that in another post), it is not entirely clear whether Coleman even understands what evidence is.

The emperor, you see, has no clothes.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, though, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Coleman is really not the problem. Rather, Coleman is a symptom of the problem. In a sane, functional country, a parallel school system funded by billionaires would not exist, and someone like Coleman could never have attained his position in the first place. But when you have an entire political party that can spend three hours spouting outright lies without batting a collective eyelash, you start to see how this state of affairs is thoroughly possible.

Sometimes, though, I could swear I’ve slipped into some sort of bizarre alternate universe…