/  By  / 

I still can’t get a good read on David Coleman

 David Coleman, architect of the Common Core standards, will become the president of the College Board in October.

I’ve been following Mr. Coleman for a while. Many English teachers are leery of him because of his emphasis on teaching nonfiction over fiction. They also don’t like that he believes in New Criticism, or close reading, over Reader Response. Finally, Coleman is controversial because he claims not to tell teachers what to do but has spent the last year traveling across the country and offering a way to teach Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Now he will lead the College Board, the behemoth organization that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement tests.

In the New York Times article that I read, Coleman said he is interested in building solid curriculum that will prepare students for the high-stakes tests. It also sounds like he wants to level the playing field for students taking advanced placement courses. “The College Board should consider any student in an AP class a student in our care,” he said. “We need to find better ways to support their success.”

But some educators, including reading expert Stephen Krashen, are not having any of it. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“There’s no reason on earth for common core standards and these tests that we’re wasting billions of dollars on,” said Stephen Krashen, an emeritus education professor at the University of Southern California. “The problem is poverty, poverty, poverty. Middle-class children who go to well-funded schools do very well, but even the best tests, the most inspiring teachers, won’t mean anything if the kids don’t have enough to eat.”

It’s weird. I still don’t have a good read on David Coleman. I mean, I think he means well, but he seems out of touch with teachers and students. On the other hand, I want to like Stephen Krashen, and I do — at least on the subject of reading. But his emphasis that poverty is the reason for all educational ills cannot be the answer, either.

One last thing: Coleman will make $750,000. 


  1. Erin Schweng

    I think you’re right; it’s not as simple as what Krashen says. It seems rare to me, even in the urban population I teach, for a kid to be actually hungry. Bad nutrition, sure, and poverty does contribute to that. But his argument seems to reductive to me. From what I’ve read about Coleman I’m skeptical as well. I suspect, as always, that the “answer” to many of these questions (fiction or non? Common Core or what we have now?) is in the usual messy gray area in between. Not whether we have CCSS, or any other set of standards, but how we best use them to help our students. And often it is teachers, standing in the gap between students and policy makers, who are having to make the actual decisions about what’s best for kids.

  2. Mark Isero

    You’re right, Erin, about the placement of teachers “in the gap between students and policy makers.” When I watch Mr. Coleman’s videos, I want to like him and believe what he’s talking about, but it just doesn’t seem real. But I do like his emphasis on reading: more of it, all the time.

  3. Alex T. Valencic

    I’ve been following the Common Core closely, but not so much the people who helped create them. Illinois is one of the 46 states that has signed on to them, so I’ve taken the approach of learning as much as I can about them, figuring out how to synthesise them into my teaching, and move forward from there. I’ll admit that I like what the CCSS have to offer and the general approach to them. I am concerned about what implementation will look like.

    Working in a small urban community, I definitely see the impact of poverty on students, but I think the greatest impact isn’t hunger; it is having working parents who are not able to be home to provide the structure and support that many children need. To blame the problem on poverty itself is to ignore the cascading effects of poverty. I agree with Erin above that the answer is almost always somewhere in the middle. But I’ll add David Coleman and Steven Krashen to my summer reading to try to get a better sense of what’s going on with them.

  4. Mark Isero

    Great to hear from you, Alex. On the one hand, I like what Mr. Krashen is doing; he is arguing against the latest trend to blame teachers. But his assertion that the problem is poverty is overwhelming and does not offer an answer. What is his approach to work successfully with school-dependent children?

    For more about Mr. Krashen, I suggest his book, *The Power of Reading.* As for Mr. Coleman, his YouTube videos may offer a more detailed look.

  5. teachcmb56

    The more Coleman says, the easier it is to get a “good read” on him (speaking metaphorically, of course). His lack of classroom experience negates many of his statements. A summary of his presentation to NY State teachers posted by Scholastic http://frizzleblog.scholastic.com/post/10-things-worth-doing-your-classroom was so irritating that I had to respond. His war on metaphor has been noted in many other blogger posts. Here is my take: http://usedbooksinclass.com/2013/08/24/literally-david-coleman/
    For the record, Krashen’s point about poverty has more evidence to support his position than the completely untested and unsubstantiated Common Core State Standards.

    • Mark Isero

      Hi teachcmb56, and thank you very much for leaving a comment. I wrote this post months ago, and as I read more about Mr. Coleman, the more I get the heebie jeebies. On the one hand, I understand that his whole emphasis is “sticking to the text” and “using evidence.” (Maybe that’s where his focus on being literal comes from.) That’s a very normal thing to say if you’re a New Criticism person. He definitely wants teachers to get away from asking students how they feel. I’m OK with part of that. But making sure that everything is text-dependent is also going too far.

      Here’s what I can’t get behind: Mr. Coleman’s suggestions about how to teach. His how-to video on MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is unfortunate and disrespectful to teachers. No matter how many times he says he is not prescribing a specific method of teaching, Mr. Coleman is prescriptive. I always thought that Common Core was about standards rather than about pedagogy.

      (It’s probably best for Common Core for Mr. Coleman to stop making speeches and posting on YouTube. He doesn’t come across well.)

      Thank you very much for your thoughts. Also, I’ve been following “Used Books in Class” for several months now, and I appreciate your thoughtful posts. Thanks again!

Please share your brilliant insights!