Tagged: david coleman

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Why David Coleman is the most powerful educator in the country right now

david colemanfavicon Everyone says Arne Duncan is powerful, but if you really want to know who calls the shots about education in this country, it’s David Coleman.

Mr. Coleman is the guy responsible for the Common Core State Standards. He’s now the president of the College Board, which administers the SAT and Advanced Placement tests.

Today, Mr. Coleman announced that the College Board is changing the format and content of the SAT. This is big. The intent, he said, is to align the test with what is taught in high school and to level the playing field for lower-income students.

A few of the changes include: (1) Obscure vocabulary will go away, to be replaced with more common words students will face in college, (2) Readings will include a range of informational texts, including founding documents of the United States, (3) There will no longer be a penalty for incorrect answers, (4) The essay will be optional.

Do you see what’s happening here?

Yes, Mr. Coleman is aligning the SAT with the Common Core standards. Instead of testing students generally on their reading and math skills, the SAT will reflect the skills that students are supposed to learn in school.

This is great if you believe in the Common Core. And it’s horrible if you don’t like the Common Core. It’s as simple as that.

What’s crazy to me is how in just a few years, Mr. Coleman — a very smart guy who has never been a classroom teacher — has shifted a very decentralized American education system into an extremely consolidated one.

What’s also crazy to me is that few people know about Mr. Coleman. Except for a few radical Common Core detractors (like Diane Ravitch), Mr. Coleman is still pretty much a stranger.

Yet it’s pretty clear that he runs the show. It’s time that teachers and other folks interested in education find out more about Mr. Coleman. (I’m still a little leery about him, but maybe now it’s too late?)

Update: This week’s New York Times Magazine has an in-depth article about David Coleman and the changes to the SAT. Teachers College professor Lucy Calkins asks, “Are we in a place to let Dave Coleman control the entire K-to-12 curriculum?”  favicon

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Literary fiction, empathy, and reading reality

Researchers Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd. Photo by Casey Kelbaugh, NY Times.
Researchers Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd. Photo by Casey Kelbaugh, NY Times.

favicon I’m a bit late to this party, but I figured I would share some of my thoughts.

Last week, the New York Times published “For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov,” in which reporter Pam Belluck summarized a new study that concludes that reading literary fiction, as opposed to nonfiction or popular fiction, results in greater empathy.

The article set off a bit of a brouhaha, particularly among English teachers who like fiction.

There’s nothing too new about this research. Psychologists Emanuele Castano and doctoral candidate David Comer Kidd have studied the connection between reading and empathy for years and have published at least five studies. Others are investigating this field, too.

And it’s sort of a no-brainer that reading gets us to construct new worlds, to live in another person’s shoes, and to build empathy by practicing with fictional characters.

So what’s the big fuss? Why is my Twitter all a-twitter with tweets like this?

The answer, of course, is simple: English teachers are going crazy about Common Core.

In short, many English teachers — especially those who love to teach literature and independent reading — are worried that the Common Core’s emphasis on informational texts means the end of all fiction. Pretty soon, they worry, there won’t be To Kill a Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet and Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby.

Even though David Coleman, the architect of the English Language Arts standards, has said repeatedly that the increase in nonfiction should come in social studies, Science, and Math classes, many English teachers do not believe him.

I can see why. Mr. Coleman sometimes comes across as smarmy.

But the strong (and sometimes vitriolic) response is not helpful for three reasons:

1. There’s nothing wrong with English teachers adding a little nonfiction to their syllabi.
I’d like my students to be able to read a nonfiction piece on their own. So would most college professors and employers. AP English Language, a popular 11th grade course, is all about nonfiction. Why not start earlier?

2. Teaching literary fiction is not the same as students reading literary fiction.
Too many teachers, in the name of rigor and literary fiction, assign texts that overmatch their students. Rather than The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, they teach A Separate Peace. Midway through, those same teachers lament that students aren’t completing the reading homework, but because the text is so rich and intricate, teachers stick with the dance of fake teaching the book and complain that their students are fake reading it.  

2. Educational either-or debates are not moving the discourse.
Why must we always discuss issues like we’re participating in a debate? Maybe we like winning, or maybe we get the yes-or-no tendency from our politicians. Whatever the reason, railing against the Common Core because it devalues fiction — even if that assertion is true — is not an argument with enough heft to counteract the 46 states that have adopted the standards.

The debate does not have to be this stark. Despite what Diane Ravitch may suggest, you don’t have to choose between raising academic achievement and building empathy, one or the other. Good teaching can and should fulfill both goals.

The teaching of literary fiction will continue in the Common Core era, and even if nonfiction gets more attention for a while, that does not mean that students across the country will all of a sudden not be able to relate to others and do nice things for each other and be kind. favicon

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The “What should children read?” debate continues

KidWithBooksfavicon There is a great debate happening in the world of reading instruction.

On one side, you have David Coleman, architect of the new Common Core State Standards, who believes that high school students should be reading mostly “informational texts,” — in other words, non-fiction.

Then on the other side, you have Stephen Krashen, opponent of the Common Core, who believes that students should be spending most of their time independently reading fictional texts.

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Sara Mosle, a middle school English teacher, weighs in on the debate. But instead of focusing on reading, Ms. Mosle argues that students should read more non-fiction to enhance their writing skills — that “careful reading can advance great writing.” (Check out Iserotope Extras for the article!)

Beginning with an anecdote about Malcolm Gladwell, who read 100 “Talk of the Town” articles in The New Yorker before attempting his own, Ms. Mosle notes that the best way to improve writing is by studying strong examples, which she says happens too infrequently in schools.

Ms. Mosle writes:

As an English teacher and writer who traffics in factual prose, I’m with Mr. Coleman. In my experience, students need more exposure to nonfiction, less to help with reading skills, but as a model for their own essays and expository writing.

In education-speak, these models are called “mentor texts” or “exemplars.” On this point, I agree with Ms. Mosle. Students improve their writing not just through direct instruction and practice but also through emulation and apprenticeship. That’s the kind of writing instruction English teacher Kelly Gallagher calls for in his latest book, Write Like This.

But as Ms. Mosle continues her argument, I begin to disagree. She advocates for “narrative non-fiction,” the genre that emerged from New Journalism and that has become famous over the past decade or so, thanks to Mr. Gladwell and This American Life host Ira Glass. Specifically, Ms. Mosle suggests that most English teachers are looking for “writing that tells a factual story, sometimes even a personal one, but also makes an argument and conveys information in vivid, effective ways.”

I’m not opposed to writing that is vivid. And I do not have a problem with self-expression. But let’s separate personal narratives from argumentative essays. When focusing on argument, let’s encourage students to choose precise evidence from text rather than from their personal lives.

My stance may seem rigid and my approach to writing instruction formulaic. But I worry that Ms. Mosle and other English teachers may confuse their students, particularly those practicing the basics of non-fiction. Before graduating to the advanced writing moves required for narrative non-fiction, there’s nothing wrong with mastering the basic argumentative essay structure first. favicon

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A thoughtful critique of David Coleman

favicon Several posts ago, I encouraged English teachers to follow David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core State Standards, because of his power to change the way we teach reading.

Colette Marie Bennett, an English teacher in Connecticut, is on the case.

In “David Coleman: The Cheshire Cat of Education,” Ms. Bennett is as leery of Mr. Coleman as I am. Her thesis: “Coleman has materialized, like Lewis Carroll’s enigmatic Cheshire Cat, as the cool outsider who surveys education as a Wonderland ruled by nonsense.”

Ms. Bennett offers several excellent reasons for her leeriness. She contrasts her 21 years in the classroom with Mr. Coleman’s zero. She “remains unconvinced” (as I do) that a greater emphasis on close reading (the New Criticism approach) would significantly improve reading skills. (It might bore students.) And she prefers a balanced approach to reading instruction, one that blends close reading with Reader Response and independent reading.

I agree with Ms. Bennett. To teach reading well, we can’t approach it in just one way. Even if Mr. Coleman is right, his unmitigated push toward one teaching method is too absolute and will not engage all students to enhance their reading skills.

The biggest criticism that Ms. Bennett advances is that Mr. Coleman is an outsider, and she’s tired of non-educators telling teachers what to do. She concludes:

Carroll’s Cheshire Cat character is a tease, an enigmatic riddler who offers judgments and cryptic clues but no  solution to the frustrated Alice. Coleman is education’s Cheshire Cat, offering positions in education but with no evidence to prove his solutions will work.

Unfortunately, even though Mr. Coleman does not have evidence to support his conclusions, neither do most English teachers. The fact is, by high school, our students enter our classrooms as poor and reluctant readers, and it’s not clear right now what the best approach is to accelerate their skills.

My work this year — engaging teachers to put reading at the front of their practice — hopes to deliver some data for this inquiry. And I’m pretty sure that this hybrid approach that Ms. Bennett and Kelly Gallagher and I embrace is the right one, but in order to counteract Mr. Coleman and other strong political forces, we’ll have to have more numbers. favicon

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English teachers: Follow David Coleman

favicon If you’re an English teacher right now, you might be noticing that there’s a lot going on.

If you teach fiction, people might be telling you to teach less of it and to switch to nonfiction. If you believe in teaching texts that are relevant to your students, you might be sensing sneers from colleagues. And if you like independent reading, well, you might be the pariah of your department.

The cause of this ruckus? It’s easy: A man named David Coleman.

David Coleman, now the president of the College Board, is the architect of the Common Core State Standards for English. Because nearly every state is moving to the Common Core in 2014, and because standardized testing will change to reflect those standards, Mr. Coleman is the guy to follow if you’re an English teacher. (Here’s a recent profile in The Atlantic.)

Some reasons why:

1. Mr. Coleman wants students to read more nonfiction.
To prepare students for college and career, the Common Core suggests that 70 percent of reading for high schoolers be “informational texts,” — in other words, nonfiction. English teachers worry that they’ll have to shoulder this shift because teachers of other disciplines often do not include reading as a major component of their curriculum.

2. Mr. Coleman wants to shift back to the canon.
Reading in high school isn’t rigorous enough, Mr. Coleman believes. Teachers don’t challenge students with complex texts and instead opt for works that students find more immediately relevant. The problem, according to Mr. Coleman, is that these texts are too simplistic and do not require adequate critical thinking. Also too easy are books that students choose themselves, so independent reading is a no-no.

3. Mr. Coleman advocates for close reading and text-based instruction.
Prereading activities serve only to offer students a way out of reading. Asking students to engage personally with a text and to make connections allow for answers not rooted in the author’s words. For Mr. Coleman, grappling with text closely is the only way to read.

4. Mr. Coleman shuns personal writing and champions argumentative writing with evidence-based support.
Imagery and figurative language and beautiful syntax are not on Mr. Coleman’s rubric for excellent writing. Neither is the ability to write a personal narrative. Rather, he insists on teaching arguments supported by text-based evidence. Don’t even think of assigning a short story or poem.

As I’m sure you notice, I find Mr. Coleman intriguing. (Here are a few more posts I’ve written about him.) He’s incredibly smart and forceful, and given my social studies background, I can see where he’s going.

At the same time, I worry about Mr. Coleman’s power. He’s just 42, and though he says the right things about teachers (you’re so important!) and kids of color (they can do it!), he comes across as slightly out of touch (and overly confident, bordering on arrogant).

English teachers, I encourage you to get to know Mr. Coleman more, listen to his speeches, and share your thoughts about him. What are your feelings about the Common Core State Standards and how they’ll change your practice? favicon

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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.