Monday, December 21, 2015

Coleman to Catholics: Never Mind Common Core

In an exclusive interview with Catholic Education Daily, David Colman, architect of Common Core and head honcho at the College Board, offered some of the same old same old. But he also told Catholic schools that they could just nevermind the Common Core.

Do Catholics not love the Core?

Writer Adam Cassandra has put together a good overview of the odd and sometimes-difficult relationship between the Catholic school system and the Common Core-- or at least the Core's co-creator.

The Catholic system has been fairly direct about its resistance to the core, including a whole Catholic Is Our Core campaign. Their objections are familiar to the umpty-gazillion educators, parents and people on the street who have objections to the Common Core. For instance, Dr. Dan Guernsey and Dr. Denise Donohue of the Newman Society wrote a report last May called “Disconnect between Common Core’s Literary Approach and Catholic Education’s Pursuit of Truth.” That included this Fairly Excellent Quote:

In Catholic schools, we know we are not just producing workers and scholars, we are producing living, breathing, complex, contradictory, eternally destined, unrepeatable and immensely valuable human beings.

This is not new. Back in 2013, 130 prominent Catholic scholars signed a letter to all bishops, and it was not laudatory. As Valerie Strauss reported at the time:

It blasts the standards, saying they are “contrary to tradition and academic studies on reading and human formation,” and accuses Core proponents of seeking to “transform ‘literacy’ into a  ‘critical’ skill set, at the expense of sustained and heartfelt encounters with great works of literature.”

The letter also used phrases such as "contrary to traditions and academic studies on reading and human formation" and "a recipe for standardized workforce preparation."

The Cardinal Newman society also published "10 Facts Every Catholic Should Know about the Common Core" which includes items such as "The Common Core is rushed, untested and experimental" and "The Common Core is (ultimately) about textbooks and curriculum."

The focus and concern seem to be on the Core as an agent of destruction against the liberal arts, which are a big deal for Catholics. Personally, I am not a huge Catholic school fan for a whole host of reasons, but this Guernsey quote in Cassandra's article is kind of awesome:

“We don’t open Catholic schools to get kids into college. We open Catholic schools to get them into heaven,” he said. 

So what does David Coleman, who has mocked, dismissed and generally pooh-poohed people who object to the Core as being too narrow, inappropriately written, and poorly considered-- what does David Coleman have to say to these Catholics who are expressing the same concerns.

No Core? No Biggie!

Coleman has no mockery, dismissal, or poohing of the Catholic pooh.

First of all, it turns out that you don't actually really need Common Core after all.

“As president of The College Board it is my conviction that a child excellently trained in traditional liberal arts will do superbly on relevant sections of the SAT and other aspects of Advanced Placement work, ”Coleman said. “Rest assured.” 

Well. This would be the same David Coleman who announced his intention to bring the SAT in line with the Common Core. So if you can do "superbly" on the SAT with a liberal arts education, and the SAT is aligned with the Common Core, the by the Transitive Property of Reformy Baloney, the Common Core are pretty much the same thing as a liberal arts education. And I'm pretty sure that nobody-- not even David Coleman nor Bill Gates-- has tried to make that argument. So somewhere in that little logic puzzle is something that is Not So.

It's in the Colemanian weasel words, as usual. The liberal arts will help you with "do superbly on relevant sections of the SAT..." says Coleman, which is kind of like handing a life jacket to a person about to cross the Sahara Desert on foot and saying, "Take this. It will help you in all the places where you have to swim across a lake."

But Cassandra has even more reality-impaired quotes from Coleman.

“The vulgar implementation of anything can have a reductive and destructive effect,” said Coleman. “My desire to celebrate, and name and specify some of the beauties and distinctive values of a religious education are precisely to avoid a leveling quality where you forget that there are special gifts that can be lost without attention.”

I would like "the vulgar implementation of anything can have a reductive and destructive effect" on a t-shirt. It is certainly the most elegant version ever of "the standards are awesome, but the implementation was botched" that I've ever seen. But Coleman can peg the needle on the baloney-meter even higher, as with this statement:

I just want to tell you how emphatically I’m trying to agree with your premise, which is a stultifying sameness is not the intention here.

Got that? Coleman's work-- his idea about what an educated person should be and his work to impose that vision on every public school student in America, both through Common Core and an SAT redesign-- that's not aimed at imposing a one-size-fits-all standard at all. Which is either a spectacularly bald-faced lie, or proof that Coleman doesn't understand what he's done at all. Pick whichever one you judge more likely from a guy who studied at Oxford.

This expressed love for religious schooling is not new for Coleman. Cassandra points us at a 2014 piece in the National Review in which Coleman sticks up for evangelical Christian Wheaton College, implying in his conclusion that religious schools, with their careful reading and quiet contemplation, do a better job of educating students than "secular colleges."  (Actually, what he literally suggests is that the religious school students would write better papers).

Has David "Nobody gives a shit what you think or feel" Coleman acquired a soft spot for religion, or does he just need to keep doing his marketing for the Core and the New! Improved! SAT. Whatever the case, the National Catholic Education Association has asked Coleman to deliver the keynote address at its annual convention next March (you will be unsurprised to note that NCEA got a big Gates Core-implementation grant in 2013).

In the meantime, Coleman wants the rest of us in public schools to note that are paths to excellence beyond the Core, somehow.

I consider these remarks I’m making about the distinctive and potentially widely valuable benefits of religious training and religious education are less a challenge, frankly, towards religious schools than a challenge to all other schools — that they have much to learn from things that I think the best of religious schools do very well today.

Amen, Brother Coleman. Amen. 


  1. I think Coleman always genuinely imagined that his ELA work would support a traditional liberal arts education. I suspect he thought the "new criticism" line the standards follow was a particularly clever way to meet the needs of testing companies, cutting edge ed-tech ventures, and traditional the liberal arts. Just like Coleman and lots of other people apparently think or thought that having kids read more non-fiction would somehow mitigate the de-emphasis of science, social studies and history instruction.

    At the end of the day though, if you're a technocrat who has insufficient understanding of the problem space you're working on, it doesn't matter what your intentions are, in the end you're going to make a mess of things.