I have spent entirely much time over the past few years reading about David Coleman, the magical and super-powered wizard who manufactured the Common Core and convinced Bill Gates to become the Core's greatest patron. Coleman needed to set the Core up with a foster parent because as soon as the little tyke's wings had begun to spread, Coleman was out the door to his next gig-- a well-paying gig running the College Board and remaking the infamous SAT test.
And now Renee Dudley at Reuters brings us a detailed account of how badly Coleman screwed up that job.
None of what Dudley reports will come as a surprise to long-time Coleman watchers. The Core architect has several key characteristics that shine through.
First and foremost, Coleman is soaked in hubris. It's not just that he somehow came to believe that he should personally redefine what it means to be an educated person in this country. When you read him in interview after interview, you notice that he never gives credit to anyone. No "I depended heavily on the work of Scholar McWisdom" or "I certainly didn't do this alone. The help of Worky McColleague was invaluable." Interviewers address him as if he wrote the whole damn thing single-handedly, and he doesn't correct them. Coleman believes that he can fix the American education system, K-16, all by himself and eradicate social injustice in the process. He believes he is a Great Man, called to do Great Things.When he says that grown-ups understand that "nobody gives a shit what you think and feel," he means other people-- he's pretty sure his own thoughts and feelings are Pretty Important.
And mind you-- he started down this path when he was a twenty-something consultant who couldn't get a teaching job in New York. Coleman is proud of his lack of qualifications as a sort of humble brag about how, even without formal qualifications, he still knows better than everyone else. After all, Common Core arrived with absolutely no procedure or mechanism for review or revision-- almost as if its creator was certain that not a hair on its head would ever need to be changed.
And so the second thing to remember is that Coleman is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. There are a mess of features that are just bad education, in particular in the lower grades, where Coleman literally had no idea what the hell he was talking about. The Core demands a particular balance of informational and fiction texts, and that ratio is based on absolutely nothing but Coleman's own preferences. And Coleman's thoughts about teaching literature? As I've said before, if Coleman had been my student teacher, we would have had to have a long talk.
The third thing? At the end of the day, Coleman is also a huckster who wants to sell some product. It'll sell, he's sure, because he's the smartest, rightest guy in the room. But he needs to move some units and make some money.
So it's not surprising that Reuters, which has been working away at the SAT's problems for a while now, would find that Coleman made a hash out of business there.
No surprise that he was so focused on rushing the new SAT so that he could capture that market share Right Now that he ignored the advice of many, many people who told him that his deadline was unrealistic and that he was breaking things trying to meet it.
No surprise that he ignored any kind of bidding process for a critical contract but instead went with a personal contact who shortly had to be fired because they couldn't do the job (again, a warning that he had received from experts within the company).
No surprise that Coleman never seemed conscious of what he didn't know-- how to run a large sprawling commercial organization, the intricacies of standardized test design, test security issues-- but instead just ignored the experts who tried to school him.
One kind of fun surprise buried in the article-- one of the colleges that has made SAT's optional for admissions is tiny Bennington College in Vermont. BC's president is Elizabeth Coleman, David Coleman's mother.
This article is a must-read, a reminder that just because somebody has a high-visibility profile and a high-paying salary in a high-ranking job does not mean that person knows what the hell he is doing. Too bad that his one success has been to con some states into using the SAT as an exit exam. Here's hoping more revelations will help colleges, universities, and state legislatures change their minds about the usefulness of the SAT.