David Coleman: Architect of the Common Core and, soon, the SAT

As I`ve mentioned before, relative to the usual quality of educational standards writing, the new Common Core standards reflect a fine masculine intelligence. The author clearly understands how a highly intelligent person — say, a McKinsey consultant — thinks, and has methodically laid out what future McKinsey consultants should learn during their K-12 years.

Not surprisingly, the Common Core`s architect David Coleman (Stuyvesant, Yale, Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and Cambridge) is a former McKinsey consultant.

Of course, nobody involved with the Common Core appears to have thought much about students who are not going to be McKinsey consultants. What happens when they fall behind the rigorous pace Coleman has decreed?

But, are there such mythical beasts as average students, much less below-average students? If they exist, Coleman didn`t grow up hanging around with many. Since American educational establishment is putting most of its eggs in the David Coleman basket, let`s learn more about him from the Jewish Daily Forward:

David Coleman, the Most Influential Education Figure You`ve Never Heard Of 

Common Core Author Is Redesigning the SATs and AP Program 

By Joy Resmovits 

Published August 25, 2013

As a boy growing up in downtown Manhattan with a college president for a mother and psychiatrist for a father, David Coleman often had lively and lacerating dinner table conversations. 

“My parents, while both working, were home every night at dinner,” said Coleman, now 43. The family wasn’t satisfied with easy repartee. If Coleman went to a movie or read a book, his parents wanted to know what he learned from the experience. Coleman often found himself arguing a point before he took the first bite, an eagerness that both charmed and aggravated his parents. 

“They cared more about the quality of what I did and the engagement with ideas than they did about other measures of success,” he said, speaking in his brightly-lit Columbus Circle office, where a black-and-white Martin Luther King Jr. photograph hangs on the wall…. 

As president of the College Board, a national education company, he is redesigning the SAT, the standardized test which high school seniors take for college admission, and he is expanding the Advanced Placement program, which offers college-level classes and tests for high school students. 

He is perhaps best known as the architect of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, meant to bring divergent state learning goals into alignment. Public schools in 47 states will begin teaching the Core in English Language Arts this fall. …

How did Coleman wind up in the middle of the 21st century’s curriculum wars? His path started at his parents’ dinner table, and wended its way through selective New York public school Stuyvesant High, making an important pit stop at his bar mitzvah. 

Coleman gleaned many lessons from his bar mitzvah, said Jason Zimba, a Common Core co-writer and lifelong friend who taught mathematics at Bennington College, where Coleman’s mother Elizabeth served as president. 

“The idea that the child’s serious attention to this venerated, beautiful text is valued by the adults and even the rabbi is to David a beautiful thing,” Zimba said. “I’ve listened to him talk about that.” …

The experience of conducting a deep exegesis at age 13 framed Coleman’s thinking about education. “The idea that kids can do more than we think they can is one of Judaism’s most beautiful contributions,” he said. Asking 13-year-olds to give a prepared speech in front of people they love is a bold charge, not unlike encouraging disadvantaged kids who don’t see themselves as academically minded to take AP courses. “I wish kids could encounter more stretched opportunities like that in school — all kids,” he said. 

After graduating from Stuyvesant, Coleman attended Yale, where he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford. There, he studied English literature. … 

Upon returning to New York, he applied to a high school teaching job and was turned down. Instead, he worked for consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where he advised public schools and became a fixture at New York City Department of Education meetings. … 

When Zimba and Coleman developed their education startup, the Grow Network, which sought to make the new testing data from No Child Left Behind useful to teachers …

While working on the Grow Network, Coleman tried to “fill the promise that assessment results could actually improve kids’ lives,” he said. But he found that educational problems run deeper: The standards the tests were trying to measure “were so vast and vague, it’s hard to make high-quality assessments.” Coleman sold the Grow Network to McGraw-Hill, and formed Student Achievement Partners, a not-for-profit that now helps states implement the Common Core standards. In 2008, he and Zimba co-wrote a seminal paper calling for “math and science standards that are fewer, clearer, higher.” 

These ideas, Sherman speculated, stem from Coleman’s religious background. “He grew up in a family that extremely prioritized the value and importance of a deep, broad education,” Sherman said. “Those Jewish values toward education have a lot to do with his belief system: Every child should be a smart thinker, a deep thinker, someone who’s analytical and probing.” Coleman also believes that religious texts have a place in the public school curriculum. 

Before Coleman and Zimba published their paper, in 2008, the National Governors Association convened a group of governors who wanted to create a set of unified educational standards nationwide. Because states write their own standards and exams, students who move across state lines might find themselves passing math in one state and failing it in another. The governors sought to address this problem by creating common standards. Attracted to Coleman’s idea of “fewer, clearer, higher,” they tapped Student Achievement Partners to write them. 

“While sometimes I’ve been called an architect of their standards, I think their true architecture is evidence,” Coleman said. “That’s the binding secret of the standards.” Coleman, Zimba and Sue Pimentel, an education consultant, made sure the standards reflect the skills students need to succeed after high school. 

While the standards were developed by representatives of the states, with help from the Gates Foundation, they received a new, powerful — but, in retrospect, potentially detrimental — boost in 2009. That year, the Obama administration incentivized higher learning standards with billions of dollars in its Race to the Top competition, and recession-stunned states signed on to the Core. …

As the fight over the Core plays out in the states, Coleman now has a broader view on education. Last summer, the College Board announced they would hire Coleman to lead the organization. Since then, he has engaged the organization’s members in creating a redesigned SAT, which will be unveiled in 2015. 

He’s heard from members of the College Board that they want the SAT to test things that are relevant to college success. They’ve told him that students should be able to read and write clearly, and also master a core set of mathematical concepts. “The core aspiration is to build an exam that much more clearly focuses on the skills that matter most,” he said. Instead of obscure vocabulary words, students would be expected to show deep understanding of academic terms such as “synthesis” and “transform.”

Uh oh …