David Coleman Runs The Voodoo Psychometrics Down (and Hopes We’re All Zombies)


A late August HuffPo article by Joy Resmovitz entitled, “David Coleman, Common Core Writer, Gears Up For SAT Rewrite,” has been making the rounds on many of the Facebook groups I follow that focus on high-stakes testing, the Common Core Standards, and other issues of concern to teachers, parents, administrators, students, and other educational stakeholders.

Reading anything involving David Coleman tends to make my head hurt, particularly since he burst onto the consciousness of the education world as the major architect of the Common Core “State” Standards Initiative and shortly thereafter as the new president of the College Board, the branch of the Educational Testing Service that, among other things, creates the SAT, the longer standing of the two major tests American students generally take (the other is the ACT) to enhance their efforts to gain entrance to selective and highly-selective colleges and universities. He has, to the best of my knowledge, no experience as a K-12 teacher. In fact, he applied for a high school teaching position in NYC after doing graduate work as a Rhodes Scholar and was turned down. He is revoltingly young (41) to have so much power in the world of public education given that lack of work experience in K-12 classrooms. But in the new world of education deform, having limited or no classroom experience is often viewed as an asset by the power brokers and billionaires whom they serve. And thus, we have someone who has never taught children in charge of the test that has terrified millions of American high school students (and their parents) for 87 years. 

I recommend that you read the Resmovitz article linked to above and then return to my commentary.


Only a few billion things wrong here, so it’s hard to decide which particularly egregious nonsense to pick on. Let’s try this one: “To rebut arguments such as Carnevale’s, Coleman has said that the Core will teach students how to think critically, a crucial skill in an ever-changing economy.”

I’m reasonably sure that teachers, not standards, teach students. And I’ve worked in mathematics education and teacher education for over a quarter century, more than long enough to have convinced me (and I’m hardly alone in the field in believing) that few US mathematics teachers know how to “teach students how to think critically” within the field of mathematics. Whether such skills transfer to other aspects of the world is unproved, but for the purposes of this conversation moot. Because in the years since the NCTM published its 1989 volume of mathematics standards, it has been clear to people paying attention that relatively few teachers understand or have been able to adjust their classroom practice to meet the philosophy and methods promoted therein. As a decade or so of work by NCTM and math teacher educators across the nation became codified in the 2000 PRINCIPLES AND STANDARDS OF SCHOOL MATHEMATICS, NCTM had settled clearly on what were called the “Process Standards.” And it is those standards, with input from a handful of other sources, that now comprise the Common Core mathematics “Practice Standards.” It is those philosophical and implied pedagogical standards that are decried by such national figures as Stanford emeritus mathematics professor, R. James Milgram, who has not only been a fierce vocal critic of the Common Core math standards as a whole, but also withheld his signature from the final review of the standards document by the committee on which he served. Furthermore, Professor Milgram was a long-time harsh opponent of pretty much every word of NCTM’s various standards volumes from 1989 to 2000.

Consider, too, that a proponent of the NCTM Standards, James Hiebert of University of Delaware (co-author of THE LEARNING GAP, with Jim Stigler of UCLA), told me candidly at the Research Presession of the NCTM Annual Meeting, held in Philadelphia in 2004, that on his view, one could select a town at random from a map of the United States, pick a random school and classroom in the local public schools, and the probability of finding anything being taught that resembled the NCTM vision of effective mathematics teaching in a quality lesson was effectively nil.

I have seen little in my work of the ensuing decade to convince me that there has been much, let alone dramatic positive movement to improve matters over what Professor Hiebert described.

So, if the fundamental philosophy of teaching mathematics was not widely implemented from 1989 until the present, a quarter of a century, more or less, and if there were and remain major mathematicians and other influential figures who have consistently opposed that philosophy and actively worked against its implementation, if the vast majority of US math teachers don’t understand the Process or Practice Standards, have successfully remained ignorant of them for some or all of the last 25 years, or have been part of the strong resistance to their adoption and enthusiastic, effective, intelligent implementation, then Mr. Coleman and his supporters need to explain what is going to happen between now and spring of 2015, when the first near-national administration of the various high stakes tests aligned with the Common Core take place to miraculously transform our math teachers and their practice so that we are seeing that Common Core Standards magic teach critical thinking (at least in mathematics) to our children.

Thus far, I’ve yet to read a single word from anyone affiliated with or promoting the marvelous “new” standards on how this new acceptance, understanding, and effective implementation on the part of the nation’s mathematics teachers will take place. Pardon me if 25 years or so of “the Math Wars,” coupled with reading many of the same criticisms of the philosophical/pedagogical section of the CCSSI math standards leads me to be skeptical that Mr. Coleman has a secret plan to win this war. What I think he does have is a good deal of rhetoric, supporters who dismiss the informed criticism of Diane Ravitch as “blah, blah, blah,” and an obscene amount of money (and political power) to continue to promote what looks like a program that is dead on arrival. Until I read something substantive coming from the fans of the Common Core, I’m going to continue to believe that in fact, failure IS the plan. And Professor Ravitch has outlined quite well why and how that is taking place.


  1. You are right that standards don’t teach students, teachers do. But an agreement about what we want those students to learn, shared by teachers across states, helps those teachers do their job. And if the agreement is coherent, that is, if it tells a story of how knowledge grows across grade levels, then all the better. I agree that the hard job is implementation, but a shared understanding of what we are trying to implement is a good thing.

  2. Every time I read some additional bit of detail on the Cash Cow Corporate Standards, I think it can’t possible be any more absurd. To date, I have always been wrong.

  3. Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  4. Reblogged this on The Road.

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