Common Core architect and College Board President David Coleman recently joined a public forum to discuss “the next America.” His eight-minute speech gives a window into the ideas of those driving education in this country, which many Common Core critics have disagreed with all along.
First is the central idea of college as a pathway to financial security. Coleman opens with this: “The fact is completing a college degree is the most powerful force in driving against income inequality in this country. Seriously, it is the only technology we have.”
Odd. He seems not to have noticed the research demonstrating that intact families are a far better “technology” for fostering economic opportunity. Also, research typically does not show that getting a college degree automatically makes young people better off. It shows that better off people more often have a college degree. This distinction is significant, and understood by anyone who has ever heard in science class the difference between “correlation” and “causation.” For someone who says he is “obsessed with data,” Coleman is extremely sloppy on this point.
The worst thing about his statement, however, is its assumption that the point of college is money. I’m sure if you asked him this, Coleman would say “of course college is not just about money.” But when he continues to represent college-going and test-taking and so forth as a means to the paychecks people think they deserve, he pushes the materialistic view of education as a commodity.
He reinforces this by insisting, later, that “Students must take the opportunities they have earned. The College Board must become a force that propels students into the opportunities they have earned.” There are some good things about this—for example, the College Board’s project he describes of sending poor kids with high schools information packets about colleges they could attend responds to recent research showing that this could give them better life opportunities. What a great way to let people make their own decisions using the best information available.
But Coleman is a bit too forceful about this, which he repeats: “We must ensure students take advantage of the opportunity they have earned.” Is it a moral imperative that each person takes advantage of all the opportunities available? If I were to do that, it could mean jettisoning my three toddlers with a nanny while I pursue longer work hours outside our home. I could go on the fast track. But what would it mean for my family? Coleman’s criterion here is extremely simplistic, and would in many cases lead to immoral behavior that elevates personal satisfaction or economic gain above love and duty. Does a good education encourage people to seek personal gain, despite the cost?
Lastly is this odd way of thinking about our country, which is embedded in the conference title: “The Next America.” If there is going to be a next America, what will happen to the old one?
Coleman says, “We at the College Board are thinking about the next College Board and what it can do for the next America.” His answer is again materialistic and wholly inadequate, as well as self-promoting, for he goes on to describe how Florida has every student take the College Board PSAT test, and how College Board uses the results to tell kids if they should take Advanced Placement classes. Taxpayers pay College Board for every child who takes PSAT and AP. How convenient. Again, Coleman certainly believes that kids benefit from these classes and tests—but perhaps that decision is better left to teachers, parents, and taxpayers, especially given that a dramatic rise in AP test-taking has boosted College Board’s bottom line but not led to many more well-prepared students.
In short, while Coleman is obviously well-spoken and –credentialed, his powers of analysis and assumptions about education leave much to be desired. Too bad I can’t decide whether he will make his mark on my kids’ and country’s education, and neither can anyone else.