For Shame: The College Board Uses Stoneman Douglas To Promote Itself

After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the College Board, the maker of the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests, AP Tests, and other exams, issued a statement, which was sent in an email to all college admission officers, from its president and CEO, David Coleman. That statement has been criticized by both high school and college officials. In addition to its being heartbreakingly insensitive to the students of  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, David Coleman’s statement shows the terrible mistake in what we have bought as a country: The Common Core Standards. David Coleman, singlehandedly, sold the country the Common Core before becoming president and CEO of The College Board

In his email from The College Board, David Coleman wrote:

I was struck first by this remarkable speech by Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. One of the things that makes Emma’s speech so striking is that it is infused with references to her AP Government class. At a time of utmost passion, she insists that she has been trained in evidence.

I do not write today to endorse Emma’s every word; her speech may have benefited from a less partisan approach and an attempt to better understand the positions of gun rights proponents. But I am compelled to share the unadulterated, impassioned voice of a student, drawing on her education as both shield and sword in the aftermath of terrible events.

I then encountered this testimony from Emma’s classmate, David Hogg, who reflects on the importance of journalism in the American fabric. A reporter who interviewed him writes: “In the past year, Hogg’s interest in journalism has grown stronger. His AP U.S. History class recently learned about the Pentagon Papers and the role journalists — ‘the fourth check on the government,’ he said — play in the United States.” David Hogg’s words honor Advanced Placement teachers everywhere, for they reflect their power to open worlds and futures to students.

I have taught AP English, have supervised many other teachers of AP English courses, know what it is to teach and to learn, and, most of all, am both inspired by the remarkable students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School but not surprised by them because those students are similar to so many students I have taught in all sorts of high school classes, not just AP. And I am appalled by David Coleman’s words.

I am angry about what Coleman’s statement says about what he has unleashed on the public schools in this country that misguidedly follow the Common Core curriculum. David Coleman, who calls himself  “the chief architect of the Common Core”, wrote the English Language Arts Common Core Standards. Each of those 42 standards govern how all students in grades K-12 learn to read, learn to write, and learn how to use language.

Coleman’s  statement about the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas is seriously flawed and harmful to students as are his Common Core Standards.

  1. His statement is a marketing pitch for AP courses. AP tests cost money. The more students that take the tests, the higher the profit for The College Board. Profit-making was also the goal of the Common Core sales pitch. All those who worked with Coleman to produce the Common Core were employees of testing companies or companies that analyzed testing data. The more the Common Core standards were adopted, the more profit for those who tested them.

2. David Coleman praised Emma Gonzales for her recognition of being “trained in evidence”.  Of course, it is not unique to her AP class that she has been taught to cite evidence for her position; every single English teacher in every single English course, AP or not, requires students to cite evidence. Most importantly, David Coleman does not once mention her passion, her advocacy, the use of her own voice in the response to unspeakable tragedy. That is because David Coleman himself was trained in something called “New Criticism”, which was popular in the 1930’s but has since been completely discredited.

“New Criticism” says that, when we read something, it doesn’t matter what the historical or cultural context is of what we are reading and, when we write, our own personal perspective is of no importance. All that matters is the evidence on the page. For example, David Coleman filmed a model lesson of how middle school teachers should teach Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and never once mentioned the word “race”.  He also, through the Common Core, preaches that all that matters is the evidence in a student’s writing and famously told audiences of teachers: We must teach students that” No one gives a shit what they think and feel”.

3. David Coleman criticizes the content of Emma Gonzales’s speech. In public. To the world. Shame on him. No good teacher would ever, ever do that. No good teacher would be insensitive to the grief that underscores every word Emma Gonzales and other students are speaking. But see. That’s the thing: David Coleman has never taught any students, any class, ever. And none of the people who worked on his team to write the Common Core Language Arts Standards for K-12 were elementary, middle or high school teachers; none were researchers about teaching and learning; none were college professors of education or English.  We couldn’t expect that team to know how to teach or how kids learn. Their leader, David Coleman, certainly doesn’t know about good teaching. The Common Core doesn’t promote good learning. Shame on us, as a country, for buying that shabby bill of goods.

4. David Coleman writes about AP teachers: “David Hogg’s words honor Advanced Placement teachers everywhere, for they reflect their power to open worlds and futures to students”.

As a supervisor of English teachers, I have known magnificent teachers of AP Literature and Composition, AP Language and Composition, and AP American Studies, and, in every single case without exception, what they offered their students was way, way, way above the official AP curriculum, which is extremely narrow and focused on preparing students for the AP exam. So their magnificence was not at all dependent on the College Board’s AP curriculum.

Also, as a supervisor of English teachers, I have been privileged to know countless magnificent teachers  who “open worlds and futures to students” who are not AP students. All good teachers “open worlds and futures to students” to their students of all abilities.

It’s not just AP teachers whom we should honor, but all teachers K-12 who, over the years, have encouraged young people to trust their own thinking and to express their thoughts and feelings so clearly and effectively that now they are ready to march for what they value.