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David Coleman vs. Sandra Stotsky: here’s your chance to see them both in action!

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To Common Core opponents, lead author David Coleman is Darth Vader.  (A small sample of the kind of commentary you see is here, here and here.)  But when I look at the same material, I have an entirely different response.  So here’s what I would propose for someone who would like to get a flavor for the debate and maybe begin to form an opinion about the Common Core but doesn’t have the time for extensive personal research.

Look that this much-reviled video of Coleman speaking to educators gathered at the Institute for Learning at the University of Pittsburgh a couple of years ago.  Start at 6:50 if you want to skip Lauren Resnick’s introduction.  Coleman speaks and answers a few questions for an hour.  If you don’t have time for that, just dip into it in several places to get the tone. And, if you would rather, here is the transcript.

Then look at this video of Sandra Stotsky at a recent meeting in New Hampshire.  Dr. Stotsky’s half hour talk starts at minute 37:00 and then she’s involved in a lot of the Q&A that follows.  All the same time-saving strategies are available but, instead of a transcript, here is a recent post based on this video.

What do you think?  Who is more persuasive?


  1. Jack Blodgett says:

    If I step out of my generally skeptical stance regarding the CCSS for a moment, I can sympathize with the Sandra Stotsky. Her concern about the potential reduction of fiction at the center of close reading activities in the classroom is understandable, especially in view of the standards’ comparative lack of overarching sense of worthwhile purpose beyond qualifying students for doing college work without remediation or competing favorably on international assessments. Literary studies are more readily associated with ideas and ideals germane to the formation of moral character and thoughtful citizenship, so any loss of time for those studies becomes a source of concern for those looking for more value from public education than the acquisition of higher reasoning skills. But does that include Sandra Stotsky? I don’t know…

    When it comes to Coleman’s presentation, I am persuaded of several things:
    (1). There’s little doubt about where the substance of the standards came from, mainly the mind of one man, with mere finishing details and clarifying language contributed from the “field,” so to speak.
    (2). His recommendations for how to implement the standards faithfully in preparation for a standardized test contain the seeds of the CCSS ultimate failure. For example, the imposition of a new system for teacher evaluation that he urges has an almost Laputan quality, nearly oblivious to the realities of classroom instruction in current widespread practice, as well as to the time, conditions, and structures essential both to learning revolutionarily new practices AND for teachers to being honestly able to practice them with their typically assigned numbers of diverse students. As I have suggested in other posts, past reforms with the ostensible endorsement and enthusiastic support from teachers have eventually died for lack of faithful implementation. There is no indication that Coleman recognizes the causes of past failures or, worse, cares, inasmuch as he knows the ultimate club is still out there and must hope that it will force whatever change that has not occurred otherwise.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      I guess these videos are a Rorschach test, Jack, for partisans in this battle. To me, it is self-evident that Coleman’s position – derived, as it was, from broad-based research in the field – has intellectual rigor, honesty and vision. Stotsky makes what is to me a weak case in opposition.

      But changing your mind was not my goal here. I’m content to let the two pieces stand as evidence for people who might be skeptical but open-minded. If people find Stotsky persuasive and you want to offer some alternative vision for developing new standards or, as it often seems, using no standards, then that’s what you should do.

      • Jack Blodgett says:

        Bill, it’s not about the standards. It’s about the apparent carelessness or obliviousness of many proponents regarding the questions of why very similar standards/assessment efforts in the past have failed. You just can’t talk about the standards in a vacuum of theoretical quality, just as you can’t take the ostensibly positive endorsements of many educators at face value. I’m just asking for a little respect for a historical perspective, especially given the scale of this national experiment with no place for a control group .

        • Bill Duncan says:

          That’s one more place where we differ, Jack. I don’t think it’s necessary to refight those past wars. By definition, the CCSS effort was built on that experience and reflects it.

          I absolutely think you can take educators’ endorsements at face value, something we have disagreed about from the beginning.

          Every OECD country and the high-performing non-OECD countries all have national standards of one kind or another. Virtually all U.S. states had them before CCSS. If there’s one example among all those who’s process and results you would support, name it. If not, design it. But enough with the history.

  2. Jack Blodgett says:

    Bill, if you had years of experience in directing the accountability activities of a major school district, you would be lots more receptive to the observation of how common it is for teachers and schools to say one thing, do another — UNLESS the conditions and supports that history shows are necessary are in place and functioning to serve high quality learning experiences over time. There’s no waving of any wand that I see in David Coleman’s hand. As I said at the beginning, the standards are “ok, reflective of best practice for teaching higher level analytical skills,” but in my school, I’d find a way to integrate their role within the context of a school vision, curriculum, culture, and professional development protocols that may have little to do with the motives behind the CCSS. So I’m not looking for “better” standards. We already have plenty of good ones to choose among. Several important things that I AM looking for is simply acknowledging that similar approaches to reform have failed in the past, recognizing the wisdom of slowing down, establishing the conditions that make higher quality work possible in schools, designing a more refined system of assessments that Smarter Balanced does not have the time and resources to offer, and only then beginning to feel like we have something worth crowing about.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      As long as you are talking in terms that only someone with your experience understands, Jack, it’s no help. I’m still reading what you are writing and not seeing anything to act on. So we decide on Monday to slow down. Then what?

      • Jack Blodgett says:

        Bill, don’t get me started. But it’s a not a bad idea to sideline the corporate leaders and, granting the need for national leadership, charge a practitioner group of groups with advocating/securing resources for what it will take to achieve the higher level skills of the CCSS in relation with the larger purposes of public education, as well as for guiding the design of an appropriate, comprehensive system of quality controls. Do I believe that this could ever really happen? History shows…

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