Who wrote the ELA CCS

What you need to know about the man who wrote the ELA Common Core Standards

David Coleman, lead “architect” for the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the Common Core, is not an educator, but a businessman. He drafted the ELA standards with a small group of business people, mostly test preparers, test providers and administrators. The standards development committee contained no high school English teachers or English Professors. The two people credited with writing the grade-level English language arts standards (David Coleman and Susan Pimentel) have never taught in K-12 and have never published anything in K-12 curriculum and instruction. They have no credibility to the field.

Actual English teachers were not invited to those closed-door meetings. Recently promoted to president of the College Board, Coleman has promised to align the SAT with the Common Core that he built. He plotted education for K-12 students, and now he’s plotting it for postsecondary students, too.

How can a one-size-fits-all alignment make sense for all students –whether bound for a minimum wage job, a two-year college or the top university in the world– prepare each using a one-size-fits-all Common Core program? Either the lower-level students are to be pushed beyond reasonable expectations, or the higher level students are to be dumbed down. Or both.

Coleman is an outspoken antagonist to narrative writing and is no fan of classic literature, so he singlehandedly slashed most of it from the education most children in America will know, either already –or soon. Common Core testing begins in 2014, so the intense pressure for teachers to conform to Common Core is yet to be fully felt.

What did Coleman do to Language Arts? He mandated that dreary informational text, not beautiful, classic literature, is to be the main emphasis in English classes, incrementally worsening as students get older.

What it looks like: little children in an ELA classroom may read no more than 50% classic literature. High school seniors may only be assigned to read 30% classic literature. The other 70% must be informational text, which means everything from historical documents (which apparently students aren’t going to be reading in history class) to insulation installation manuals, presidential executive orders, environmental programming, and federal reserve documents. These are actually on the recommended reading list. And if you doubt further, look here at an EPA presentation in Region 3 where they talk about their plans for hosting professional development seminars to teach teachers how to cover this stuff.

Coleman also has this insane belief that students must “stay within the four corners of the text” meaning that they cannot bring knowledge not directly given in the text into analysis of the text, as if that were possible. It is a difficult skill to master because the human brain is wired to bring context into our analysis of what we read all the time. If we did not bring in prior knowledge and context, our employers would have to document every single step of an assignment because we couldn’t be expected to bring our prior to knowledge to the work at hand. Would you like to be the employer of employees trained in this way?

For a thorough, and eloquent, explanation of what has happened to English Language Arts because of Coleman’s influence, please read “Speaking Back to the Common Core” by Professor Thomas Newkirk of the University of New Hampshire.

What Coleman does not understand (––) is that narrative is so much more than a style of writing. Narrative isn’t just using the “I” word. It’s more than “What I Did Last Summer.” Narrative is a pattern woven (often unconsciously) into every style of memorable writing, whether argumentative, persuasive, expository, etc. The best informational texts are narratively satisfying.

Coleman’s knocking down of narrative writing and slashing of it from academic standards is both ignorant and, to English teachers and astute kids, really confusing. For a funny, punchy review of the muddly ELA writing standards, read Professor Laura Gibbs’ “Inspid Brew of Gobbledygook”.

David Coleman is largely ignorant in the field of writing language arts standards. One member of the official Common Core validation committee, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, pointed this out and refused to sign off on the validity of the Common Core standards.

And David Coleman is not even nice, as you’ll see from the video linked here, where he mocks student narrative and uses the “sh–” word in a professional development seminar for teachers.


Anne Gassel
Missouri Coalition Against Common Core

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