"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, January 04, 2013

SCAM ALERT: Coleman as Perpetual Huckster

There's an allegory that is popular among lawyers called the allegory of the river. [1]

In this allegory, people find themselves near a river and confronted with a stream of babies floating helplessly by in the current. Many begin frantically to wade into the rushing water, saving as many babies as possible.

Then one walks away. The others are stunned and ask why this one person is abandoning the mission to rescue the babies floating down the river.

The one walking away says, "I am going upstream to find who is throwing the babies in and stop them."



If David Coleman found himself among these people, he would be the one crafting (and selling) a strategy to retrieve the babies from the water, and his work would keep everyone so frantic on how to save the babies (Common Core Standards for Saving Babies in the River, anyone?) that no one would pause to look at the bigger problem: Someone was tossing the babies in the river upstream.

Coleman is a perpetual huckster, skilled at his selling without having to have any expertise behind his showmanship. Since he has successfully sold the U.S. on the CCSS, a magnificent scam, he now is poised to revamp the College Board, making headlines by speaking about problems with the SAT.

Coleman seems concerned the writing section and vocabulary on the SAT are problematic. To that I say, "Welcome to my world, about 30 years too late."

If I were willing to take Coleman's bait (like the endless list of states, departments of education, professional organizations, and unions who are scrambling to trump each other with their plans to implement CCSS), I could provide a detailed examination of all that is wrong with the writing portion of the SAT (students spend more time bubbling than drafting, one-draft sample, prompted writing, etc.).

BUT that is exactly what Coleman is seeking—not a better SAT, but a flurry of how to revise the SAT!

The SAT and the standards movement have one fact in common: A perpetual state of revision insures that some people make a great deal of money and the "new" and "better" paradigm allow them to capitalize on reform.

If we wrangle over how to reform the SAT, we are distracted from asking the essential question: What is the SAT good for? (absolutely nothing)

Arguments over how to implement CCSS or whether or not the CCSS marginalizes fiction for the new frontier of non-fiction, arguments over how to revise the writing section of the SAT or whether or not the SAT should test practical or esoteric vocabulary—these are acts of futility, these are wading into the river to retrieve the babies while ignoring the need to walk up stream and stop the real horror to begin with.

Let's pause for a history lesson.

The state university system in California took a swipe at the SAT some years ago, remember? The SAT was revised!

The ACT surpasses the SAT, and bingo! Coleman makes controversial (media grabbing) comments about revising the SAT.

See a pattern?

U.S. public education does not need new standards, new high-stakes tests, or a new SAT.

But we do need to walk upstream and stop the corporate hucksters throwing babies in the river.

[1] Apologies to David Coleman for starting with fiction.

3 comments:

  1. Paul, I've heard for years that the SAT correlates very well to college GPA. That's from respected people like Howard Wainer. Thoughts?

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  2. Duke, GPA still trumps SAT as a predictor of college success according to the College Board's own research.

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  3. Duke, See the link in my SAT piece cited in this blog as well as this: http://cshe.berkeley.edu/publications/docs/ROPS.GEISER._SAT_6.12.07.pdf

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