A Teacher Says “NO!” to Common Core Standards

I question the motivations of David Coleman, “architect” and lead author of the Common Core, whose video was shown to ICs last year giving a lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.

This past summer, I viewed an entire two-hour tape of Colemen giving a speech to New York state educators about CCSS. Besides how condescending he was about teachers and students, what sticks out for me in his lecture was when he was talking about the shift of the CCSS from writing/reading about self, to writing/reading non-fiction complex texts. Coleman told his audience, “People don’t really give a shit about what you (students) feel and what you (students) think.” Here is a link to that video.

This letter was originally posted on Susan Ohanian.org. It was such a powerful piece that I requested permission to post the letter here in its entirety. Susan and the author of this letter graciously agreed.


Dear ____,

Thank you for asking me to help you train Instructional Coaches in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Following is an attempt to communicate my perspective on the CCSS and why I respectfully declined the offer.

As our district gears up for a massive “roll out” of the CCSS which our state (along with 45 other states) have adopted and will fully implement by 2013, principals, ICs, and selected elementary teachers are being trained, some by the Dana Center, others by those who have been trained by the Dana Center, in the format of CCSS and some of the document’s distinctive characteristics.

After attending several trainings (two full day trainings and two half day district trainings), I was asked to participate in a “Self-Study on the CCSS” intended to help us figure out how to inform teachers of the timeline of K-3 CCSS, communicate the importance of implementing these standards, and create staff “buy-in” of the CCSS.

Before the session, I read the self-study guide that we were asked to download, viewed it’s embedded videos, and explored the study guide’s websites. All web sites and videos that I viewed or read were generated from either the CCSS website or the Hunt Institute whose main objective is, “to inspire elected officials and key policymakers to make informed decisions that result in improving the lives of all children through quality education.” The Hunt Institute Foundation consists mainly of business leaders, government officials, and educational consultants/superintendents.

The first item I would like to focus on is the Hunt Institute video and some of the assumptions it asks us to believe. The video asserts that over the past few decades, our students have not been “keeping pace” with other countries around the world. I have read from several sources that from 10 to 15 percent of US students who took the international tests were in poverty, whereas, students in poverty in the “higher scoring” countries did not take the tests. The research further asserts that if we took out our students in poverty from the test results, we would out perform all other countries.

During the time that our students have not been “keeping pace”, the percentage of US children in poverty has climbed steadily. When my children went to public school 20 years ago, the percentage of families getting Free and Reduced Price Lunches was 35%. Today, it has more than doubled to 78%. In the Hunt Institute video, this is never mentioned as a possible reason that we are not “keeping pace”.

Another disturbing feature of this video are its assertions that the CCSS are grounded in “research and evidence”, will bring increased student achievement thereby out-competing children in other countries, and will ultimately result in a healthy, robust economy. There is simply no independent research that shows that standards, even if they are “consistent, shared, and rigorous” lead to greater achievement by students. Please read the attached article from, The Journal of Scholarship & Practice, Winter 2011, titled, Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-less Decision Making, which confirms this point.

I studied the overarching goal of our self-study which was the following, “Gain a common understanding of the Common Core State Standards and develop a strong working knowledge of the standards’ effect on teaching and learning.” I have several questions about this goal:

1. Is it possible for anyone to predict the effects of the CCSS on teaching and learning? Again, there is no independent research which show how standards, in and of themselves, raise achievement.

2. Weren’t our soon to be dropped state standards supposed to raise student achievement too? These are the same state standards that we unpacked, unwrapped, and consolidated into power standards and are now being discarded. We were told that these would raise student achievement. According to the state test results, most of the students in our schools cannot even meet our current “less rigorous” state standards.

3. How will our children, who are growing hungrier and more homeless, be able to meet these standards without also building in increased support for early intervention, robust teacher professional development (not training), healthier school lunches, culturally relevant curriculum, and smaller class sizes?

Currently, 1 in 5 children in our country are in poverty—-1 in 4 children are in poverty in our state. The CCSS website also claims that for the “first time”, children will be taught with consistent, rigorous standards using the ideas from high achieving countries around the world ie; countries who scored well on the PISA and TIMSS tests. Some of these “higher performing” countries do have national standards but NONE of them have standards-based, high-stakes tests—NONE! Nor do any of the higher scoring countries evaluate schools or teachers on test scores.

The CCSS assessments that are coming down the pike are the “effects” on teaching and learning about which I am most alarmed. I have read that $186 million has already been spent from Race to the Top money for the development of on-line, high-stakes assessments of the CCSS.

Currently, we use students’ standardized-test scores to evaluate schools. Soon, resources will be poured into evaluating both schools and teachers on student test results of the CCSS. So far, determining accountability of schools by student test scores has only highlighted and been a factor in the widening achievement gap—-what will happen to the gaps when these punitive assessments are ramped up?

4. How will these assessments be a motivation to teachers to be more autonomous in the classroom? We have been assured that our autonomy (which was taken away with the mandates of NCLB) will be given back to teachers. How does the CCSS give our autonomy back to us?

Finally, one of the most offensive statements on the self-study was the following, “In what ways have you already started recognizing and rewarding the “early adopters” of the CCSS at your school? In what ways have you dealt with the “NoNos or naysayers?” As educators, we should be models of critical thinking for our students in order to better prepare them to solve the complex problems they will be and are facing. I strongly feel that this statement discourages us from thinking deeply about the CCSS and encourages us to blindly accept this document without questioning the motivations behind it.

I question the publishers (Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton-Mifflin) listed on the CCSS website as Common Core Endorsing Partners and who stand to gain even greater profits by selling programs aligned to the Core and the accompanying on-line CCSS high-stakes assessments.

I question the motivations of David Coleman, “architect” and lead author of the Common Core, whose video was shown to ICs last year giving a lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. Coleman has never been an educator; founded Grow Network whose mission is, “making assessment results truly useful to teachers” and which is now owned by McGraw-Hill; and is a Founding Partner of Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit organization that assembles leading thinkers and researchers to design actions to substantially improve student achievement.”

This past summer, I viewed an entire two-hour tape of Coleman giving a speech to New York state educators about CCSS. Besides how condescending he was about teachers and students, what sticks out for me in his lecture was when he was talking about the shift of the CCSS from writing/reading about self, to writing/reading non-fiction complex texts. Coleman told his audience, “People don’t really give a shit about what you (students) feel and what you (students) think.” Here is a link to that video. (Ohanian: Here is my comment on it.)

I hope you now understand my reasoning and thoughts behind choosing to be in the Naysayer/NoNo camp on the CCSS. Until I see solid evidence from our district, state, and nation that teachers will be professionally supported in the implementation of CCSS, until resources are directed to supporting rich teaching and learning for all children, until teachers are given autonomy to exercise our professionalism in teaching and assessment, until our class sizes go down to a manageable level, until assessments become meaningful, given and created at the discretion and professional judgment of the teacher, until the priority is to do what is best for children, until schools and teachers are evaluated for our professionalism, creativity, and compassion not by our children’s test scores, I cannot support these standards.

I would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Thank you for the opportunity to express my opinion.
— Someone Who Said No



  1. This article and letter is right on. As a parent of public school children in Utah, I know this path to CCSS is just a continuation of the failed policies of federal intervention into our schools, with the added implementation of the loss of privacy to our children and their families not to mention the massive costs to states and taxpayers yet unrealized. Everything about this stinks to high heaven starting with the highly unethical use of stimulus money to the tune of billions of dollars to implement CCSS. Not to mention the additional funding from questionable private interests and NGOs. Add to that the dangling carrot and pressure put on Governors and state school boards to quickly sign on to get RTTT funds and NCLB waivers leaving local school boards and parents out of the equation. I realize it all comes down to money and our states getting their piece of the federal pie, but shouldn’t we at some point stop and say, “at what cost to our freedoms does this come?” Will we really be ahead after all is said and done or will we again find ourselves stuck in another failed federal oversight? We need to cut the ropes tying us to this bloated sinking ship before it takes us down with it.

  2. In this blog posting by a MS English teacher – http://usedbookclassroom.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/dear-common-core-send-strategies-not-a-messenger/ – the “messenger” is David Coleman, who “models a lesson he would give [on MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail], but he is not providing a strategy. Strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a vision; Coleman provides an example, not a plan of action. . . . [W]hen I heard Coleman’s position that a teacher should spend six to eight days on this letter, I was taken aback. Really? Six to eight days is two weeks in “school time”, the same amount of time I usually spend teaching the entire memoir Night by Elie Wiesel. Six to eight days represents the class time used for several grammar mini-lessons and two polished essays. Six to eight days represents a unit on (8) sonnets, or a unit on (5) short stories, or the in-class reading of three acts of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Again, I must reiterate that Coleman is not a teacher. He has not taught in a classroom. . . . In my classrooms, Coleman’s suggested time of processing extended reading over six to eight days would be met with frustration by many of my students, regardless of reading level. I speak from experience in the classroom where three days (reading, responding, discussing, and writing) in a 9th grade classroom spent on Edgar Allen Poe’s Cask of the Amontillado is sufficient; a fourth day would make them as mad as Montresor. Furthermore, his blithe remark that extended time will better allow all students to participate and make contributions again places the emphasis on time rather than on the engaging strategies that need to be in place. . . . A student’s level of appreciation of a text is still often tied to personal experience. Deep engagement with a text for student is, as with many adults, a personal experience that cannot be forced. Coleman’s six to eight day formula may make a student aware of elements in a text but not necessarily personally engage in the same manner he espouses. His personal engagement with King’s letter is obviously one of reverence; his video explaining King’s letter borders on proselytizing. In comparison, King did that better—and he didn’t take six days.”

    1. Hi there! I do think it’s interesting that Coleman is not a teacher, but I don’t think that negates the value of the close reading of a text. I’m not saying that that’s what you’re saying, but sometimes we can get so focused on reasons why something isn’t ideal that we miss out on the opportunities contained within it.

      One thing I like about the CCSS is that they do not spell out an overabundant amount of what must be covered. So, if one teacher prefers to spend a mini-unit on King’s letter, that’s their prerogative; if another doesn’t, fine.

      Also, I think it’s possible to frame complex readings in a way that encourages deep engagement. In my classroom, I recently had the chance to teach All Quiet on the Western Front to two consecutive groups. To the first group, I did little framing work, I tried rushing through the book, and the students hated it. For the second group, I introduced the book with a photo of an Iraq War vet after intensive facial reconstruction surgery, and then we read an article about him. Throughout the book, we asked the question, “What does war do to soldiers?” Because of the increased relevance to their lives and the more reasonable pace that we took through the book (as well as getting rid of a lot of non-reading, -writing, or -discussing activities), students loved the book (well, a lot of them hated the ending ;).

      Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

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