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David Brooks, Common Core Circus Performer

April 18, 2014

Why newspapers hire individuals to regularly offer the public unsubstantiated opinions baffles me. I am a researcher. Unless my posts are grounded in my personal experience, I offer my readers links to document my position on matters about which I write.

David Brooks is an opinion writer. He publishes his opinions regularly in the New York Times (NYT) and has done so since 2003.

Brooks is not a teacher. He has no firsthand experience with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Nevertheless, Brooks has an opinion on the matter, and the NYT has published his opinion because, well, the NYT publishes Brooks’ opinions.

Brooks supports CCSS. That is his opinion.

Allow me to present another opinion: that of the “lead architect” of CCSS, David Coleman. Coleman is quoted here from his presentation, Bringing the Common Core to Life:

Do you know the two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today?…It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with these two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people don’t really give a **** about what you feel or think. What they instead care about is can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me. [Emphasis added.]

How is that for irony? David Brooks writes his opinion on CCSS, and the “lead architect” of CCSS is knocking opinion writing.

Brooks’ opinion is that opponents to CCSS are part of a “circus.”

How sad it is that Brooks does not realize that he is part of the very circus about which he writes. Brooks believes he writes about CCSS from an op/ed perch outside of the Big Top. However, his place is in the ring of the many who support CCSS on the unsubstantiated opinion that CCSS is necessary to American public education; that it was properly and democratically created and chosen by stakeholders; that it is the solution to some supposed failure of American public education, and that opponents of CCSS act only from “hysteria.”

In his op/ed, Brooks presents the “reality” of CCSS as it appears to him in the Fun House mirror.

Brooks refers to a time “about seven years ago.” That would be 2007, the year that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was declared a failure. Brooks notes “it was widely acknowledged that state education standards were a complete mess.” So, in his effort to support CCSS, Brooks blames varied state standards for “huge numbers of students were graduating from high school unprepared either for college work or modern employment.”

Brooks provides no evidence to support his statements. How “non-CCSS” of him.

He even contradicts himself by the end of his article: “The new standards won’t revolutionize education. It’s not enough to set goals; you have to figure out how to meet them.”

Those who actually have careers in the classroom know there is more to the issue than “setting goals” and “meeting them” based upon a set of standards.

In 2007, David Hursh of the University of Rochester published a paper on the failure of NCLB. Hursh does not mention “common standards” as a solution to some widespread failure of public education.  However, he does mention other complex issues that have a bearing on the classroom and which are ignored by the likes of Brooks in promoting the CCSS “solution”:

The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) marks the largest intervention of the federal government into education in the history of the United States. NCLB received and continues to receive support, in part because it promises to improve student learning and to close the achievement gap between White students and students of color. However, NCLB has failed to live up to its promises and may exacerbate inequality. Furthermore, by focusing on education as the solution to social and economic inequality, it diverts the public’s attention away from the issues such as poverty, lack of decent paying jobs and health care, that need to be confronted if inequality is to be reduced. [Emphasis added.]

Notice how the focus has shifted from the NCLB goal of “closing the achievement gap” to the Race to the Top (RTTT) goal of “competitiveness in the global economy.”

Neither NCLB with its “100 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2014″ nor RTTT with its “internationally benchmarked standards and assessments, teacher evaluation, data systems, and ‘turning around low performing’ schools” accounts for economic influences upon learning, not the least of which is the relationship between student learning and community economic viability.

I wrote about the fact that based upon employment projections for 2014, 2016 and 2020, Louisiana will have far more jobs available for high school dropouts and high school graduates than it will college graduates.

CCSS Fun House writers like Brooks do not address the disconnect between the call for “academic rigor” and the sagging economies that cannot support the Brooks-style finger-wag.

Know what else is funny? In 2007, when NCLB was openly acknowledged to be a failure, some legislators were still crying, “Stay the course.”

Sounds like CCSS “stay the course” opinions here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here….

You get the picture.

Another interesting fact about 2007: It was the year that David Coleman started his national-standards-writing company-gone nonprofit (first 990 on file not until 2011), Student Achievement Partners (SAP). Prior to SAP, Coleman and fellow CCSS “lead writer” Jason Zimba started a company to analyze NCLB test data.

Coleman had his foot in the proverbial NCLB door and “just happened” to start a company completely devoted to CCSS in 2007, the year that the NCLB circus began to show impending collapse.

A truly astounding, “state-led” coincidence.

Brooks also states that “the new standards are more rigorous than the old,” yet he also uses the Fordham Institute “finding” that CCSS is only “better” than standards in 37 states. I wrote about the 2010 Fordham Institute “grading” of state standards here and Fordham CCSS peddler Mike Petrilli here. Petrilli even tried the “stay the course” line in Indiana– a state with standards that Fordham graded as superior to CCSS.

Attempting to convince a state with standards “superior” to CCSS to keep CCSS is part of the CCSS sales job, yet this act somehow escapes Brooks’ notice.

How convenient.

As to another convenient Brooks oversight: The 2010 Fordham “grading” of state standards offers no logic between scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Fordham grade for a state’s standards. Thus, a state could have low NAEP scores and have a high Fordham grade on standards, or vice-versa. No logic. Nevertheless, Brooks assumes Fordham to be standards-grading “experts,” and Fordham Executive Vice President (nice title) Petrilli travels the country (for examples, see here, and here, and here, and here) advising states to “stay the course” with CCSS standards that Fordham admits are not better than all state standards.

As to Brooks’ assertion that CCSS “unpopularity” is “false”: He believes it is enough to cite some survey evidence (no reference provided) for Kentucky and Tennessee, and New York (linked)– three states. More Fun House illusion: that “evidence” of CCSS “popularity” in three states justifies a nationwide CCSS.  Not so.

As to survey “evidence” on CCSS and education perceptions in general: I have written detailed accounts on a number of these surveys, all in 2013: NAESP (principals) surveyStand for Children Louisiana surveyGates Scholastic survey (partial results release); NEA surveyAssociated Press (AP) surveyAP and Gallup surveyAFT survey.

My “overwhelming” conclusion:  CCSS was an imposed education “reform” that administrators, teachers, and the public were forced to deal with. CCSS is not “popular”; it was tolerated at best as indicated by these 2013 survey results. As to the public perception: in 2013, the public was largely unaware of CCSS. Now they know. Now CCSS is in the news; it is in the classrooms, and it is in the statehouses.

CCSS-related legislation abounds.

As to Brooks’ Fun House assertion that CCSS is “state led, let us not forget the infamous CCSS “lead architect” David Coleman, who made the following statement to data analysts in Boston on May 31, 2013:

When I was involved in convincing governors and others around this country to adopt these standards, it was not “Obama likes them.” Do you think that would have gone well with the Republican crowd? [Emphasis added.]



Though it might be difficult for Brooks to admit, Coleman just declared himself “CCSS Ringmaster.”

To Coleman, CCSS was a product to sell to “governors,” and he couldn’t say that “Obama likes” CCSS if he expected to make the sale to “the Republican crowd.”

Coleman must have made an effective sales pitch; in 2009— before CCSS was complete– 46 “states” had already “agreed to be state led.”

And so, our Big Top performance has come full circle in this post that began and ended with the CCSS Ringmaster, David Coleman.

It is one feat to “convince governors” to buy into CCSS; it is quite another to “convince” America.

Brooks is right; the circus in indeed “in town,” and in his opinion-spouting position, Brooks is attempting to sell tickets to The Greatest So-called “Standards” Show on Earth.

Those familiar with the CCSS imposition know better than to buy Brooks’ line that CCSS is “a perfectly sensible yet slightly boring idea.”

From reading Brooks’ unanchored appeal, one issue is certain: This fount of unsolicited CCSS opinion is not a classroom teacher.

Let us leave him now, unsold tickets still in his ungrounded-opinion-writing hands.


  1. Well said, as always, Mercedes!

    I am willing to bet that David Brooks has not read the Common Core State Standards. However, he has heard from sources he trusts, a story.

    David Coleman has denigrated the teaching of literature. He thinks that our students ought, instead, to be reading really important stuff like reports on securing right-of-way for electric power transmission lines via eminent domain.

    But I have news for Lord Coleman: storytelling is one of the primary means by which we humans make sense of the world, and so we had better understand how storytelling works, especially when it’s propagandistic storytelling.

    The propaganda mills of Achieve, the CCSSO, and the NGA cooked up a story, and and this is the one that Brooks repeats, for he is a completely permeable membrane for whatever PR the oligarchs are peddling in any given week. The PR story that Brooks has bought entirely goes like this:

    Our schools are failing. We need accountability. We need national standards and tests of those, to whip the teachers who have been failing into shape. And now we have them–new “higher” standards, and some crazy fringe types want to scuttle all that because they are [fill in the blank–leftists, Tea Partiers, shiftless union members].

    It’s a simple story, so it plays in the press. A very simple story. One might even call it simple-minded.

    Of course, it’s false all around. But explaining why isn’t simple. It can’t be done in a sound bite or in one of Brooks’s op-eds. And in a sound bite culture–in a culture that serves up fast food ideas–that’s a problem.

    The Common [sic] Core [sic] State [sic] Standards [sic] were paid for by plutocrats who needed a single set of standards to key the educational software to that they planned to sell nationally. That’s the why.

    And the standards are in no sense “higher.” They are backward, received, amateurish, pedestrian, unimaginative, and often prescientific. They preclude important curricula and pedagogy and important innovation in both areas. They are full of gaps so large that one could drive whole curricula through these lacunae.

    But that can’t be explained in sound bites either. For Mr. Brooks and others to understand just how bad these “standards” are, first, they would have to read them. Then they would have to consult actual educators and scholars and researchers who know what the problems are. There would be a great deal for them to learn, and many of them would not be up to the job.

    But here’s the Cliffs Notes of the Cliff Notes, just for David: one would have gotten similar results if one had handed David Coleman a copy of the 1858 Gray’s Anatomy and sent him to the woods to write new “standards” for the practice of medicine.

    The new standards are a national disgrace. They are a joke. The authors of them should long ago have been hooted off the national stage. Lord Coleman’s bullet list is already grotesquely distorting curricula and pedagogy in reading, writing, literature, vocabulary, grammar, and other areas of the English language arts.

    The opportunity costs of using these amateurish “standards” are enormous. And the consequences for our kids and our nation, dire.

  2. Wow… go Mercedes! I love how you throw all their self-important words right back at them!

  3. Candyce Watsey permalink

    Thank you for your writing, your research, and your unflagging defense of public education. I am proud to be a member of a profession that has inspired such a soul as yours.

  4. Keep it up! Don’t know how you do it! When, as a teacher, I attended the first CA round of “staff development sessions” the meme was that NCLB was “bad” because it dis-empowered teachers and created unrealistic pacing systems, etc. Then it was “demonstrated” that CCSS is “good” because teachers would be “empowered” to “create’ to “construct” lessons where students could learn from “real world” application. Hundreds of us, in self chosen groups by grade level and academic interest went to work “constructing'”collaborative lesson plans. Toward the end of the week long seminar the “e-testing” and “nation-wide” -monopolistic- “standards” were introduced. Many of us began to wonder, “How does this empower us if we’ve got to teach to an e-test designed by a collaborative of old NCLB standards groups and e-corporate groups still trying to figure out an e-testing system? Meanwhile, he Administrators in the session were wondering what their role would be without “pacing guides to monitor”? … We were all well paid to attend, so the public was taxed for this experiment and everyone I was with went away scratching their heads, wondering how CCSS would work? Now we are getting answers and not from David Brooks.

  5. Brooks labeling those who disagree with CCSS as “hysterical” comes too close to the CIA/NSA saying Dianne Feinstein was “emotional” in her opposition to the torture record–easy to see the sexist bent of these macho dudes going wrong.

  6. christine permalink

    I wonder if Brooks has kids living with these so called standards and the mess they have made of school. I do. He and Coleman can both drop me a line and I will provide them with plenty of evidence of how pushing CCSS, data collection, testing and ranking and sorting has hurt my kids and their educations.
    Because apparently, they “don’t give a ****,”
    but I do.

  7. Jacman permalink

    Listening to Coleman speak, I can’t help cringing, not only at content, but also at his smarmy, fake-passion COMMITMENT to his obsessions. Ugh.

  8. Linda permalink

    Oh and he’s mocking blowhards….the bloviating blowhard of all blowhards. Priceless.

    Is his voice extremely annoying or is that just me?

  9. Reblogged this on jonathan lovell's blog and commented:
    Mercedes Schneider, Louisiana educator and researcher extraordinaire, has written an excellent post in response to the recent David Brook’s NYT op-ed piece referring to the “clowns” who oppose the Common Core. It’s long, but it’s well worth reading. I highly recommend it.

  10. Cosmic Tinker permalink

    Coleman’s assertion that high school students engage primarily in personal expository writing is just an opinion as well. Don’t believe for a minute that’s based on a review of standards because if he had gone through the standards that existed across states and school districts, he would have seen that in districts like mine, starting in middle school, children were required to provide evidence substantiating their assertions with citations. This was not new either. I learned it when I was in school here in the 60s as well. That continued to be a component of our standards for middle school and high school students for decades,

    Whenever Coleman et al. make any kind of claim, always demand evidence!

  11. Thank you for writing so clearly on this topic…and for calling out ringmaster David Coleman!
    As a proud resident in the state of Connecticut….a state which proudly claims PT Barnum as a son… I can speak about circuses and did so on my post:
    Brooks should be more careful with his metaphors.

  12. David Sudmeier permalink

    I have a feeling that Mr. Brooks, reeling from the flak he received after writing his sequel to “Reefer Madness,” has begun inhaling in earnest.

  13. Great work as always. Do you have a Twitter or Facebook account?

    • Hi, Marie. I am on FB: Mercedes K Schneider.

      No Twitter. Not enough time for me to deal with Twitter.

      • Linda permalink

        I am Mercedes twitter chief….I tweet her posts daily to humanity! Happy Easter to all.

      • Linda,
        May I know your twitter name?
        I would like to follow you.

    • Linda permalink

      @Linda1746. I will follow you anywhere. Read you on Ravitch.

      I am Linda there too, blue square design. Love your comments

      • You are too kind.
        I never skip your post, here or on Ravitch.

  14. Ken Previti permalink

    Reblogged this on Reclaim Reform and commented:
    David Brooks is paid to preach the neo-con, neo-liberal gospel of the venerable corporate giants who own the NYT and hundreds of other media outlets that used to have greater autonomy. Those antonymous days are over. The Brooks parroting of a CCSS press release is strong evidence that aside from a few crumbs thrown our way to demonstrate the “fair and balanced” view of the NYT, their heyday as journalism is over.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. More on the Clown Car | Academe Blog
  2. David Brooks: Common Core Does Not Encourage Opinion Writing Like Yours | Diane Ravitch's blog
  3. David Brooks: Common Core Does Not Encourage Opinion Writing Like Yours | Educational Policy Information
  4. Why Doesn’t the New York Times Understand the Controversy Over Common Core? | Diane Ravitch's blog
  5. Why Doesn’t the New York Times Understand the Controversy Over Common Core? | Educational Policy Information
  6. The circus is making sense. #CCSS #netDE #eduDE @nytdavidbrooks @dwablog @ecpaige | Transparent Christina

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