David Coleman Wants to Fix Inequality

Jul 21, 2014 | Updated Sep 20, 2014

David Coleman is here (well, not here here-- he's actually in Aspen) to explain how the College Board is going to recapture market share by synergistically monetizing its products break down the walls of inequality in education.

David Coleman (Common Core writer and current president of the College Board) is deeply concerned with fairness. The Huffington Post has a report from the Aspen Institute (because "let's solve America's social problems" is so often associated with "let's go to Aspen") on Coleman's "conversation" with Jane Stoddard Williams of Bloomberg EDU, and the excerpts presented give us a picture of how Coleman plans to boost the College Board's bottom line bring educational equality to the U.S.

He is sure to tout his free test prep deal with Kahn Academy, by which the College Board will get a foot firmly in every door of the market make test preparation available to every student in America. (Perhaps the new SAT will include references to pieces of 21st Century wisdom such as the new insight that, when it comes to websites, if you're not paying for it, the product is you.)

But Coleman's not here primarily to tout the new means of amassing data on every college-bound student in America free SAT prep, though he says it's an example of how the College Board is "leaning into" challenges. There's also a hefty chunk of discussion where Coleman artfully inserts himself into an imaginary conversation between imaginary test critics and imaginary test proponents; it's a pretty clever way to position himself as a perfectly reasonable guy trying to find a middle way in the midst of this contentious and imaginary debate. But that's not why he's here. He's here to talk about AP.

When we worry, perhaps rightly, that assessment can discriminate, let's remember that there's another thing that we know ... that can discriminate more, which is adults.

Yup. That's the problem. Because Coleman says he has learned from "my work in K-12" that we've got to change our game. And that test anxiety is bad. And, using one of his new marketing slogans educational insights, American students don't need more tests, they need more opportunities.

And let's give Coleman credit -- he hasn't said anything that's particularly wrong. What the most capable of reformsters understand is this simple process:

       1) Say something true as a premise
       2) Do something awful that does not actually follow from #1 at all

Coleman's genius marketing idea solution to educational inequality is to take human bias out of the equation and replace it with the hidden human bias encased in testing. It's teachers who are keeping students away from AP courses; it's one more test that will open the door to opportunity.

See, he's worried that African-Americans and women and Latinos are missing out on the chance to give College Board their money the opportunity to take AP courses. But it turns out that a great predictor of AP success is the PSAT!! So let's use the previously maligned and increasingly skipped-over PSAT as a marketing booster for AP a means of finding worthy students. AP, we are to understand, is a massive cash cow for the College Board a doorway to opportunity, and if we get more students into AP courses it will be a great payday for the College Board step forward for America.

So let's use the PSAT to generate sales leads AP course recommendations. Let's send letters to parents and lists to guidance departments and let's get students moved into those courses by the carload.

Look, the lack of minorities and women in certain fields is a legitimate problem, and it's a problem the education world should be addressing, and addressing aggressively. But the fact that Coleman can correctly diagnose the disease does not mean we should keep listening when he says, "So you should buy a bottle of Dr. Coleman's Miracle Cure, made of oil squeezed from the finest snakes in Arabia."

We knew this was coming. The Coleman College Board is a business that has leveraged some genius marketing strategies; who else has found the giant copper cojones to get their product made part of state policy (well, other than Common Core -- one more reason Coleman's new job makes sense). And if AP were as great as it says, or at least benign, that would be swell. But even as the College Board struggles to regain market share, they are also working feverishly to mess with their products. The SAT has been redesigned to match the Core, and AP courses have begun a transition from loosely structured high-quality courses to CCSS-aligned tightly structured products in a box.

But Coleman's recasting of the College Board quest for new markets as a drive for social justice is the work of a master salesman. Coleman may not know jack about education, but he can slice baloney like a pro probably change the world with his audacious plan to sell the solution to reviving College Board's revenue stream social and economic justice.

Cross-posted from Curmudgucation.