— Coleman didn’t want to spend a lot of time defending the development of the standards, which he said the idea of which had been around for many years, since long before the Obama administration. But he did note that they were developed collaboratively. “I read through hundreds of pages of state feedback month after month. The notion that states were not involved is sadly not the state of my life during those years,” he said.
The burdens of poweriness
Williams wants to know how Coleman came to take all this on. She lists his achievements and colleges and that he's a Rhodes Scholar, to which he interjects "yes, I am" and she asks did he just wake up thinking "we need to get all the states to use the same standards." (So, in this narrative, the phone does not ring with someone calling him to ask him to come help with this standards thing that the states are already doing.)
Coleman, instead of answering that, meditates on power.
As people grow in supposed importance and power in the world, he says, they get self-destructive in how they use their time. "People think if they're important they don't have time to write their own speeches or spend extended time alone." Says Coleman, "Any good I have done has come out" of balancing time to allow him to be alone, thinking.
He went into business designing tests, but that wasn't satisfactory because the standards underpinning the tests were crappy. So he spent time alone, thinking. "One idea that I've been cultivating" was the idea of students doing fewer things, but really well.
Anyway, that's how he works. "It's almost embarrassing to admit how much time I need to spend alone... as part of trying to o anything good." And now I am imagining what Coleman's Fortress of Solitude looks like.
So Coleman is not just busy being a Great Man-- he is actually better at it than lots of other great men.
And that co-operation and collaboration thing? That's for ordinary mortals. Coleman just hatches great ideas out of his own head.
Setting the record straight
That's what Williams tries desperately to get Coleman to do. She steers from his process into the semi-question "So that's where the idea of the standards came from?"
Coleman tosses in "listening" as a technique (though he never says to whom) and then, again, tells us first the standard of greatness that he is going to surpass. There's something annoying about "the sanctity of the entrepreneur" he says. "The world was dark and then I came and there was light," is what those sanctimonious types say. But what Coleman understands that they do not is that entrepreneurship is about telling the truth. This is to introduce himself obliquely as David Coleman, Super-Truth-Teller.
Committees, he observes, suck. At the end, you put everybody's stuff in, and you get a big mess. The standards movement was failing because it was death by committee resulting in a huge vague swamp of standards. We are left to close the circle on that implication.
What is left unsaid (or unquoted (I didn't try to sit through the whole interview) is that the Common Core still read very much like a disjointed committee document. Actually more disjointed and inconsistent than other standards. The reading standards are almost certainly the most redundant body of standards ever conceived. The front matter doesn't describe the enumerated standards as written. There's no consistent style throughout on basic organizational features.
Here's my current theory: Coleman, for whatever reason, was handed the keys to the car and did the first pass on designing the standards based on his own brilliance and came up with something that at least had some conceptual consistency. Then as more people were brought into the process, different teams filled out different sections, outsiders offered feedback, Coleman did a lousy job of managing that process. He hated that part, and frankly doesn't really have much interest in the minutia of standards design (pro tip: it is all minutia). In the end, due to haste and the scale of the project, his great work ended up being more of a design by committee hash than much of what it replaced.
And he knows it.