Common Core Crusader Ignores Reason Again

This previous Wednesday, the state legislature introduced another bill to repeal the Alabama College and Career Readiness Standards, Alabama’s version of the Common Core State Standards. It’s a pity that the Alabama legislature didn’t take more time to consider their decision to adopt the standards in 2010.

And, as seems to constantly happen, as soon as someone in the legislature begins this process, the Business Council of Alabama has someone they can trust to publish an opinion piece claiming how awfully amazing CCRS is. (The fact that the loudest, most vehement supporters of CCRS/CCSS are always the Business Councils across the nation should tell you something you need to know about Common Core: businesses believe that they will make a lot of money off of them.)

In this case, the Business Council of Alabama didn’t have to look very far for someone to support their political position. Mr. Phillip Dotts, the secretary (and former president) for the Business Council of Alabama perhaps called his associate at Public FA, Inc. Elizabeth Dotts Fleming to write on behalf of The Schools Foundation of her support for Alabama’s version of common core, the Alabama College and Career Readiness Standards.

By the way, Ms. Elizabeth Dotts Fleming is also the daughter of Mr. Phillip Dotts and Mrs. Kathleen W. Dotts, a Honors English teacher at Huntsville High.

You might also recall that Mrs. Kathleen Dotts wrote an opinion piece for the Huntsville Times back in October 2013 entitled: “Huntsville Teacher: Common Core Supporters Not ‘Liars and Victims’.”

Kathleen Dotts offered a critique that the opponents of CCSS were simply appealing to pathos rather than to logos (logic/reason). I wrote a response to her that her argument offered no logic/reason-based appeal either, but that didn’t seem to matter to her, her husband, nor her daughter as 16 months later, Ms. Dotts Fleming offered the same cheerleading support for CCSS/CCRS that her mom offered.

On Wednesday, Ms. Dotts Fleming offered her opinion and support for the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS) using, as her mother criticized Mr. Freeman for using 16 months ago, a pathos-based argument in favor of CCRS.

One might even state Ms. Dotts Fleming offered her “use of pathos to encourage a miasma of fear” when she concluded her argument by claiming that repealing the standards would harm students and teachers.

Let’s take a look at some of the unsubstantiated arguments Ms. Dotts Fleming offered.

Trust Me, I Run a Foundation with “Schools” in the Title

First, she offers her ethos-based argument by presenting her credentials as the executive director of The Schools Foundation.

The Schools Foundation is group of politically active business leaders who are seeking to influence our schools as “a driving force for excellence in education.”

If you review their board of directors, you’ll find that excluding Jan Ingram (retired educator), Walker McGinnis (current school board member District 4), and Dr. Mary Ruth Yates (former superintendent, state school board candidate) the Schools Foundation’s board is almost exclusively comprised of business men and women.

Once again we see that the most ardent supporters of CCRS are business people rather than educators. And the few educators that they do allow to circulate among them have demonstrated their willingness to support “reform” despite causing morale problems.

Unsubstantiated Claims

Ms. Dotts Fleming then claims:

Students in Madison County and across Alabama are making tremendous advances under Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards for Math and English Arts, which will ensure our students are fully prepared for college and their careers after graduation.

If this is so, where is the evidence supporting this claim? These standards have been fully implemented state wide since 2013-2014. They have been fully implemented here in Huntsville since 2012. What exactly is the basis for Ms. Dotts Fleming’s claim that our students in Madison Country are “making tremendous advances under Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards for Math and English Arts?

Without evidence, this is not a logos-based appeal. It’s entirely pathos-based.

Perhaps she’ll offer some evidence later in her opinion?

Academia Here I Come

Two sentences later, Ms. Dotts Fleming states:

Our educators are seeing marked improvements as there is a direct correlation to student achievement.

Pardon me for just a moment, but what exactly is this sentence supposed to mean? It reminds me of a old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:

If I had to guess, and it is a guess, I think Ms. Dotts Fleming is trying to claim that teachers are seeing “marked improvements” because the tests are aligned with the standards, but honestly it isn’t clear.

And again, if this is what she’s trying to claim, then where is the evidence supporting this claim?

Here in Huntsville, the most commonly administered “fully-aligned” benchmark test is the SchoolNet Benchmark from Pearson (one of The Schools Foundation’s “Community Contributors,” by the way), and the most commonly leveled charge that I hear from the teachers is that this test is the worst test they have ever had to administer.

This is not surprising as Pearson is regularly hiring people without a college degree to write their tests.

Are these the tests that “directly correlate to the marked improvements” that Ms. Dotts Fleming claims teachers are seeing?

Clarity is actually a virtue in writing.

Anecdotal Evidence Isn’t Convincing

Ms. Dotts Fleming continues by claiming:

More importantly, as observed in the classroom, students are enthusiastically embracing the challenge of greater rigor as required through AC&CRS.

This is at best anecdotal evidence and should be treated as such. But it does raise several questions, such as which classes are The Schools Foundation observing? Why are these business men and women observing these classrooms? When are they doing this? How are they justifying the disruption to the classroom this observation causes? Why are they allowed in when often parents are specifically asked not to observe classrooms because of the potential for disruption?

If perhaps Ms. Dotts Fleming is basing this on something other than anecdotal evidence, why isn’t she linking to the appropriate studies that demonstrate this “enthusiastic embrace of greater rigor” by students?

If she cannot link to this evidence, then perhaps she can link to studies that demonstrate that CCRS/CCSS actually increases “rigor” at all. Oh, that’s right, those studies don’t exist, do they? (There were exactly zero trial runs of implementing CCSS before they were adopted by 43 states.)

Teaching to the Test

The unsubstantiated claims continue with Ms. Dotts Fleming stating:

Teachers appreciate the flexibility to do more than “teach to the test” and now have an ability to use creative techniques to ensure students master the academic requirements of the material.

With the dramatic increase in testing that I pointed out to her mother 16 months ago, when exactly do teachers have time to be “flexible?” Has Ms. Dotts Fleming not downloaded the pacing guides that have been published on Huntsville City Schools website since just after the beginning of the school year?

Where, exactly, is the time for this flexibility that Ms. Dotts Fleming claims our teachers “appreciate?”

Does she have any first hand knowledge other than from her mother that she can share with us? If so, why am I having to ask for it?

She wraps up by claiming, as does the CCSS ad copy before her, that CCSS/CCRS “increases critical thinking.” But as she offers no evidence for this, I suppose she’s hoping that we won’t use our critical thinking skills to evaluate this claim.

Arguing From Fear

She concludes her argument by making her pathos-based, fear-based appeal by stating:

TSF believes repealing our state’s standards would be counter-productive to the hard work of our teachers and detrimental to the current and future academic well-being of our students.

Don’t repeal the standards because it would hurt teachers and students and destroy their “academic well-being.”

Where Is The Evidence Demonstrating CCSS’s Importance?

This leaves me asking, just as I asked her mom 16 months ago, why is it that those who support CCSS/CCRS absolutely refuse to offer any evidence of their claims?

Why is it that those who support CCSS/CCRS refuse to respond to reason-based arguments against CCSS/CCRS in their political push for the continued adoption of these standards?

Why, if CCSS/CCRS is truly so amazing, are we still having these same conversations, with the same people six years after their writing, five years after their adoption and three years after their implementation? If these standards are truly amazing, wouldn’t it be simple to demonstrate this by now? Wouldn’t it be easy for CCSS/CCRS supporters to point to clear, convincing, evidence supporting their as of yet unsubstantiated claims?

I really would appreciate someone, anyone regardless of their familial/political connections who would offer any evidence at all that CCSS/CCRS is going to improve education in our city, state, and nation.

Unless and until that occurs, all of the fear-based arguments from foundation directors with “education” in their title aren’t helping convince anyone that CCSS/CCRS is actually a good thing.

All cheerleading does is rally those who already agree with you. It is not convincing. It’s a shame those seeking to radically alter education in this state are seemingly incapable of actually educating others on their positions.

But then again, that’s what happens when business men and women attempt to teach. They discover that it is much hard than they ever imagined.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. “Teachers appreciate the flexibility to do more than “teach to the test” and now have an ability to use creative techniques to ensure students master the academic requirements of the material.” REALLY? I have personally spoken to a few teachers after class with doors closed (for fear of being overheard). Even then they are reluctant to speak freely about the rigidity in how they must teach. I asked one simple question (when I was made aware that many in the class were falling behind). I asked, “with so many in the class having difficulty with this specific segment of the course, is it possible for you to slow down and perhaps walk through the material again?” I was told that there was a very strict “teaching schedule” to adhere to and there was absolutely no way to deviate from that schedule and fall behind. This of course would be a black mark on the teacher and serve as a “red flag” in that teacher’s performance. Flexibility? Yeah right!

  2. Have you read the “Comphrehensive Counseling and Guidance Model” for Alabama Schools? Kids are apparently put on career tracks by 8th grade. Had I been shoved into a career path at that age they would asked, “Hey Donna, you want to work the assembly line and put widgets on stuff or pick bean?” While widget putting and picking beans are noble, necessary, and valuable-
    I’m glad to have the freedom to decide a career path myself.

  3. Has anybody seen a letter from the State Superintendent of Education to City and County Superintendents of Education regarding the “Comprehensive Counseling and Guidance Model for Alabama Public Schools” (The Alabama Model)? The February 2015 DRAFT document is available on-line only until Friday, 17 April at: http://web.alsde.edu/Home/Sections/SectionDocuments.aspx?SectionID=52&Subsection=510
    The letter indicated that there was a public meeting 7-8 pm, 26 March 2015, at the Annie C. Merts Center. Did anybody know about or attend the meeting? Essentially, the plan is to guide your child into an appropriate education plan not later than 8th grade … appropriate means that the collected date will decide the child’s future educational opportunities … just like Marxist countries. After reviewing the plan (derived from the National Plan), if you don’t like it, be sure to express your opinion, not later than Friday, 17 April, on the State Department of Education Link.

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