Catholic schools have long produced graduates who show higher levels of achievement on standardized assessments than those from public schools. Yet, 100 Catholic dioceses embraced the Common Core standards based on the promise that they would provide a “rigorous” foundation for instruction that is “internationally benchmarked” and “research and evidence-based.”
More Catholic school parents and Church leaders, however, are questioning the merits of Common Core and expressing concern that the standards will lead to increased secularization of Catholic schools.
Ann Hynds, co-founder of Pittsburgh Catholics Against Common Core, told Breitbart News that Catholic school parents are now getting educated about the standards and speaking up.
“The mainstream blogosphere has picked up on Common Core, along with news outlets such as Fox News and Breitbart News, so parents are more aware than they were,” Hynds said. “Textbooks already have the name ‘Common Core’ on them in our schools, but it has been so slick and under the radar that most parents just think it is par for the course.”
Hynds added that most Catholic parents have been trusting of their past positive experiences with Catholic education, so, perhaps, have not questioned their schools’ embrace of Common Core.
“There really has been no overt reason to question in the past,” she said. “So, we turned a blind eye to the inner workings and machinations of it all, and, well, here we are. But, so many already knew for years. Homeschoolers figured this out a long time ago. And a lot of Catholic moms are seriously talking about homeschooling and have already pulled their kids out of Catholic school.”
“Currently, we provide updates through our website and Facebook, and are in close contact with writers and other Catholic groups,” Hynds said. “The network that has been established around the country is amazing – and it is completely grassroots.”
Hynds and her co-founder, Dr. Coleen Carignan, working with their group for less than a year, sent letters and emails to all the Catholic Bishops of the United States in October, as well as Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican’s high court, the Apostolic Signatura.
“We find that, in many cases, parents know more about Common Core than the educators tasked to implement them,” Carignan said. “Many dioceses adopted Common Core Standards without any public discussion and therefore, by the time parents realized what happened, much of it was already entrenched in the schools.”
“When we originally started speaking with Catholic educators about Common Core, we met some resistance because many had just accepted that Common Core was a foregone conclusion,” Carignan continued. “Many assumed that since the National Catholic Educational Association [NCEA] and their own diocese accepted the standards then they must be okay.”
“Now that the Common Core Standards have received more press and critical analysis, we see that educators are taking a second look at the standards and are more receptive to our concerns.”
Carignan said her organization fears that Common Core will greatly curtail parental influence over their children’s Catholic education. She observed that the NCEA actively promotes Common Core through the Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative (CCCII), a collaborative intended to serve as a reference for Catholic educators on how to implement Common Core.
As Breitbart News reported in November, Anne Hendershott, a professor of sociology at Franciscan University, observed that the NCEA–which functions as a Washington, D.C. lobbying group for Catholic education–recently accepted more than $100,000 in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote Common Core in Catholic schools throughout the nation.
In addition, Hendershott explained that the NCEA’s “gold and platinum textbook partners” include William H. Sadlier, Inc., a textbook company that will gain from its promise to provide teachers with class materials that will “prepare students for the 2014/2015 Common Core Assessments.”
“One of the problems Catholic parents have is that many of the ‘recommended’ books are of questionable content,” Carignan said. “For example, ‘Go Ask Alice,” which chronicles the life of a teenage girl addicted to drugs is a recommended book on Catholic Identity and Human Rights (of children) unit.”
Carignan said that one of the most egregious books on the fourth grade social justice book list is “The Kid’s Guide to Social Action.”
“It is rife with objectionable statements that directly undermine parental authority such as, ‘Parents can only give good advice or put (their children) on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.'”
“We worry that since the standardized college entrance exams will be aligned to Common Core, the curriculum will necessarily line up as well,” Carignan said. “We also question that if Catholic schools are supposed to be extensions of the home and parental education, how in the world can the CCCII and thus, Common Core, be an acceptable or reliable resource for Catholic educators to fulfill this stated mission?”
Hynds said that their organization is now moving into the “solution” phase of their initiative.
“Now, the bishops are aware and the Cardinal Newman Society has taken up the cause,” she said.
The Cardinal Newman Society, a Catholic organization that promotes and defends faithful Catholic education, recently launched an initiative titled, “Catholic Is Our Core,” to help parents become involved in the debate about the increasingly controversial Common Core standards and to emphasize that Catholic faith is the “core” of Catholic education.
“Until now, many of the concerns about the Common Core related to public schools,” Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, told Breitbart News. “Our ‘Catholic Is Our Core’ campaign adds to the debate the concerns of many Catholic parents and educators that the Common Core’s one-size-fits-all approach could diminish the autonomy and the Catholic identity of our schools.”
“We are communicating with many more parents, Catholic school leaders and bishops, some of whom have issued public statements promising to approach the Common Core carefully and to keep Catholic identity as the top priority,” Reilly said.
For example, Bishop Peter Christensen of the Diocese of Superior in Wisconsin released a statement in December in which he announced that his diocese would not be implementing the Common Core standards “as a whole.”
Christensen wrote that Catholic schools in the United States have a long history of excellence that many public schools seek to imitate, and that, because the Common Core standards “have not been field-tested nor been around long enough to realize their impact,” Catholic schools should be cautious.
In a more definitive statement, Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, said his diocese would not adopt the Common Core standards.
“It is undeniably clear that the success our schools have had and continue to enjoy stems directly from the Catholic approach to education which seeks to model all things on Christ,” wrote Morlino.
Similarly, the La Crosse, Wisconsin diocese has rejected the standards, stating it is “neither adapting nor adopting” them.
In her own diocese of Pittsburgh, Hynds said there was a lack of response from authorities for quite some time, as well as a general apathy from parents, principals, teachers, and priests. She added that her own pastor told her Common Core was a diocesan issue, even though a statement from the diocese was somewhat vague and lacking in helpful information.
“Trying to expose the progressive underpinnings of the NCEA and what they are doing to Catholic education is a big uphill battle because of how large they are,” she said. “Also, getting Catholic parents to understand that this is not just about Catholic education, but also our Church and its future is a big part of the task.”
“In a way, Catholic school parents are being fooled,” Hynds concluded. “People feel very safe in their local Catholic school, but when you see the big picture, of how there are major initiatives taking place, from the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic schools coming out of Loyola Chicago, the Great Schools Compact in Philly, the Roche School in Boston, and Notre Dame ACE academies, it becomes clearer that there is an agenda in place to transform Catholic education.”