Beyond Common Core: Cardinal Newman Society Releases K-12 Curriculum Standards

In this Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015 photo, teacher Nicoleen Winklarek works with students in a seventh grade accelerated math class at Holy Spirit School in East Greenbush, N.Y. The Diocese of Albany, New York, announced recently that it will reduce the frequency of the Common Core-aligned tests while sticking with …
AP Photo/Mike Groll

The nation’s premier organization for the promotion of excellence in Catholic education is releasing its own K-12 curriculum standards to provide concrete assistance to Catholic dioceses and schools in moving beyond the controversial and one-size-fits-all Common Core standards.

The Cardinal Newman Society says its Catholic Curriculum Standards seek to serve as a “valuable new resource encouraging greater emphasis on what makes Catholic education special while moving beyond reliance on the controversial Common Core State Standards.”

Catholic standards co-authors Dr. Dan Guernsey and Dr. Denise Donohue – who lead the Newman Society’s K-12 education programs – consulted with top Catholic scholars, including Anthony Esolen, Joseph Pearce, and Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., in designing the free-to-use resource.

“The Catholic Curriculum Standards are only supplemental standards and are able to be used in addition to any set of typical academic standards common in most schools,” Guernsey tells Breitbart News. “These are supplemental standards that address what Catholic schools should be doing ‘in addition to’ what is already present in most standards and textbooks.”

“While we do not recommend use of the common core, it is possible with much thought, adaptation, and revision of the Common Core to use these in addition to it to try to make the best of things,” he explains. “We recommend adding these Catholic standards to more successful and proven academic standards such as those developed by Dr. Sandra Stotsky.”

Stotsky is a vocal critic of the Common Core standards and is credited with developing one of the country’s strongest sets of academic standards for K-12 students while serving as senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999-2003. Though invited to be a member of the Common Core Validation Committee in 2009, Stotsky refused to sign off on what are now highly unpopular standards.

“We also recommend using original texts and chapter books and staying away from anthologies or pre-packaged reading programs, as the problems with modern secular education and textbooks preceded the development of the Common Core and will sadly remain after it is but an unhappy memory,” Guernsey says.

Donohue also tells Breitbart News, “While supplemental standards, they are also foundational standards for Catholic schools to use as a guide to selecting the most appropriate standards to advance their mission.”

The Catholic standards and their accompanying list of recommended resources propose to Catholic educators what students in Catholic schools should be taught in English language arts, math, science and history – beyond what is now being taught in secular schools.

The release of the new standards comes on the heels of the publication of a study by Pioneer Institute and American Principles Project titled “After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core.” The authors of that project – some of whom also consulted on the Newman Society standards – concluded that the “workforce development” goal of the Common Core is incompatible with the higher goals of Catholic education.

In place of Common Core, the study’s authors recommend building upon “the long Catholic educational tradition, including recent Church and papal writings, to present a positive foundation for moving Catholic schools forward in a post-Common Core world.”

They continue:

The workforce educational model currently being promoted by the government relies heavily on the concept of training. It aims to train students in certain skills of information-processing and mathematical abilities that transfer rather directly to today’s world of work. Training consists of learning how to accomplish a task and “getting the job done.” At the heart of the Common Core agenda is a century-old dream of Progressive educators to redirect education’s mission away from engaging the young in the best of human thought and focusing instead on preparation for “real life.” While a reasonable but quite secondary goal, workforce-development is dwarfed by Catholic schools’ transcendent goals of human excellence, spiritual transformation, and preparation for “the next life” as well.

Guernsey and Donohue say in a statement about the Catholic curriculum’s design:

The standards cover English language arts, math, scientific topics, and history, focusing on unique Catholic insights into these curricular areas and complementing the Church’s standards for religious instruction. They are broadly grouped into two grade levels, K-6 and 7-12. They express student outcomes of learning, inviting educators to assign or develop materials and choose subject matter that serve the unique mission of Catholic education.

We built the standards on the solid foundation of Church documents, the educational philosophies of faithful Newman Guide colleges, and many writings on Catholic, liberal arts, and classical education. We consulted with many leading Catholic scholars, school leaders, and standards experts to ensure the highest quality resource.

The Cardinal Newman Society has joined many Catholic parents and educators in raising serious concerns about the Common Core’s suitability for Catholic schools.

In 2013, with approximately 100 out of 195 Catholic dioceses in the United States embracing Common Core for its schools, more than 130 Catholic scholars sent a letter to the U.S. Catholic bishops requesting that they abandon any implementation of the Common Core standards.

The letter read:

Promoters of Common Core say that it is designed to make America’s children “college and career ready.” We instead judge Common Core to be a recipe for standardized workforce preparation. Common Core shortchanges the central goals of all sound education and surely those of Catholic education: to grow in the virtues necessary to know, love, and serve the Lord, to mature into a responsible, flourishing adult, and to contribute as a citizen to the process of responsible democratic self-government.

In fact, we are convinced that Common Core is so deeply flawed that it should not be adopted by Catholic schools which have yet to approve it, and that those schools which have already endorsed it should seek an orderly withdrawal now.

“For too long, many Catholic schools have relied heavily on secular government standards like the Common Core to measure school success and on similarly focused standardized tests to measure student outcomes,” says the Newman Society. “These distract Catholic educators from their core mission, because they ignore key aspects of human formation and often depend on philosophies of education that are contrary to the Catholic faith.”

Guernsey notes that, thus far, two Catholic dioceses are using the new standards to launch discussion of standards in their schools.