A group funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been contacting Catholic school leaders, urging support for the Common Core standards and asking them to oppose the Cardinal Newman Society’s “Catholic Is Our Core” initiative.
According to the Cardinal Newman Society, Sara Pruzin, a state operations associate for the Washington, D.C.-based Council for a Strong America (CSA), unintentionally contacted a Newman Society leader to rally Catholic support for the Common Core standards.
Pruzin, a former communications intern for then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sent an email on August 28th to Dr. Daniel Guernsey, director of the Newman Society’s K-12 Education Programs, at his Ave Maria University office in Florida, asking him to consider writing op-eds and letters to the editor in support of the Common Core.
“We are concerned about the strident attacks coming from parts of the Catholic community, which we believe are inaccurate and meant more to divide than to inform,” Pruzin reportedly wrote. “We feel that it is important to respond to the negative statements about the Common Core, rather than let them go unanswered.”
Pruzin later confirmed that she was targeting the Newman Society and that her email was part of a large campaign to build support among Catholic educators. Her organization, she reportedly noted, had reached out to approximately 50 Catholic educators and leaders, including superintendents in a dozen states and officials at the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA), which also received Gates funding in the amount of $100,007 in 2013 to encourage Catholic schools to adopt the Common Core standards.
The Council for a Strong America, an umbrella nonprofit for five membership organizations, was awarded $1,700,000 by the Gates Foundation in 2013 “to educate and engage stakeholders about the Common Core and teacher development through a range of communications activities.” Additionally, the CSA has been the recipient of nearly $3 million in funding from the Gates Foundation for other education-related activities since before 2009.
The five organizations included under the CSA nonprofit are: Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national crime prevention group of police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, state attorneys general, and violence survivors; Mission: Readiness, a national security organization of more than 400 retired generals and admirals; Champions for America’s Future, an organization of athletes and coaches; ReadyNation, a national business leaders organization with 1,100 members across the nation; and Shepherding the Next Generation, a national organization of over 400 evangelical pastors and ministry leaders.
The Cardinal Newman Society, an organization whose purpose is to promote and defend faithful Catholic education, launched Catholic Is Our Core last year to help parents become more involved in the debate about the increasingly controversial Common Core standards. The Newman Society has emphasized that Catholic faith should be the “core” of Catholic education.
“The Common Core is a response to the failings of public schools, but it is inadequate to the mission of Catholic schools. Its vision is narrow, conforming youth to entry-level business jobs,” Patrick Reilly, president of the Newman Society, told Breitbart News. “Catholic education has a much larger goal, to prepare students morally and intellectually for excellence along whatever path God may call them to follow.”
“We don’t think that we need to do anything different in response to this Gates-funded effort. They are apparently nervous about Catholic educators taking a serious, critical look at the Common Core, and that’s precisely what we encourage,” Reilly added. “The Gates Foundation’s heavy-handed interference in Catholic education will only raise more questions about whether these hastily prepared standards can stand up to scrutiny.”
Last December, the Newman Society issued the following statement regarding the adoption of the Common Core standards by 100 of the nation’s Catholic dioceses:
We have grave concerns. This school reform effort is nothing short of a revolution in how education is provided, relying on a technocratic, top-down approach to setting national standards that, despite claims to the contrary, will drive curricula, teaching texts, and the content of standardized tests. At its heart, the Common Core is a woefully inadequate set of standards in that it limits the understanding of education to a utilitarian “readiness for work” mentality.
Well-intentioned proponents of adopting the Common Core in Catholic schools have argued that Catholic identity can be “infused” into the Core. This approach misses the point that authentic Catholic identity is not something that can be added to education built around thoroughly secular standards, but that our faith must be the center of–and fundamental to–everything that a Catholic school does.
The Common Core revolution in American education was launched behind closed doors and rushed to implementation in public schools with the promise of tax dollars as an inducement–even though all the Standards have not yet been completed, and those that have been released are controversial among many expert educators and parents. Catholic educators need not rush to follow this potentially dangerous path.
As Breitbart News reported in November of 2013, more than 130 Catholic scholars sent a letter to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 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,” the letter continued, “and that those schools which have already endorsed it should seek an orderly withdrawal now.”
The educators went on to articulate their concern that the Common Core standards will lower expectations for students in all subject areas as they are developed and will also take for granted materialist concepts that are incompatible with Catholic “spiritual realities,” such as the nature of God and the soul, religious values, and free choice.
In May, the Newman Society reported that the USCCB acknowledged the many concerns expressed about the effects of the Common Core standards on Catholic schools throughout the country.
“Because the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were not developed specifically for Catholic schools, there are growing concerns about the effect of these standards on Catholic schools in our country,” the bishops stated in a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document.
Of particular note is the fact that, in the document, the bishops admit that the Common Core was developed for a “public school audience” and is “of its nature incomplete as it pertains to Catholic schools.”
The bishops stated, “As our world becomes increasingly secularized, it will be a task of the Church through an appropriate education to help parents and families sift through the realities and difficulties of the culture and provide a solid foundation and basis for living as disciples of Jesus Christ.”
“Attempts to compartmentalize the religious and the secular in Catholic schools reflect a relativistic perspective by suggesting that faith is merely a private matter and does not have a significant bearing on how reality as a whole should be understood,” the bishops said. “Such attempts are at odds with the integral approach to education that is a hallmark of Catholic schools.”
In addition, the bishops asserted that “parents are the first educators of their children as a God-given responsibility.”
“Parents possess the fundamental right to choose the formative tools that support their convictions and fulfill their duty as the first educators,” the bishops also said.
More Catholic school parents have organized to protest the use of the Common Core standards in their schools. Recently, the diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, announced its intention to back away from the controversial standards.