The plummeting popularity of the Common Core standards has extended to Catholic schools in the United States—about half of which were signed onto the nationalized standards by their bishops despite a push back from many Catholic educators and theologians.
Director of K-12 programs at the Cardinal Newman Society Daniel Guernsey emphasizes the true purpose of Catholic education. Writing at Crisis Magazine, he demonstrates the “three critical elements about Catholic schools” as stressed at the recent World Congress on Catholic Education held at the Vatican in November:
First, Catholic schools are primarily communities and not just working organizations. Second, Catholic schools are educational communities and not simply providers of instruction and training services, because of the force of the mission which concerns the integral formation of young people. Third, Catholic schools are educational communities of evangelization because they deliberately set themselves up to be instruments that provide an experience of the Church (2014, Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion Lineamenta, p. 189).
“Right now, Catholic schools are still trying to figure out how they respond to the Common Core and how deeply they embrace it,” Guernsey said, according to the Associated Press, adding that the focus is on the development of students’ “mind, body and spirit.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) appears to be at a crossroads when it comes to Catholic education. Faced in recent years with faculty and students in Catholic schools who seem unfamiliar with the teachings of the Church on the sanctity of human life and marriage, the decision to adopt the Common Core standards is viewed by many well-known Catholic educators as one to further meld curricula in Catholic schools with their public counterparts.
In November, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA)—which identifies itself as “the national voice for Catholic schools” outraged many Catholic parents by inviting Common Core “architect” David Coleman as its convention keynote speaker in March.
With more bishops expressing concern about Common Core, the choice of Coleman could be tied to the grant—$100,007—NCEA received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the primary source of private funding for the promotion of Common Core.
Despite the push by the NCEA, however, the diocese of Albany, is dialing back on the frequency of Common Core-aligned tests, though it will stay with the actual standards for now.
“Although the standards of the Common Core itself are good, the collateral pieces have caused great strife for families and teachers,” Albany Superintendent Michael Pizzingrillo said.
“Many parents are listening to the news. They see the political charge,” Sister John Mary Fleming, executive director for education at the USCCB also said of the firestorm over Common Core. “What this situation has done is created an opportunity for Catholic schools to review our mission: What is our mission and how does the curriculum support that mission?”
The USCCB, nevertheless, appears torn, primarily because college entrance exams, such as the SAT—owned by the College Board, which is now under the direction of Coleman—have been aligned with the Common Core, a situation that some bishops worry could put Catholic-educated students at a disadvantage if Common Core is not used in Catholic schools.
In November of 2013, however, more than 130 Catholic scholars emphasized the mismatch between Common Core and the purpose of Catholic education. These leaders sent a letter to the bishops’ conference urging its members to abandon the implementation of the Common Core standards.
“Promoters of Common Core say that it is designed to make America’s children ‘college and career ready,’” wrote the scholars. “We instead judge Common Core to be a recipe for standardized workforce preparation.”
The scholars continued:
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.
The popularity of Common Core has continued to sharply decline, the evidence of which is primarily seen in the dwindling membership of the reform’s two federally funded interstate consortia that have developed assessments aligned with the standards. Of the original 46 states that adopted the Common Core and participated in the consortia, only 22 remain, as the others have sought other means to meet test requirements.
Jane Robbins, senior fellow in education at American Principles Project tells Breitbart News the choice of Coleman as the keynote at the NCEA convention should be a red flag to American Catholic bishops.
“Over 130 of the nation’s most prominent Catholic scholars have publicly warned that David Coleman’s philosophy, as embodied in Common Core, is antithetical to true Catholic education,” she said. “But now we have the NCEA giving Coleman a place of honor on its program. The danger is that Catholic schools will become just public schools with a crucifix on the wall—which is not what most Catholic parents want or are paying for.”
“The bishops need to investigate what’s really going on in the schools and not just leave it to their education administrators,” Robbins warned.