Common Core’s ‘Workforce Development’ Mission in Conflict With Goals of Catholic Schools

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

A study finds that the mission of the Common Core standards: to provide a school-to-work force of young people who will satisfy the need for low-pay workers in the United States, is incompatible with the goals of Catholic education.

The K-12 Common Core’s focus on workforce development is at odds with the mission of Catholic schools and should be abandoned by their dioceses, says the study.

The Boston-based Pioneer Institute and the Washington D.C.-based American Principles Project published the study, titled “After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core.”

Authors Anthony Esolen, Dan Guernsey, Jane Robbins, and Kevin Ryan are critical of the National Catholic Education Association’s (NCEA) push to get Catholic schools on board with Common Core. They argue the Core’s insistence that K-12 English and math standards focus on skills that can transfer easily to current-day work situations abandons a primary goal of Catholic education: to help students develop their spirituality and ethical principles.

“[T]he Common Core is undoubtedly and unacceptably workforce-oriented, thereby misinforming student character and impoverishing academic content,” the authors write. “Catholic schools typically embrace character education and rely heavily on language arts, history, and religion curricula as crucial means to educate and inspire students toward a virtuous life. Adopting the new standards may seriously compromise this essential effort.”

The authors also document how the Common Core’s developers view “workforce development” as “the proper goal of education,” one that is considered primary by the political supporters of the standards.

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.

In 2013, NCEA was awarded $100,007 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – the primary source of private funding for the promotion of the Common Core standards – to encourage Catholic schools in the adoption of the Common Core standards. Two years later, NCEA drew further outrage for inviting Common Core “architect” David Coleman to serve as the keynote speaker for the organization’s annual convention.

Also 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.

In place of Common Core, the new 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.”

The authors say Catholic schools distinguish themselves uniquely from public schools through their embrace of “the transcendent and universal attributes of truth, beauty, and goodness.”

“Goodness teaches about the perfection of being and the enduring goals of each of us,” they write. “Truth is to know reality, and proper schooling provides the tools to reason and to gain access to the true nature of reality.”

“The advent of the Common Core has not only provided clarity to the unique value of Catholic schools, but also offers the opportunity for
 their advancement and the articulation of their competitive advantage,” the authors conclude. “Never were they more attractive. Never were they more needed.”


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