The president of the premier organization that serves to promote and defend faithful Catholic education says Catholic dioceses that have adopted or adapted the Common Core standards have fallen into “a trap” that makes it difficult to see the “significant conflicts” the controversial standards have with the mission of Catholic schools.
Commenting on a letter at Cincinnati.com to the archbishop of Cincinnati by a former student of the archdiocese’s Catholic schools who called upon Archbishop Dennis Schnurr to drop the Common Core standards, Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, told Breitbart News, “Anyone reading Paul Mittermeier’s letter can agree on one thing: an education that prepares a student to be so articulate, thoughtful and above all devoted to his faith is one that ought to be preserved and defended at all costs!”
Mittermeier, now a student at Hillsdale College, wrote to Schnurr:
It is with great reluctance that I address this letter to Your Excellency today, and it is with the sincerest concern for the hearts and minds of the children who have been entrusted to your Archdiocese, and for the integrity of our shared Catholic dogma that I bring to public attention a disturbing course of action on the part of the Archdiocese. As a lifelong Catholic and Cincinnatian, a student, and a product of the Dominican and Jesuit traditions, I know firsthand the difference a Catholic education can yield in the life of a child, not only from the perspective of holistic faith-formation, but also in an academic sense given the rigor and individualization of Catholic curricula. The unique merging of challenging academic content with Catholic doctrine in a socially-enriching environment is a school choice that I value exceedingly, which is why the Archdiocese’s adoption of the untested Common Core State Standards, which jeopardizes this distinct brand of education, dismays me.
Your Excellency, the exploration of quintessentially Catholic works is among the most valuable and characteristic functions of a Catholic institution. Given that CCSS drives standardized assessments, which shape the curricula of Catholic teachers who will now be evaluated by their pupils’ test scores in accordance with federal mandate, and given that Common Core ELA standards lend no credence to Catholic texts or concepts, where is the foreseeable value in the imposition of these standards? What a travesty that Catholic educators should be discouraged from assessing both the literary and theological implications of Augustine’s “Confessions” and other religious works in the classroom simply because they do not fit national consortia’s conception of what it means to be “college and career ready,” and what a pity that the Church in Cincinnati should condone such an insular and utilitarian understanding of preparedness. What a shame that Catholic education should be robbed of its definitive tenets and made to be like any other nationalized option, thereby decreasing school choice and indicting the rich heritage of Christian learning.
Moreover, if the Church contends that parents, clergy and Catholic educators are to serve as a child’s primary influences in learning and faith-formation, how might one reconcile the Catholic model with reforms that remove parents from the education process, reduce teachers to paper-pushers, and concern learning with the vocational rather than the metaphysical, thereby elevating state over church? Your Excellency, our Archdiocese already had standards; they regularly outperformed the standards of other local schools. Why, then, should we abandon them and adopt untried standards that cannot be altered due to national copyright, that experts have deemed developmentally inappropriate, that violate the principles of federalism via Race to the Top, and that mine students’ longitudinal data? I implore you to heed the mounting concerns of your flock and to reconsider your adoption of Common Core for the sake of your Archdiocese’s children and the integrity of Catholic education itself.
In response to Mittermeier’s letter, Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese of Cincinnati, responded, “As someone who is not an educator in our schools, Mr. Mittermeier is evidently not aware of the stance of the Archdiocese in regards to the Common Core.”
“His statements that the Archdiocese is ‘adopting’ Common Core and that our curriculum does not present the Catholic faith are inaccurate,” Rigg continued, adding that in order to achieve the goal of forming children in both faith values and academics, “we must ensure that our programs are high quality and up-to-date. The Common Core movement represents an enormous paradigm shift in the way that knowledge, in both public and private schools, is delivered to students.”
“As schools obligated to provide superior teaching and learning, we would be remiss in ignoring such a significant movement,” Rigg wrote. “However, we are not ‘adopting’ the Common Core. We are ‘adapting’ the standards. These words are more than just semantics.”
“Adaptation means that we take the Common Core standards, which are integrated into Ohio’s Learning Standards, make them more rigorous, and infuse them with the Catholic faith.”
Reilly, however, said that Catholic education leaders are mistaken in their analysis of what the Common Core actually encompasses.
“Ironically, I fear that some Catholic leaders may be falling into the very trap of ‘close reading’ that is one of the great flaws of Common Core,” he said. “Confining analysis to the standards alone, as if they are the baseline for education, and then trying to ‘infuse’ them with Catholic instruction, makes it highly difficult to appreciate the standards’ significant conflicts with the traditional methods and mission of Catholic schools.”
Reilly commented further on Mittermeier’s concern about the removal of parents from the education process with the Common Core standards.
“The notion that parents are the primary educators of their children is countercultural but central to Catholic teaching,” he said. “Where is its practical application in the Common Core matter? Parents were never involved in the decision to embrace this ‘enormous paradigm shift’ in Catholic education.”
“I rejoice in the great love and concern for faithful Catholic education that is exhibited in Mr. Mittermeier’s letter and the strong assurances of similar love and concern by Dr. Rigg,” Reilly continued. “Their exchange is encouraging, but only the beginning to a much more robust, deeply considered conversation that still needs to occur with Catholic parents and educators, acknowledging that there is no need for Catholic schools to rush into this.”
In December of 2013, Cardinal Newman Society launched its program titled “Catholic Is Our Core,” a project to help parents become involved in the debate about the Common Core standards and to emphasize that Catholic faith is the “core” of Catholic education.
The new program came on the heels of a letter sent to the United States Catholic bishops by over 130 Catholic scholars, requesting that the bishops abandon any implementation of the Common Core standards.
“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 reads, “and that those schools which have already endorsed it should seek an orderly withdrawal now.”
Catholic scholar Anne Hendershott, a professor of sociology at Franciscan University, even compared Sister Dale McDonald’s “Gold and Platinum Textbook Partners‘” affiliation with the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) as an assist to getting Common Core into Catholic schools, to Sister Carol Keehan’s Catholic Health Association helping to shepherd the passage of ObamaCare.
“We certainly don’t want the future of Catholic education to be determined by publishers, university professors and the NCEA, which has taken substantial funds from the Gates Foundation to promote Common Core,” Reilly said.
But starting from our schools’ primary mission of forming students in the faith, respecting parents as their children’s primary educators, and preparing students intellectually to make value judgments and display more than utilitarian functionality, there’s no question that we would never end up with the standards and teaching methods that Bill Gates and his band of reformers would like to impose.
“Bravo for Catholic schools and Mr. Mittermeier’s parents,” Reilly concluded. “If Bill Gates wants workforce-ready graduates, why wouldn’t he seek to emulate Catholic schools rather than be a party to their decline?”