catholicMore than one hundred diocese across the country have adopted Common Core Standards in the last couple of years, but that number may be reversing soon as parents who pay for their children to attend these private schools voice their concerns. There is some indication that their voices are being heard and rumors of Catholic schools quietly dropping out of common core are being circulated.

The implementation of common core in catholic schools has been neither simple, nor neat. Many diocese, like the one in St. Louis, looked at the standards, which were not mandatory for them, as a buffet option, choosing only those that they thought were “good.” It is not clear, to the parents at least, which standards the diocese had chosen to use.

Considering how much content was left out of the math standards in high school, it seems unlikely that those standards were adopted. Dr. Tichy, Curriculum Director for the district, assured me that the schools would continue to offer Algebra I in 8th grade which would certainly put them out of line with common core. In order to be able to maintain that offering in 8th grade, they would also have to add significant math content in their k-7 math curricula in order to have students capable of taking Algebra I in 8th grade. This begs the question, are they really adopting common core?

What is more likely is that they are adopting some of the “rigor” in the lower grades for math and this is concerning. Requiring students to master abstract thinking before their brains are ready for it is a recipe for failure for young learners. Common Core certainly does this and it is seen in math worksheets that ask children as young as second grade to solve problems using algebraic concepts.

It is clearer that Catholic schools are embracing the push of informational text which, unfortunately, has no basis in research. The push for informational text likely came from an ACT survey of post-secondary instructors across all subjects which found that high school graduates could not understand the college texts they are assigned to read.  ACT leaped to two conclusions: (1) college students are not expected to read enough complex texts in high school; and (2) they are not given enough instruction in strategies for reading complex texts in high school. Their survey did not ask questions that might have revealed other possible explanations for this skill deficit such as incoherent literature and reading curriculum, inappropriate teaching methods, poor study habits, and/or perhaps an unwillingness to put in much time reading or studying on a regular basis. Common Core simply ran with ACT’s unwarranted conclusions and decided that English teachers at all grade levels should spend more time teaching students how to read informational texts, regardless of subject matter, than literary texts.

Another source for the seemingly random percentages recommended for literary/informational texts (50:50 in K-8, 30:70 in high school)  is likely the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). Diane Ravitch, who was on the board of NAEP for seven years said,  “Those proportions were a guideline for publishers constructing assessments, not for teachers. There is no valid reason in the wold to tell teachers that they must tailor what they teach to match a completely arbitrary ratio inserted into NAEP, with zero scientific validation, years ago.”

Regardless of the rationale at the top for adopting the common core, where the rubber meets the road, in the classroom assignments, is where Catholic schools are getting the push back. An ever increasing social media presence, like the Facebook page Inappropriate Common Core Lessons, show numerous examples of worksheets that students are receiving that are marked “aligned to common core,” with egregious errors, heavy handed ideology, and intrusive personal questions. We have highlighted just a small sample of those worksheets on our blog. Some of the lessons push concepts that conservative Catholic parents do not like. Many are just incredibly poorly written, demonstrating a frightening lack of content knowledge by those in the education industry.

I have always wondered why Catholic schools would adopt a set of untested, undocumented standards when their own curriculum and standards had such a successful track record. Why would they not allow the public school system to beta test the standards for 3-4 years, analyze their results and then begin the process of choosing which standards seemed to have the greatest effect?

A couple of reports have recently been released by Elizabeth Kraus which may shed some light on the question of why. Both are linked on the website under the Topics/Parochial School tab. Catholic Children in Grave Danger and Catholic Education in America: To Deceive the Elect? take a look behind the scenes at the forces acting on the Catholic schools that have pushed them into this course of action.

The second report makes the connection between Catholic education, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT), and Lee Shulman President Emeritus of CFAT. What parents need to know about Shulman is this:

“Shulman assisted with the promotion of an “outcomes” teaching program for students which was then used in Chicago inner city schools. It was a total failure. This failure was the result of a “Continuous Mastery Learning” method of teaching which was applied to a classroom reading instruction program. It resulted in half the students dropping out. One publication referred to it as a “human tragedy”. After this debacle, “Mastery Learning” was renamed “Outcome Based Education” (OBE).”

Common Core is just the latest visit from OBE. It promises a particular outcome; college and career readiness. There is no research to support the belief that this attempt at OBE will be any more successful than Shulman’s prior efforts, yet Shulman’s vision is guiding Catholic Education.

Most Catholic parents are now aware of the letter, signed by 132 Catholic professors, that was recently sent to every Bishop in America. In it they said,

We believe that, notwithstanding the good intentions of those who made these decisions, Common Core was approved too hastily and with inadequate consideration of how it would change the character and curriculum of our nation’s Catholic schools. We believe that implementing Common Core would be a grave disservice to Catholic education in America.

The letter goes on to state in the clearest terms possible,

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.

Thank goodness for Jeb Bush’s free market principles (she said with tongue firmly planted in cheek.) Alternatives are being established for parents who wish to send their children to a Catholic school that does not follow the common core standards. Catholics for Classical Education is working to support such schools. They currently have a program called Catholic Parent Recon Project which is seeking to understand just how many schools across the nation are in fact adopting common core. You can be part of this project by answering their survey here.

There are many dedicated Catholics in Missouri who have been actively making the bishops, archbishops and any catholic school administrators they can, aware of the problems with common core. Elizabeth Kraus is one, and another is Ron Reiter. Ron has been tirelessly educating himself about common core and sharing his concerns with Catholic leadership all across the state. You can find his contact information on the Coalition page if you would like to join their efforts.

Missouri Catholics should consider themselves lucky that they do not live in a voucher state like Indiana. A mother there confided to me, at the recent Common Core conference at Notre Dame, that Catholic parents have completely lost their voice in that state. If they are unhappy with what their Catholic school is doing, the administration blithely encourages them to take their kids out of the school. They have four more voucher kids waiting for that spot and those parents probably won’t complain so much. As the student population has become less and less Catholic oriented, the schools have shifted their focus away from Catholic instruction. They are losing their Catholic schools in Indiana.

One last thought. At that Notre Dame conference, we heard from Constitutional Law Professor Patrick Deneen who spoke about sovereignty and education. It was an inspiring speech that I recommend everyone, but especially Catholic parents, read. A transcription can be found here.  In this speech he said,

“In our modern push to standardize and make uniform and to equalize, we necessarily must end up discarding any higher aspirations of education‘s end in an embrace of what can only be widely secured agreements about lower and debased ends, an education based upon the lowest common denominator. With Common Core Standards, our civilization thus shows in its ultimate commitments to how we educate our young, that we think them incapable of anything higher than being workers in a deracinated globalized economic system.”

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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