Why Catholics Should Oppose the Common Core

{Ed Note: Please welcome this post from Mr. Emmett McGroarty & Ms. Jane Robbins. Mr. McGroarty is the Director of Education at American Principles Project, a 501c(3) organization and Ms. Jane Robbins is an American Principles Project senior fellow.}

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Forty-five states and over 100 Catholic dioceses have adopted the national Common Core Standards for K-12 English Language Arts and math.  This happened quickly, without any debate.  Public and Catholic school parents did not have notice as to what was happening.  Very few state legislators, even those on education committees, knew what was happening.

So, what did all these states and dioceses sign up for, and why such a growing, passionate opposition from parents?

If you listen to the promise of the Common Core, there’s a lot that sounds good, albeit much that causes suspicion.  Private entities developed, and own, the Common Core.  In the public roll-out of their project, they issued a slew of slogans about the standards.  The Common Core initiative would be “state-led.”  The standards themselves would be “rigorous” “internationally benchmarked,” and “research- and evidence-based.”  Furthermore, “no state will see a decrease in the level of student expectations.”  One problem with all this is that this roll-out occurred before the standards had been written.  And, in a bid to get points in a massive federal grant competition, states signed onto the standards before the final draft was issued and without time to review the standards.

The developers and owners of the Common Core made these promises from the get-go, well before they had actually put the standards together.  Unfortunately, the reality of the Common Core fell well short of the promise and will result in drastic changes to English language arts and math curriculum.  By then, though, legions of politicians and education administrators had championed the Common Core.  They had painted themselves into a corner.

With respect to math, Common Core takes students only to an incomplete algebra II course.  One of the lead architects of the math standards, Jason Zimba, has admitted that Common Core prepares students for a nonselective community college, not a four-year university.  Likewise, James Milgram, professor emeritus of Stanford University and the Common Core Validation Committee’s only mathematician (as opposed to math-education professor), rejected the standards because he concluded that they would leave American students at least two years behind their counterparts in the highest-achieving nations by 8th grade.  Common Core replaces traditional axiomatic Euclidian geometry with transformational geometry, a method of teaching geometry that has failed everywhere in the world in which it has been implemented in K-12.  And there is much more to be said about Common Core’s math deficiencies.

With respect to English language arts, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, perhaps this country’s most respected authority on English standards, criticizes the Common Core as “empty skill sets . . . [that] weaken the basis of literary and cultural knowledge needed for authentic college coursework.”  Common Core greatly reduces the amount of classic fiction taught in ELA class in favor of informational texts.  In their Publishers’ Criteria memorandum, the chief drafters state that English language arts “programs and materials designed for them will need to increase substantially the amount of literary non-fiction they include…..the standards emphasize non-fiction that is built on informational text structures rather than literary non-fiction such as memoirs or biographies.”  It further sets forth as “Non-Negotiable Criteria for Alignment to CC” that “Grades 3-5 literacy programs shift the balance of texts and instructional time to 50% literature/50% informational.”  And it continues that grades 6-12 programs should “shift the balance of texts and instructional materials towards reading substantially more non-fiction.”

Why should Catholics be concerned about this diminution of classic literature? Not only because study of classic literature has been proven best at developing truly literate students, but also because it is through literature that students learn about good and evil, grief and joy, failure and triumph — about the nature of humanity itself. The Common Core takes no interest in such non-job-related concepts.

Moreover, prominent child psychiatrists and psychologists have heavily criticized the standards as being age-inappropriate for young children.   In that regard, Dr. Carla Horwitz of the Yale Child Study Center argues that “The Core Standards will cause suffering, not learning, for many, many young children.”

The philosophy of Common Core is antithetical to true Catholic education. It is a workforce-development scheme that treats the individual as human capital, to be shepherded where needed in aid of a centralized, corporatist economy.  Schools are factories where children are trained, and the teachers are their supervisors. The focus of this is to produce workers who have the “skills” to “compete in the 21st century global economy.”

That is far removed from the Catholic understanding of education. In an address to American Catholic educators in New Orleans, Blessed John Paul II emphasized that the goal of Catholic education is “transmitting the full truth concerning the human person, created in God’s image and called to life in Christ through the Holy Spirit.” Archbishop J. Michael Miller, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, drew the contrast between this vision of education and the workforce-development model:

Unfortunately, far too many in government, business, the media, and even the educational establishment perceive education to be merely an instrument for the acquisition of information that will improve the chances of worldly success . . . . Such an impoverished vision of education is not Catholic.

Archbishop Miller specifically rejected the “skills and competencies” philosophy of education that is embodied in Common Core:

A Catholic school . . . cannot be a factory for the learning of various skills and competencies designed to fill the echelons of business and industry. . . . Education is not a commodity, even if Catholic schools equip their graduates with enviable skills.

Although Catholic education officials insist that they are “adapting” and not “adopting” the Common Core.  That is not possible.  One cannot teach more informational texts and simultaneously teach more classic literature.  One cannot teach fuzzy math while emphasizing the traditional standard algorithms.

A group of Catholic scholars recently sent a letter to every bishop, asking them to intercede to return to traditional Catholic education.  Parents, too, are rising.  They are forming groups like Catholics for Classical Education (which has a listing of many other networks across the country) and Louisiana Catholics for Excellence in Education, which was launched last week as an on-line petition to their bishops.  Catholics are looking to their bishops to reclaim control of Catholic education and to return to tradition and excellence.

You can learn more about the fight against Common Core at American Principles in Action and Truth in American Education.

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15 thoughts on “Why Catholics Should Oppose the Common Core

  1. Confused says:

    Why are Catholics upset about a 50/50 balance with fiction/non-fiction instruction?

    I know that many Catholics revile Science and Reason.

    Is that why they are discouraging the teaching of non-fiction?

    1. Brian says:

      I think one of the problems is that some of the non-fiction consists of instruction manuals and the like. Another is that fiction releases the imagination and allows one to think freely, not be bound by the not-always-factual non-fiction that is out there.

    2. Brian says:

      I should also add that Catholics do not “revile Science and Reason.” Many of the most famous scientists of history are Catholic, as are many of the world’s greatest thinkers.

  2. virginia rogers says:

    As a conservative Catholic and a proud public school teacher, I teach the Common Core. In English, I do not see anything wrong with the student expectations. Teachers can model morals, integrity, and ideals as they teach, and all children deserve Christian teachers…not only the ones whose parents are wise enough to send them to private school.

  3. sandy says:

    Common core is not only a step behind how we teach from textbooks, but more important, it want to construct what they want our children to do in the future. Please don’t let this go forward in our schools…Stand up.

  4. Aukina Fenzl says:

    This why we started an independent school teaching Classical Liberal Arts last Fall in Auburn NY

  5. Sarah says:

    I went to Catholic school and we were prepped for a four year college. I feel like we always had tons of homework and we went much more in depth into the material than my public school counter parts. When I had to test in to my college classes, I did very well. I didn’t feel like I was way in over my head. It’s nice to be prepared for the world and future jobs but we prepare the human mind so as to serve God, not government.

  6. AC says:

    It amazes me how our church educated for over 1000 years, and knows how to educate people is listening to the requirments of the same people who’ve brought us the disaster of modern education. Consider for a moment that the ablity to read, write and do basic math was taught to every Catholic, every American in 1900. But by 1950, the breakdown had begun and by today has been completed.
    We are constantly looking for a new method to do something that has been perfected long ago. It is a good thing the people who come up with things like common core were in charge of making wine and beer, the country would go dry!

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