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Five Years Since Launch of Common Core, Concerns Remain for Catholic Schools


May 28, 2015, at 3:06 PM 5/28/2015  |  By Justin Petrisek, CNS Staff  Five years after the official release of the Common Core State Standards on June 2, 2010, The Cardinal Newman Society has released two new reports on the experimental reform and remains convinced that the English language arts (ELA) and mathematics standards by themselves are insufficient and even potentially harmful for Catholic schools, which must keep Christ and the Catholic faith as the true core of education.

Even more disconcerting are the many curricula and textbooks that have been labeled “Common Core” but depart from the successful practices and principles of Catholic education, as well as standardized tests adjusted to Common Core standards that have been widely criticized.

“It may at some point be possible to use parts of the Common Core in isolation in Catholic schools,” allows Dr. Dan Guernsey, the Newman Society’s director of K-12 education programs, “but it will be years before we know if it is effective in what it claims to deliver. The first testing on the Common Core just occurred this spring, and we are awaiting first results.”

The Cardinal Newman Society, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and individual bishops have urged Catholic educators to exercise caution with regard to the Common Core, withholding support before it has been thoroughly tested. The Newman Society maintains a website, Catholic Is Our Core, to educate Catholics about the Standards, including the special report, “10 Facts Every Catholic Should Know About the Common Core.”

Now the Newman Society has released two reports, marking the Standards’ fifth anniversary with continued doubts about their value to Catholic schools. Denise Donohue, deputy director of K-12 programs, completed a review of Catholic dioceses in the United States and found that 110 dioceses “are using the standards to some degree”—but at least 33 dioceses and many Catholic schools are not currently using the Common Core standards, and the status of 33 dioceses is uncertain. With an emphasis on the proven standards and curricula that have been so successful in Catholic education—and for many, also a renewed focus on classical, liberal arts education—at least a sizable minority of Catholic schools and dioceses seem to be doing quite well without the Common Core.

Dr. Donohue’s report, “Many Diocesan and Private Catholic Schools Find Success Outside of Common Core,” is posted at the Catholic Is Our Core website.

Also, Donohue and Guernsey have issued another report explaining why the Common Core’s ELA standards are problematic for Catholic schools, especially with regard to the faddish innovation "Close Reading". That report, “Disconnect between Common Core’s Literary Approach and Catholic Education’s Pursuit of Truth,” is also at the Catholic Is Our Core website.

The Cardinal Newman Society has been working on Common Core issues in other ways, Donohue explained:

The K-12 division fields phone calls from families, teachers and persons concerned about the Common Core Standards and how they are impacting their children. Many are interested in which dioceses are using the standards and which aren't, so we have compiled a list of statements made by the dioceses on our website, Catholic is Our Core.

The Newman Society also continues to update Catholic is Our Core with research-based articles  on the effects of the standards and is in the initial stages of developing a specifically Catholic approach to standards and curriculum. Focused on Catholic identity, the approach begins from a Christocentric perspective and looks at catechetical material, religious order charisms and child development theory, among other areas.

Additionally, efforts are being made to monitor the status of the Common Core implementation, the fervent opt-out movement, development of national tests and all areas associated with educational reform, particularly in how it affects Catholic schools, Donohue stated.

But how should Catholic schools proceed, even if they are already using Common Core standards?

“First, Catholic schools and dioceses should know that they do not have to use the Common Core,” Guernsey said. “The Cardinal Newman Society has identified at least 33 dioceses that are significantly Common Core-free and doing well.”

For those schools or dioceses that have adopted Common Core, the key advice remains the same, he noted.

“Put even more emphasis on your Catholic identity than you have previously to counter some of the possible secularizing effects; use the standards very selectively, as a floor and a base guideline only; and do not follow the ‘shifts’ which hide the utilitarian, pragmatic and relativistic philosophies behind the government produced Common Core.” 

Guernsey also recommended using only specific standards for minimal guidance and not following the entire pedagogical agenda. “Our advice includes keeping all great literature in place at pre-Common Core levels or greater and not increasing the use of informational texts beyond what was previously in place.”

In the end, “the Common Core will always be insufficient on its own for use in Catholic schools,” Guernsey said.

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

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