The Call to Teach: Expectations for the Catholic Educator in Magisterial Teaching

Introduction

There have been many changes in Catholic education in the United States since the first missionary schools were established in the Americas, and among the most significant has been the late-20th century shift to primarily lay Catholic teachers.  In recent years, efforts to strengthen the Catholic identity of schools in the United States have prompted measures to reinforce the expectations and formation for teachers in Catholic schools, emphasizing moral qualities in addition to professional competence.

The Vatican has consistently recognized that teachers—lay, clerical, or religious—have an essential role in Catholic education and must serve as witnesses to the faith, in both word and deed.  This constant appreciation for the role of teachers—of great importance to the Church’s leadership as well as to those parents who enter into a partnership with Catholic schools—is presented in the Church’s magisterial teachings.  A review of these teachings provides understanding of the importance of the Catholic teacher and the teacher’s role in fulfilling the mission of the Church by preparing students to live virtuous lives in service to society and the Church.

The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis (1965), outlines the basic principles of Christian education, acknowledging the Church’s reliance on Catholic educators and the importance of preparation in “secular and religious knowledge”.1 Twelve years later, the impact of cultural and social pluralism on Catholic education was addressed by the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Education in The Catholic School (1977).  Among its concerns was that, Often what is perhaps fundamentally lacking among Catholics who work in a school is a clear realization of the identity of a Catholic school and the courage to follow all the consequences of its uniqueness.”2

Historically, Catholic identity in schools was strong, as they were administered and staffed by men and women from religious orders, whose professional and spiritual formation created an environment of Christian witness with a program integrated with Gospel values.  However, after Vatican II and in the years following, the Church has become increasingly dependent on laity to serve the more than 6,500 Catholic schools in the United States, which educate approximately two million students.  There has been a gradual but steady transition away from clergy and religious—now just 2.8 percent of Catholic full-time professional staff, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.3

In 1982, due to increased reliance on laity to staff Catholic schools, the Sacred Congregation focused special attention on teachers in its document Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith.  It seeks to detail the “specific character of their vocation” and presents “a true picture of the laity as an active element, accomplishing an important task for the entire Church through their labour”.4

The Congregation expanded on the distinctive characteristics of Catholic education in 1988 in The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, restating, “Prime responsibility for creating this unique Christian school climate rests with the teachers.”5  Less than ten years later, to address the “crisis of values” in contemporary society, the Congregation issued The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (1997).  The document includes the fundamental characteristics of schools necessary to be effective agents for the Church and the need to recruit teachers who are “competent, convinced, and coherent educators” who serve as a reflection of the one Teacher, Jesus Christ.6

As America entered the twenty-first century, concern over Catholic school closures and waning Catholic identity was addressed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium.  Noting that ninety-five percent of those working in Catholic school were laity, the Bishops state, “The formation of personnel will allow the Gospel message and the living presence of Jesus to permeate the entire life of the school community and thus be faithful to the evangelizing mission.”7  The criteria they present for personnel in a Catholic school include being grounded in faith-based culture, being bonded to Christ and the Church, and being witnesses to the faith in both their words and actions.

Today, Catholic schools continue to struggle against secularization and moral relativism in every aspect of our society.  Laying out plans to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis, the Congregation for Catholic Education issued Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion, which describes the impact of contemporary culture as an “educational emergency”.  Along with the many issues facing Catholic education—identity, limited means and resources, legal, pastoral—the document discusses the challenge associated with lifelong training of teachers, noting that educators need unity and a willingness to embrace and share a “specific evangelical identity” and “consistent lifestyle”.8

Supported by these and other magisterial documents, this report explicates the teachings of the Catholic Church summarizing the role of lay Catholic teachers and their qualifications; pedagogical, educational, and cultural goals; relationship to the Church; and Gospel witness.  The purpose of the report is to provide an account of the qualities deemed important by the Church for teachers to maintain strong Catholic identity in schools and thereby fulfill the mission of the Church in this apostolate.

The findings are organized into five sections based on recurrent themes found in the magisterial teachings describing a Catholic educator.  Each summary is written using key phrases from the Church documents, followed by the complete citations to provide a contextual reference.  The first section considers the general mission of Catholic education as serving the mission of the Church.

Described in the second section is the vocational aspect of the Catholic educator, exploring how an understanding of this role is critical to fulfilling the Church’s mission in education.

The third section details the spiritual and professional qualifications required of teachers to effectively impart an authentic Catholic education.  Compared to their secular counterparts, teachers in Catholic schools have additional responsibilities associated with the spiritual dimension of their work.  Included in this analysis are pedagogical aspects associated with the “harmonious” development of students’ physical, moral, and intellectual talents,9 integrating Catholicity into subject areas, and ensuring the protection and the dignity of each child.  References to professionalism of the Catholic teacher refer to those qualities deemed important to the integral formation of students, summarized within the context of the magisterial teachings.  The reader will discover that multidimensional criteria for teaching in a Catholic school surpass the standards typically associated with educational credentialing.

Expanding on the spirituality of Catholic educators, section four explores expectations associated with apostolic witness and conduct of an authentic Christian role model.  In the formational years, the adage “actions speak louder than words” could not hold more meaning than for those who interact with children and young adults on a day-to-day basis.  Magisterial teachings detail the importance of faculty behavior based on Gospel values to prepare students for a life of moral and Christian living.

Building on the prior four areas, the fifth section investigates how the blending of instruction, pedagogy, and witness allow for the systematic and critical assimilation of Catholic culture.  This culture of conviction, where truth is fundamental in the search for wisdom, freedom, justice, and human dignity, is the foundation by which students learn their responsibilities to God, themselves, each other, and society.

The Church’s Mission in Catholic Education

A review of documents from the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops provides clarity on the Church’s mission in Catholic education.  Catholic education is an expression of the Church’s mission of salvation and an instrument of evangelization.  Through its schools, members encounter God, who in Jesus Christ reveals His transforming love and truth.  As a faith community, students, parents, and educators, in unity with the Church, give witness to Christ’s loving communion in the Holy Trinity.  With this Christian vision, Catholic education fulfills its purpose of transmitting culture in the light of faith, integrally forming the human person by developing each student’s physical, moral, spiritual, and intellectual gifts, teaching responsibility and right use of freedom, preparing students to fulfill God’s calling in this world, and attaining the eternal kingdom for which they were created.

The Salvific Mission of the Church:  In the fullness of time, in His mysterious plan of love, God the Father sent His only Son to begin the Kingdom of God on earth and bring about the spiritual rebirth of mankind.  To continue His work of salvation, Jesus Christ founded the Church as a visible organism, living by the power of the Spirit.

Moved by the same Spirit, the Church is constantly deepening her awareness of herself and meditating on the mystery of her being and mission.  Thus she is ever rediscovering her living relationship with Christ “in order to discover greater light, energy, and joy in fulfilling her mission and determining the best way to ensure that her relationship with humanity is closer and more efficacious”—that humanity of which she is a part and yet so undeniably distinct.  Her destiny is to serve humanity until it reaches its fullness in Christ.

Evangelization is, therefore, the mission of the Church; that is she must proclaim the good news of salvation to all, generate new creatures in Christ through Baptism, and train them to live knowingly as children of God.

Means available for the Mission of the Church:To carry out her saving mission, the Church uses, above all, the means which Jesus Christ has given her.  She also uses other means which at different times and in different cultures have proved effective in achieving and, promoting the development of the human person.  The Church adapts these means to the changing conditions and emerging needs of mankind.  In her encounter with differing cultures and with man’s progressive achievements, the Church proclaims the faith and reveals “to all ages the transcendent goal which alone gives life its full meaning.”

She establishes her own schools because she considers them as a privileged means of promoting the formation of the whole man, since the school is a centre in which a specific concept of the world, of man, and of history is developed and conveyed…  It is precisely in the Gospel of Christ, taking root in the minds and lives of the faithful, that the Catholic school finds its definition as it comes to terms with the cultural conditions of the times.  It must never be forgotten that the purpose of instruction at school is education, that is, the development of man from within, freeing him from that conditioning which would prevent him from becoming a fully integrated human being.  The school must begin from the principle that its educational program is intentionally directed to the growth of the whole person.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #5-9)

Catholic education is an expression of the mission entrusted by Jesus to the Church He founded.  Through education, the Church seeks to prepare its members to proclaim the Good News and to translate this proclamation into action.  Since the Christian vocation is a call to transform oneself and society with God’s help, the educational efforts of the Church must encompass the twin purposes of personal sanctification and the social reform in light of Christian values.  (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Teach as Jesus Did (1972), #7)

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.  Amen (Matthew 28:19-20)

Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News.  First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf.  Spe Salvi, 4).  (Pope Benedict, XVI, Meeting With Catholic Educators (2008), Washington, DC)

Christ is the foundation of the whole educational enterprise in a Catholic school.  His revelation gives new meaning to life and helps man to direct his thought, action and will according to the Gospel, making the beatitudes his norm of life.  The fact that in their own individual ways all members of the school community share this Christian vision, makes the school “Catholic”; principles of the Gospel in this manner become the educational norms since the school then has them as its internal motivation and final goal.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #34)

From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics…  The Gospel spirit should be evident in a Christian way of thought and life which permeates all facets of the educational climate.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988), #25)

The implementation of a real educational community, built on the foundation of shared projected values, represents a serious task that must be carried out by the Catholic school…  The preparation of a shared project acts as a stimulus that should force the Catholic school to be a place of ecclesial experience.  Its binding force and potential for relationships derive from a set of values and a communion of life that is rooted in our common belonging to Christ.  Derived from the recognition of evangelical values are educational norms, motivational drives and also the final goals of the school.  Certainly the degree of participation can differ in relation to one’s personal history, but this requires that educators be willing to offer a permanent commitment to formation and self-formation regarding a choice of cultural and life values to be made present in the educational community.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), #5)

When Christians say communion, they refer to the eternal mystery, revealed in Christ, of the communion of love that is the very life of God-Trinity.  At the same time we also say that Christians share in this communion in the Body of Christ which is the Church (cf.  Phil 1: 7; Rev 1: 9).  Communion is, therefore, the “essence” of the Church, the foundation and source of its mission of being in the world “the home and the school of communion,” to lead all men and women to enter ever more profoundly into the mystery of Trinitarian communion and, at the same time, to extend and strengthen internal relations within the human community.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), #10)

Since true education must strive for complete formation of the human person that looks to his or her final end as well as to the common good of societies, children and youth are to be nurtured in such a way that they are able to develop their physical, moral, and intellectual talents harmoniously, acquire a more perfect sense of responsibility and right use of freedom, and are formed to participate actively in social life.  (Code of Canon Law, 795)

To fulfill the mandate she has received from her divine founder of proclaiming the mystery of salvation to all men and of restoring all things in Christ, Holy Mother the Church must be concerned with the whole of man’s life, even the secular part of it insofar as it has a bearing on his heavenly calling.  Therefore she has a role in the progress and development of education.  Hence this sacred synod declares certain fundamental principles of Christian education especially in schools.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), Introduction)

Education today is a complex task, which is made more difficult by rapid social, economic, and cultural changes.  Its specific mission remains the integral formation of the human person.  Children and young people must be guaranteed the possibility of developing harmoniously their own physical, moral, intellectual and spiritual gifts, and they must also be helped to develop their sense of responsibility, learn the correct use of freedom, and participate actively in social life (cf.  c. 795 Code of Canon Law [CIC]; c.  629 Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches [CCEO]).  A form of education that ignores or marginalises the moral and religious dimension of the person is a hindrance to full education, because “children and young people have a right to be motivated to appraise moral values with a right conscience, to embrace them with a personal adherence, together with a deeper knowledge and love of God.”  That is why the Second Vatican Council asked and recommended “all those who hold a position of public authority or who are in charge of education to see to it that youth is never deprived of this sacred right.”  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Circular Letter to the Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences on Religious Education in Schools (2009), #1)

It is important for Catholic schools to be aware of the risks that arise should they lose sight of the reasons why they exist…  Catholic schools are called to give dutiful witness, by their pedagogy that is clearly inspired by the Gospel…  They have the responsibility for offering Catholic students, over and above a sound knowledge of religion, the possibility to grow in personal closeness to Christ in the Church.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating in Intercultural Dialogue in the Catholic School: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (2013), #56)

The young people we are educating today will become the leaders of the 2050s.  What will religion’s contribution be to educating younger generations to peace, development, fraternity in the universal human community?  How are we going to educate them to faith and in faith?  How will we establish the preliminary conditions to accept this gift, to educate them to gratitude, to a sense of awe, to asking themselves questions, to develop a sense of justice and consistency?  How will we educate them to prayer?  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (2014), III)

What Does It Mean to Be a Catholic Teacher?

The Catholic teacher’s vocation is to participate in the saving mission of the Church and to assist in the building of the Body of Christ.  The teacher is called by God to work for the sanctification of the world and to communicate truth.  The Catholic educator has special qualities of mind and heart and is led by the Spirit and the Gospel to make Christ known to others by a life filled with faith, hope, and charity.

Perfect schools are the result not so much of good methods as of good teachers, teachers who are thoroughly prepared and well-grounded in the matter they have to teach; who possess the intellectual and moral qualifications required by their important office; who cherish a pure and holy love for the youths confided to them, because they love Jesus Christ and His Church, of which these are the children of predilection; and who have therefore sincerely at heart the true good of family and country.  (Pope Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri (1929), #88)

Beautiful indeed and of great importance is the vocation of all those who aid parents in fulfilling their duties and who, as representatives of the human community, undertake the task of education in schools.  This vocation demands special qualities of mind and heart, very careful preparation, and continuing readiness to renew and to adapt.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), #5)

For, “they share a common dignity from their rebirth in Christ.  They have the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection.  They possess in common one salvation, one hope, and one undivided charity”.  Although it is true that, in the Church, “by the will of Christ, some are made teachers, dispensers of mysteries and shepherds on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ”.  Every Christian, and therefore also every lay person, has been made a sharer in “the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ”, and their apostolate “is a participation in the saving mission of the Church itself…  All are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself”.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #6)

One specific characteristic of the educational profession assumes its most profound significance in the Catholic educator: the communication of truth.  For the Catholic educator, whatever is true is a participation in Him who is the Truth; the communication of truth, therefore, as a professional activity, is thus fundamentally transformed into a unique participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, carried on through one’s teaching.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #16)

They live in the midst of the world’s activities and professions, and in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life; and there they are called by God so that by exercising their proper function and being led by the spirit of the Gospel they can work for the sanctification of the world from within, in the manner of leaven.  In this way they can make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #7)

When it considers the tremendous evangelical resource embodied in the millions of lay Catholics who devote their lives to schools, it recalls the words with which the Second Vatican Council ended its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, and “earnestly entreats in the Lord that all lay persons give a glad, generous, and prompt response to the voice of Christ, who is giving them an especially urgent invitation at this moment; …they should respond to it eagerly and magnanimously …and, recognizing that what is His is also their own (Phil.  2, 5), to associate themselves with Him in His saving mission…  Thus they can show that they are His co-workers in the various forms and methods of the Church’s one apostolate, which must be constantly adapted to the new needs of the times.  May they always abound in the works of God, knowing that they will not labour in vain when their labour is for Him (Cf.  I Cor. 15, 58)”.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #82)

Qualifications to Effectively Impart an Authentic Catholic Education

Those who oversee Catholic education recognize and depend on teachers to fulfill the goals and programs of the school.  Based on its divine mission, it is crucial for teachers in a Catholic school to be prepared to assume the responsibilities associated with both the spiritual and professional dimensions of their ministry in Catholic education.

The Spiritual Dimension

Catholic schools are called on to recruit teachers who are practicing Catholics and who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the Gospel, and contribute to strengthening Catholic identity and apostolic goals.  The Catholic educator is entrusted with and shares in the sanctifying and educational mission of the Church.  Each teacher must “consciously inspire his or her activity with the Christian concept of the person” in communion with the Church.  Participation and active engagement in the liturgical and sacramental life of the school provides a visible manifestation of their faith and commitment.  Catholic school personnel are called to be filled with Christian wisdom so as to guide students to Truth.  The Catholic educator is challenged to integrate religious truths and values into daily life, both in their private and professional lives, to personally guide and inspire their students into a deeper faith and more profound levels of human knowledge.

The instruction and education in a Catholic school must be grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine; teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life.  (Code of Canon Law, 803 §2)

Catholic leadership is called upon to “recruit teachers who are practicing Catholics, who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the Gospel, and who can contribute to the achievement of the school’s Catholic identity and apostolic goals.  (U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory for Catechesis (2005), #231)

And if there is no trace of Catholic identity in the education, the educator can hardly be called a Catholic educator.  Some of the aspects of this living out of one’s identity are common and essential; they must be present no matter what the school is in which the lay educator exercises his or her vocation.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #25)

In today’s pluralistic world, the Catholic educator must consciously inspire his or her activity with the Christian concept of the person, in communion with the Magisterium of the Church.  It is a concept which includes a defense of human rights, but also attributes to the human person the dignity of a child of God…  It establishes the strictest possible relationship of solidarity among all persons; through mutual love and an ecclesial community.  It calls for the fullest development of all that is human… Finally, it proposes Christ, Incarnate Son of God and perfect Man, as both model and means; to imitate Him… (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #18)

To this lay person, as a member of this community, the family and the Church entrust the school’s educational endeavor.  Lay teachers must be profoundly convinced that they share in the sanctifying, and therefore educational mission of the Church; they cannot regard themselves as cut off from the ecclesial complex.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #24)

The lay Catholic working in a school is, along with every Christian, a member of the People of God…  Every Christian, and therefore also every lay person, has been made a sharer in “the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ”, and their apostolate “is a participation in the saving mission of the Church itself…  All are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself”.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #6)

As a visible manifestation of the faith they profess and the life witness they are supposed to manifest, it is important that lay Catholics who work in a Catholic school participate simply and actively in the liturgical and sacramental life of the school.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #40)

Since the educative mission of the Catholic school is so wide, the teacher is in an excellent position to guide the pupil to a deepening of his faith and to enrich and enlighten his human knowledge with the data of the faith…  The teacher can form the mind and heart of his pupils and guide them to develop a total commitment to Christ, with their whole personality enriched by human culture.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #40)

A teacher who is full of Christian wisdom, well prepared in his own subject, does more than convey the sense of what he is teaching to his pupils.  Over and above what he says, he guides his pupils beyond his mere words to the heart of total Truth.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #41)

The integration of religious truth and values with the rest of life is brought about in the Catholic school not only by its unique curriculum, but, more important, by the presence of teachers who express an integrated approach to learning and living in their private and professional lives.  (U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Teach as Jesus Did (1972), #104)

Most of all, students should be able to recognize authentic human qualities in their teachers.  They are teachers of the faith; however, like Christ, they must also be teachers of what it means to be human…  A teacher who has a clear vision of the Christian milieu and lives in accord with it will be able to help young people develop a similar vision, and will give them the inspiration they need to put it into practice.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988), #96)

The Professional Dimension

In a Catholic school, a teacher commits to make integral human formation the heart of the profession, a calling that is enhanced by adequate preparation in both secular and religious knowledge and pedagogical skills.  Qualifications for the classroom include creativity, management skills, and the ability to create an effective learning environment in which each student’s gifts and talents are acknowledged and respected.  Through the synthesis of faith, culture, and life, the Catholic educator integrates Gospel values into all aspects of the curriculum to demonstrate the relationship between knowledge and truth.  Professionalism, within the context of the Catholic teachings, is one of the most important characteristics of the teacher in living out an “ecclesial vocation” and includes preparation and ongoing development in the pedagogical, cultural, and psychological areas of the teacher’s work.  Teaching and learning cannot be based solely on a professional relationship but one built on mutual esteem, trust, respect, and friendliness with parents, students, members of school communities, and fellow Catholic educators.

Every person who contributes to integral human formation is an educator; but teachers have made integral human formation their very profession.  When, then, we discuss the school, teachers deserve special consideration: because of their number, but also because of the institutional purpose of the school.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #15)

The task of a teacher goes well beyond transmission of knowledge, although that is not excluded.  Therefore, if adequate professional preparation is required in order to transmit knowledge, then adequate professional preparation is even more necessary in order to fulfill the role of a genuine teacher.  It is an indispensable human formation, and without it, it would be foolish to undertake any educational work.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #16)

They should therefore be very carefully prepared so that both in secular and religious knowledge they are equipped with suitable qualifications and also with a pedagogical skill that is in keeping with the findings of the contemporary world.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), #8)

Professional competence is the necessary condition for openness to unleash its educational potential.  A lot is being required of teachers and managers: they should have the ability to create, invent and manage learning environments that provide plentiful opportunities; they should be able to respect students’ different intelligences and guide them towards significant and profound learning; they should be able to accompany their students towards lofty and challenging goals, cherish high expectations for them, involve and connect students to each other and the world.  Teachers must be able to pursue different goals simultaneously and face problem situations that require a high level of professionalism and preparation.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (2014), #7)

The integral formation of the human person, which is the purpose of education, includes the development of all the human faculties of the students, together with preparation for professional life, formation of ethical and social awareness, becoming aware of the transcendental, and religious education.  Every school, and every educator in the school, ought to be striving “to form strong and responsible individuals, who are capable of making free and correct choices”, thus preparing young people “to open themselves more and more to reality, and to form in themselves a clear idea of the meaning of life” (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #17)

Professionalism is one of the most important characteristics in the identity of every lay Catholic.  The first requirement, then, for a lay educator who wishes to live out his or her ecclesial vocation, is the acquisition of a solid professional formation.  In the case of an educator, this includes competency in a wide range of cultural, psychological, and pedagogical areas.  However, it is not enough that the initial training be at a good level; this must be maintained and deepened, always bringing it up to date.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #27)

The synthesis between faith, culture and life that educators of the Catholic school are called to achieve is, in fact, reached “by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel […and] in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian”.  This means that Catholic educators must attain a special sensitivity with regard to the person to be educated in order to grasp not only the request for growth in knowledge and skills, but also the need for growth in humanity.  Thus educators must dedicate themselves “to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity”.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), #24)

The epistemological framework of every branch of knowledge has its own identity, both in content and methodology.  However, this framework does not relate merely to “internal” questions, touching upon the correct realization of each discipline.  Each discipline is not an island inhabited by a form of knowledge that is distinct and ring-fenced; rather, it is in a dynamic relationship with all other forms of knowledge, each of which expresses something about the human person and touches upon some truth.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating in Intercultural Dialogue in the Catholic School: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (2013), #64-67)

Teaching and learning are the two terms in a relationship that does not only involve the subject to be studied and the learning mind, but also persons: this relationship cannot be based exclusively on technical and professional relations, but must be nourished by mutual esteem, trust, respect and friendliness.  When learning takes place in a context where the subjects who are involved feel a sense of belonging, it is quite different from a situation in which learning occurs in a climate of individualism, antagonism and mutual coldness.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (2014), #3)

Active participation in the activities of colleagues, in relationships with other members of the educational community; and especially in relationships with parents of the students, is extremely important.  In this way the objectives, programs, and teaching methods of the school in which the lay Catholic is working can be gradually impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #51)

Apostolic Witness and Conduct Required to Be an Authentic Christian Role Model

The Church relies on those who work in the teaching vocation to fulfill the mission of Catholic education and serve the students entrusted to their care.  Teachers are called on in a special way to make the Church present and operative, as through their witness they impart a distinctive character to Catholic schools.  The teacher in a Catholic school is deeply motivated to witness to a living encounter with Christ, the unique Teacher, and then live out the school’s values and ideals in word and action.  The teacher writes on the “very spirits of human beings,” forming relationships that assume enormous importance as the teacher confronts the problems associated with imparting a Christian vision of the world.  Permeated by Christian spirit, the Catholic teacher integrates culture and faith as well as faith and life.  The lay teacher in a Catholic school gives a concrete example of what it is to be a Christian living in a secular world.  The teacher demonstrates what it is to be an “ideal person” through a habitual attitude of service, a personal commitment to students, a fraternal solidarity with everyone, and living a life that is integrally moral.  Living with integrity in a pluralist society, the teacher is a “living mirror” by which those in the school community will see a reflected image of a life inspired by the Gospel.

It seems necessary to begin by trying to delineate the identity of the lay Catholics who work in a school; the way in which they bear witness to the faith will depend on this specific identity, in the Church and in this particular field of labor.  In trying to contribute to the investigation, it is the intention of this Sacred Congregation to offer a service to lay Catholics who work in schools (and who should have a clear idea of the specific character of their vocation), and also to the People of God (who need to have a true picture of the laity as an active element, accomplishing an important task for the entire Church through their labour).  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #5)

Therefore, “the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can she become the salt of the earth.”  In order to achieve this presence of the whole Church, and of the Savior whom she proclaims, lay people must be ready to proclaim the message through their words, and witness to it in what they do.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #9)

Intimately linked in charity to one another and to their students and endowed with an apostolic spirit, may teachers by their life as much as by their instruction bear witness to Christ, the unique Teacher.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), #8)

The project of the Catholic school is convincing only if carried out by people who are deeply motivated, because they witness to a living encounter with Christ, in whom alone “the mystery of man truly becomes clear”.  These persons, therefore, acknowledge a personal and communal adherence with the Lord, assumed as the basis and constant reference of the inter-personal relationship and mutual cooperation between educator and student.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), #4)

By their witness and their behavior teachers are of the first importance to impart a distinctive character to Catholic schools…  This must aim to animate them as witnesses of Christ in the classroom and tackle the problems of their particular apostolate, especially regarding a Christian vision of the world and of education, problems also connected with the art of teaching in accordance with the principles of the Gospel.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #78)

The integration of culture and faith is mediated by the other integration of faith and life in the person of the teacher.  The nobility of the task to which teachers are called demands that, in imitation of Christ, the only Teacher, they reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behavior.  This is what makes the difference between a school whose education is permeated by the Christian spirit and one in which religion is only regarded as an academic subject like any other.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #43)

Catholic schools require people not only to know how to teach or direct an organization; they also require them, using the skills of their profession, to know how to bear authentic witness to the school’s values, as well as to their own continuing efforts to live out ever more deeply, in thought and deed, the ideals that are stated publicly in words.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating in Intercultural Dialogue in the Catholic School: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (2013), #80)

Thus, Catholic educators can be certain that they make human beings more human.  Moreover, the special task of those educators who are lay persons is to offer to their students a concrete example of the fact that people deeply immersed in the world, living fully the same secular life as the vast majority of the human family, possess this same exalted dignity.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #18)

Conduct is always much more important than speech; this fact becomes especially important in the formation period of students.  The more completely an educator can give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person that is being presented to the students, the more this ideal will be believed and imitated…  Without this witness, living in such an atmosphere, they may begin to regard Christian behavior as an impossible ideal.  It must never be forgotten that, in the crises “which have their greatest effect on the younger generations”, the most important element in the educational endeavor is “always the individual person: the person, and the moral dignity of that person which is the result of his or her principles, and the conformity of actions with those principles.” (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #32-33)

Professional commitment; support of truth, justice and freedom; openness to the point of view of others, combined with an habitual attitude of service; personal commitment to the students, and fraternal solidarity with everyone; a life that is integrally moral in all its aspects.  The lay Catholic who brings all of this to his or her work in a pluralist school becomes a living mirror, in whom every individual in the educational community will see reflected an image of one inspired by the Gospel.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #52)

Teaching has an extraordinary moral depth and is one of man’s most excellent and creative activities, for the teacher does not write on inanimate material, but on the very spirits of human beings.  The personal relations between the teacher and the students, therefore, assume an enormous importance and are not limited simply to giving and taking.  Moreover, we must remember that teachers and educators fulfill a specific Christian vocation and share an equally specific participation in the mission of the Church, to the extent that “it depends chiefly on them whether the Catholic school achieves its purpose.” (Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (1997), #19)

Assimilation of Catholic Culture

The Catholic educator aims for the critical, systematic transmission of culture in light of faith through the Gospel values conveyed by the Church.  Communication must be oriented toward truth to develop in students a deeper level of understanding of what it means to be a responsible human being and cultivate virtues characteristic of a Christian.  The Catholic teacher accomplishes this through the synthesis of culture and faith as well as of faith and life.  All subjects are integrated and explored in a Christian worldview and from a Christian concept of the human person.  It is through Catholic education that students are able to grasp, appreciate, and assimilate the values that will guide them toward “eternal realities.” The Catholic teacher is crucial to this task, for it is through personal contact and the teacher’s “witness to faith,” as revealed through actions, that relationships grow in a dialogue of openness which allows the teacher to make Christ known to students.

The specific mission of the school, then, is a critical, systematic transmission of culture in the light of faith and the bringing forth of the power of Christian virtue by the integration of culture with faith and of faith with living.  Consequently, the Catholic school is aware of the importance of the Gospel-teaching as transmitted through the Catholic Church.  It is, indeed, the fundamental element in the educative process as it helps the pupil towards his conscious choice of living a responsible and coherent way of life.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #49)

For the accomplishment of this vast undertaking, many different educational elements must converge; in each of them, the lay Catholic must appear as a witness to faith.  An organic, critical, and value-oriented communication of culture clearly includes the communication of truth and knowledge; while doing this, a Catholic teacher should always be alert for opportunities to initiate the appropriate dialogue between culture and faith—two things which are intimately related—in order to bring the interior synthesis of the student to this deeper level.  It is, of course, a synthesis which should already exist in the teacher.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #29)

These premises indicate the duties and the content of the Catholic school.  Its task is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #37)

The communication of culture in an educational context involves a methodology, whose principles and techniques are collected together into a consistent pedagogy.  A variety of pedagogical theories exist; the choice of the Catholic educator, based on a Christian concept of the human person, should be the practice of a pedagogy which gives special emphasis to direct and personal contact with the students.  If the teacher undertakes this contact with the conviction that students are already in possession of fundamentally positive values, the relationship will allow for an openness and a dialogue which will facilitate an understanding of the witness to faith that is revealed through the behavior of the teacher.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #21)

The cultural heritage of mankind includes other values apart from the specific ambient of truth.  When the Christian teacher helps a pupil to grasp, appreciate and assimilate these values, he is guiding him towards eternal realities.  This movement towards the Uncreated Source of all knowledge highlights the importance of teaching for the growth of faith.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #42)

Let them do all they can to stimulate their students to act for themselves and even after graduation to continue to assist them with advice, friendship and by establishing special associations imbued with the true spirit of the Church.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), #8)

Conclusion

The Church’s magisterial teachings convey the immense responsibility that teachers assume in the ministry of the Catholic education.  In addition to professional qualifications, a Catholic school teacher must have an understanding of and commitment to the Church and be a “living mirror” of Christ by modeling a life inspired by the Gospel.10  In contemporary society, the challenges associated with imparting a Christian vision of the world, which is often seen as counter-cultural, require Catholic school teachers to be spiritually stable and faithful Christian role models.

Concern for the preparation, recruitment, development, and ongoing formation of Catholic teachers is a recurrent theme throughout the magisterial documents.  In 2005, the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops in Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary & Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium stated, “The preparation and ongoing formation of teachers is vital if our schools are to remain truly Catholic in all aspects of school life… [to] allow the Gospel message and the living presence of Jesus to permeate the entire life of the school community and thus be faithful to the school’s evangelizing mission.”11 Reliance on laity to fulfill the educational mission of the Church requires not only teachers who have educational and managerial skills, but also teachers who are spiritually prepared to be witnesses of the faith to their students.

With today’s renewed focus on Catholic identity in schools, it is critical to encourage the witness of those who are tasked to impart education that is faithful to the teachings of the Church.  In Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion, the Congregation for Catholic Education laments the decline of “believers” among educators and asks, “How can a bond with Jesus Christ be established in this new educational context?”12  The Church in the United States must recommit to hiring policies that identify teachers who are suited to advancing the mission of Catholic education and to forming teachers as witness of the faith.  This is what the magisterial documents expect and what Catholic families deserve.

Our hope is that by making the Church’s rich and deep understanding of the role of Catholic teachers accessible to Catholic school leaders as well as the teachers themselves, enhanced discussions, new programs, and clarified expectations will assist in a new springtime of evangelization and a resurgence of Catholic education.

 

Many Diocesan and Private Catholic Schools Find Success Outside of Common Core

This publication is part of a series of reports on the Common Core State Standards Initiative and how those standards potentially impact Catholic education.

At least 33 Catholic dioceses and scores of private and independent Catholic schools across the United States have decided to take a cautious approach to the relatively new and untested “Common Core” and have opted out of using it so far. They have continued to use their own standards and curricula that have kept them at the top of the academic charts for decades. Their courage and conviction in not following the latest educational reform and sticking to what has been field-tested and fully vetted is worthy of review.  Here’s a brief overview of what some of these dioceses and schools have done.

The Archdiocese of Denver was among the first to acknowledge concerns and withhold acceptance of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Denver was soon followed by the Diocese of  Fargo and then the Dioceses of Pittsburgh,  ManchesterLansing, Madison, and Superior. Each of these confident and high-performing dioceses issued formal statements justifying their decisions not to jump on the Common Core bandwagon. Many published statements by the bishop or superintendent.

In some cases, statements came after thoughtful and heartfelt input from parents and from concerned faithful Catholics who had grave concerns about bringing the Common Core standards into Catholic schools. The parents’ concerns included a worry about a decline of Catholic identity; that the strict college and career focus of the utilitarian standards did not properly focus on the integral development of students; that the standards were in places less rigorous, slowed math progression and reduced exposure to great literature; that the standards were untested; and that the standards were thrust upon the nation without full disclosure about their impact and even their content. One of the earliest and most insightful groups of parents was Pittsburgh Catholics Against Common Core, who appealed to Bishop David Zubik to rely on the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s more complete Catholic standards.  Bishop Zubik, after careful consideration, later issued a statement assuring that only fully Catholic resource materials would be used in the schools and participation in any federal student data sharing would not occur.

Other dioceses have followed with similar policies, since the Common Core standards starting manifesting themselves in Catholic schools in 2012.  The Diocese of Baker, Oregon, is among the most recent to reject the full implementation of the math and English language arts standards, stating earlier this spring, “there are more than a few reasons to be cautious about adopting Common Core.”  These include the lack of endorsement by some English and math professors present on the original validation committee and concerns about potential content issues with history, health education and social studies.

Other dioceses not using the CCSS include Little RockNashville, and Wilmington. They have elected to continue the use of their own diocesan designed standards and curriculum guides. These tested and successful guides not only include specific standards but also resource material, formal and informal assessments, instructional approaches, student accommodations and suggestions for parental involvement.  Many of the standards, while self-selected, take into account some secular and professional standards and incorporate them into the diocesan designed program of study; the dioceses do not operate in a complete vacuum, although they do operate with a distinctly Catholic paradigm.

While it is uncertain from their websites whether other dioceses in Texas use the CCSS, the Diocese of Galveston-Houston and the Diocese of Dallas indicate that they use their own internally designed curriculum guides based on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and the International Reading Association (IRA).  The Diocese of Austin bases its standards on the TEKS.  These three dioceses educate 39,462 school children or 51 percent of the total Catholic student population taught in Texas (McDonald & Schultz, 2015).

Adjacent to Texas, the Dioceses of Tulsa and Oklahoma City use their own internal, previously generated curriculum guides and make no reference to the use of Common Core standards. Similarly, the dioceses in Nebraska and Virginia, whose state school officers never elected to incorporate the standards, do not use the Common Core. The dioceses in these four cities and states add another 63,953 Catholic school children being educated without Common Core (McDonald & Schultz, 2015).

At least seven of these non-Common Core dioceses have their curricula online:  CharlestonDallas, Denver, Galveston-HoustonNashvilleSuperior and Tulsa. Some dioceses have offices for curriculum and instruction and are able to work on these areas full-time. These dioceses use the existing professional, state and national standards along with the professional expertise of curriculum designers, members of the clergy, religious orders and input from teachers to create guides or standards for their school systems.

One problem faced by these non-adopting dioceses is how to steer clear of both the Common Core standards and the instructional approaches the standards employ, when using textbooks and materials created by publishers whose goods are stamped “Common Core aligned”. This has raised, and continues to raise, concerns among parents who see these books and worksheets coming home after having been told Common Core standards are not utilized in their diocese.

Sandra Leatherwood, director of Catholic education for the Diocese of Charleston, addresses this issue by saying that although it’s awfully hard to get around the use of Common Core- marketed materials, schools don’t have to teach the Common Core Standards when they use these books. They can use their own created curriculum guides. Like most dioceses that work under the concept of subsidiarity, in the Diocese of Charleston, representative teachers from each school gather first to develop the math and English standards and then bring them back to the individual schools for internal review and comment. In her Diocese, Leatherwood said the local teachers have the autonomy to select the textbooks that best align to their own created curriculum.  Leatherwood emphatically stated that the issue is not whether the textbook is aligned to Common Core, but whether the textbook aligns to the diocesan curriculum.

A number of Catholic schools and dioceses have come to see that choosing the best materials and using the best instructional methods means not incorporating all of the instructional “shifts” required by the Common Core standards, such as reducing selections of classical literature or implementing a recreation of the 1990s  “Math Wars”..  These schools and dioceses require instructional approaches that promote rigor and perseverance by forcing students to think for extended periods of time, pushing their developmental capacity.  Reducing classical selections that portray man in all the scenarios of his perpetual struggle to survive and buying literature anthologies that look like commercials are something these dioceses and private independent schools have chosen not to do. Rather they focus on the use of proven pedagogy and proven curricula that facilitate the search for authentic and transparent truth, whether inside or outside the specific text that children encounter.

Most of the dioceses that have not implemented the Common Core emphasize on their websites and official statements the desire to prepare students for more than college and career. These dioceses have taken to heart the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops clarification that the Common Core standards are “insufficient” to guide Catholic education.  These dioceses are upfront that the purpose of their schools is to educate the whole child in a unique Catholic worldview, where educational accomplishments sit alongside other milestones of life. They emphasize that their educational efforts are ordered toward the fulfillment of the whole person, and they do not view knowledge as primarily a commodity to be bought, sold and amassed for worldly success.

A Catholic school’s primary concern is not that students measure up to the standards of the world so that they can compete in the race for economic security and academic stature. Rather, Catholic schools fulfill an evangelizing mission of providing opportunities for their students to encounter Christ in a personal and intimate way.  Instilling virtue, integral formation and development of the soul and pursuing authentic truth in a culture of relativism are all central to a Catholic school’s standards and curriculum.  Catholic schools are much more than the Common Core.

Acknowledging this, and the fact that the vast majority of schools in the nation are singing from one sheet of music and following one “way” of going about the complex human activity that is education, some dioceses have gone a little further and are exploring a liberal arts/ classical curriculum model using original source documents and a structured developmental pedagogy.  And both the Diocese of Marquette and the Kaukauna Catholic School System in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, have decided to move toward the integration of English Language Arts and Social Studies into a combined Humanities program.

As with the best Catholic schools in the country, faith permeates the curriculum in these schools, but curriculum is framed around the historical development of Christianity and the developmental aptitudes of the child.  These schools are more concerned with process and excellence of content, rather than standards.  They are more concerned with setting a child’s imagination and creativity on fire, rather than unending mind-numbing assessments designed to quantify and measure learning so as to weed out bad schools and teachers.  Their classical, liberal-arts model emphasizes the use of inspired learning and authentic teacher-based assessment of student (not teacher or school) progress. Individualized attention, focus on tried and true stories emphasizing what is noble and normative of human excellence, happiness and flourishing, these schools are places of joy and intense academic growth.

There are many examples of individual schools seeking to break out of the cookie-cutter Common Core curricula and reclaim their rich heritage—and in the process, reclaim their market share.  Families stuck in Common Core schools are looking for something unique, something uncommon, something that will help their child stand out in a crowd, and more importantly help their child love school and love to learn for learning’s sake. Near-failing Catholic schools such as St. Jerome’s in Maryland have seen dramatic turnarounds by boldly proclaiming a Catholic and classical identity. Other schools formerly on the brink of closure such as St. John the Baptist Parish School in Ottsville, Penn., are seeking to follow suit and fight their way to prominence by being boldly Catholic and boldly counter-Common Core.

It’s not only existing Catholic schools that are recovering a sense of education that is beyond college and career; new schools are starting up to meet the need for something more than the Common Core.  The National Association of Private Catholic Independent Schools has seen a dramatic increase in membership since the Common Core started gaining a foothold in 2012. New private schools teaching the Catholic faith have sprung up in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina and Wisconsin.  Many of these schools are using a classical pedagogy and courses of study from foundational homeschool programs such as Kolbe Academy, Mother of Divine Grace and the new Chesterton Academies.  It is undetermined how many students these recognized members plus autonomous up-starts are teaching, but theirs is an upward trend (Donohue, 2014).  A newly formed support organization called  The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education has also seen rapid growth in the last two years, as it seeks to expose a hungry market to a comprehensive approach to education which is wholesome, weighty, meaningful, tested and soul-nourishing.

In time, there may be some fruits that come from the Common Core, but there is already plenty of good fruit on the table of classical and faith based-liberal arts schools.  The children are happy and well-fed.  Room for more fruit, once ripe and deemed healthful, can perhaps be made in the future with care.  Until then, there is much to feast upon while we wait—and waiting is something we Catholics do well.

References

Donohue, D. (2014). Private independent Catholic schools: Components of successful start-up schools. Accessible at http://gradworks.umi.com/35/81/3581846.html.

McDonald, D. & Schultz, M. (2015). The annual statistical report on schools, enrollment and staffing: United States Catholic elementary and secondary schools 2014-2015. (Arlington, VA: National Catholic Educational Association).

Disconnect between Common Core’s Literary Approach and Catholic Education’s Pursuit of Truth

Many of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts are, when taken in isolation and at face value, fairly innocuous.  Who, after all, could be against a fifth grader being  asked to “Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact)”?  Other Standards are more disconcerting; for a detailed review, see the NAPCIS Annotated Common Core Standards.

But a substantial concern is with the guiding educational philosophies behind the Common Core. These philosophies are present in what the Common Core describes as its “instructional shifts” and are the promise behind the standards:

These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards based reforms. It is time to recognize that standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep. (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010, Intro.)

The Common Core is about new ways of doing business (i.e., new ways of educating). They are a new promise, the next step, in education.  As has been argued elsewhere, the Common Core was unveiled nationally even though, as a whole, it was untried and untested. However, far from delivering a new way of doing business, what the Common Core has done is privilege one way of educating. The designing consultants have simply taken one side in ongoing, com- plex, pedagogical issues.  The Common Core’s national scope has thereby crowded out other voices and philosophies and hampered intellectual and pedagogical diversity.

In the highly idiosyncratic, dynamic, complex and necessarily personal world of human intellectual formation, there are many paths to excellence.  Catholic schools, with their unique focus on integral human formation and the celebration of truth, beauty and goodness, should protect their voice and their viewpoints. Catholic schools should understand and be aware of the Common Core shifts, reject their narrow and utilitarian philosophies, and seek to counter the Common Core’s effects with a distinctly more holistic and complete Catholic educational experience.

This report focuses primarily on the English Language Arts (ELA) standards, as those tend to have a greater immediate effect on Catholic identity.  (However, math too is affected, as one side in the ongoing  “math wars” has unilaterally claimed power.)  The Common Core has taken one side of a complex debate about different literary and interpretive theories and the nature and purpose of literature.

It is possible, of course, that the authors of the ELA standards are not even fully aware of what they have done.  The standards’ main architect, David Coleman, is neither a professor of literature nor has he ever taught literature in the K-12 environment.  He is an educational consultant who happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right connections with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to take the lead in transforming American literary education. And—like Common Core funder Bill Gates, who never went to college—Coleman seems to have little regard for the transformative or transcendental power of literature.  He once advised educators in a Common Core presentation: “[A]s you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a s–t about what you feel or what you think” and, “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’” For Coleman and Gates, reading seems to be about distilling facts, writing is about reports and education is about college and career readiness.

According to this utilitarian approach to education, we need to fix America’s schools to ensure that we are able to produce workers who can compete in the 21st century global economy.  In order to ensure our success, the logic goes, we need extensive testing to ensure quality control both in student learning and in teacher efficacy. Enter the computer-based, massive, Common Core testing system being rolled out across the country this spring. Two versions of a new test being used to assess both the students and teachers in their mastery of the Common Core have been unleashed on our schools, teachers and students.  Much more, no doubt, will be said on this subject as the scores and uses of the scores become evident.

It is perhaps in the challenge of computerized high-stakes testing that we find one of the reasons for the Common Core’s alignment with one literary theory over all others.  The method advanced by the writers of the standards is what they call Close Analytic Reading or Close Reading and is very similar to a literary approach used in the 1940s and 1950s called New Criticism (Brizee & Tompkins, 2011).  According to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the two testing consortia funded by the federal government to assess the standards:

Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately.  Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details.  It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (PARCC, 2011, p. 7)

Close Reading/New Criticism allows for easier computer testing. There is the perception that if all we are testing is the text on the page, this will somehow be more objective.  Words are what they are.  The text in isolation can supposedly be tested in isolation with few variables and thus more accuracy. We can get to a simpler, fill-in-the-bubble “objective” response. This method may also be perceived as fairer to those who may not have robust life experiences to think about the meaning or implications of the text, even if the text comports with reality or truth outside of the text.  No opinions need to be considered or evaluated, which computers would have a hard time doing anyway.

So it’s an apparent win/win—the test gets more objective answers, and teaching gets easier since variables are reduced—but in fact the cost is quite high.  It is the eviscerating and over- simplification of the literary and reasoning experience.  Testing is often about limiting variables; education, on the other hand, is often about multiplying variables, about complexity, depth and richness that a student may very well miss if we are striving to get to the one, right bubbled answer.

The Close Reading/New  Criticism approach used by the Common Core not only assists in standardized testing, but it can also be used as a way to make sure that literature serves the pragmatic college and career focus of the Common Core.  From this perspective, the value of literature is not so much what it teaches us about how to live well, but that it teaches us how to read well (e.g. Just tell me what’s in the report, Johnson!).

Elements of New Criticism can be used as a means to this end by focusing simply on a systematic analysis of the text, objectifying the relationship between the text and its form, limiting the text to itself, and negating the reader ’s response and/or  the author’s intentions (Delahoyde, n.d.; Murfin & Ray, 1998).  New Criticism does not invite external socio-political or historical perspectives. As Delahoyde (n.d.) states:

The goal then is not the pursuit of sincerity or authenticity, but subtlety, unity, and integrity—and these are properties of the text, not the author.  The work is not the author ’s; it was detached at birth.  The author ’s intentions are “neither available nor desirable, [and] …meaning exists on the page, the meaning of the text is intrinsic and should not be confused with the author ’s intentions nor the work’s affective dimensions”. (Delahoyde, n.d., para. 3)

Here we see a limiting of the pursuit of truth by the actual formula used to analyze the text. Not only is the pursuit of truth limited in this approach, but the author ’s actual position is disregarded as well.

While the Close Reading approach advocated by the CCSS authors does rely heavily upon the search for the author ’s explicit and implied themes, many aspects of Close Reading are comparable to the New Criticism approach.  For instance, teachers are to give the text to the students with little to no background information and are not to add additional pieces of information to the discussion—something that other reading experts recommend doing (NCTE, 2004; Steven, 1982). The selected text itself sets the parameters of the discussion, and students are to answer questions from evidence within the text.

For example, here’s a Close Reading lesson from the Teaching Channel titled, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat by Michael Pollan.  In the YouTube video (Stabrowski, 2014), the teacher demonstrates how to guide a group of students through a series of questions to see how the author has personified corn as an evil King and how corn has chased poor innocent animals and other crops off of the farm.  If the students do not arrive at the conclusion that corn is evil, then the teacher rewinds (meaning re-teaches) that portion of the lesson so that the students all understand this fact. Students read the text once to get the gist of the text. Then the teacher, or a good reader, reads the text aloud while the students listen and think about the text-dependent (pre-made) questions they are given to answer. When discussing the questions and answers, students are not to go outside of the text to research whether corn has any nutritional benefits or how it is exported to feed other countries.  They are not to bring up any personal thoughts about corn, only evidence from the text.  They are then instructed to correct or add to their answers, so that they are in conformity with the class discussion. Here we have a very concerted effort, and an entire class period, directed to making sure students have an exact understanding of the author ’s intentions, both explicit (with evidence from the text) and implied.  It is pretty hard for an elementary or middle school student to disagree, after this much effort has been put into understanding the author ’s viewpoint.

Pearson (2013), a member of the Common Core Validation Committee and proponent of the standards, has stated that Close Reading seems to squelch the activation of students’ prior knowledge (since all knowledge is remanded to the text), and the freedom to evaluate and compare is based upon this prohibited “outside” knowledge.  While he is concerned about the fact that cognitive learning theory is being neglected by this approach, he raises a more important issue: the suppression of freedom among the students and teachers to include other perspectives and considerations in addition to those advocated by the text and the author. Pearson explains this as the authors’ misunderstanding  about the process of comprehension and the fact that prior knowledge cannot be turned off or on at will. Pearson wonders if once a student learns about the authors’ points, can the student then use that information in the next selected reading of the author—extending the first selected text into the second, into the entire chapter, into the book—or must the reader be remanded to the selected piece in front of them?

In college and university literature departments around the country, discussions about the validity and applicability of various literary approaches in the pursuit of meaning are ongoing.  But for the teachers and students in American schools, the discussion has ended: Close Reading is it.

Our goal in teaching literature to kids is not just to prepare them for possible graduate school in English; our goal, especially in Catholic schools, is to form them and expose them to great, engaging, formative and normative literature and in the process instill in them a love and passion for reading great literature.  (See The Story Killers by Terrance Moore (2013) for an extended discussion of this point.)  Important to K-12 students is reading and engaging in well-crafted stories that will assist them in becoming wiser and better people, leading to more satisfying and richer lives. For our children, stories are not just about texts and techniques, but also about people and relationships.  Stories are not just about literary styles and interpretive complexities, but also about exploration into the imaginative and powerful terms surrounding the nature of reality, morality, faith and virtue. Great literature presents images of nobility and excellence—and their opposites—for our judgment and self-judgment, as we engage in deep and meaningful discussions about what it means to be a fully actualized, good human being. The textual technicalities and techniques, which are more easily tested and discussed using New Criticism and Close Reading, are means rather than ends in the K-12 literary experience—and this is most especially true for Catholic schools.

In Catholic schools, knowledge is attained when the human intellect, informed by the senses, judges things rightly.  Confining students to their own background knowledge or the point of view of the text rewards subjectivity and relativity, instead of Truth.   Concluding a lesson without having the opportunity to discuss other viewpoints that might in fact contain Truth, allows doubt, misinformation and even fallacy to solidify in the student’s mind. In catechesis, this would be like leaving students adrift after speaking about Creation and the Fall, putting off until later the promise of the Resurrection.  If these texts are so important to be analyzed in the light of close reading, then they are important enough to be read in the light of all of the viewpoints and perspectives that surround them.  As Fr. Robert Spitzer (2011) notes in a discussion of the pursuit of truth, there are far more errors of omission than commission, which means that leaving out data is just as harmful to the pursuit of truth as getting the wrong data or making logical errors.

Catholic educators, especially if they are using Common Core-developed texts and questions, need to look carefully at what texts and what questions are being left out. Their focus needs to be on the pursuit of the true, good and beautiful, not on getting the right answer on the Common Core test-inspired questions at the end of any publisher ’s provided worksheets. Catholic educators need to look deliberately and carefully at the real, rich and wonderful world outside the text. For the text, in combination with reality, may prove a mighty formative weapon. The text, in context, may very well brilliantly unveil reality—sometimes with life-changing effect. The purpose of reading is more than downloading text-limited knowledge. In addition, reading can sometimes simply be for pleasure, joy and wonder.  There is life outside of the Common Core and its tests.

Teachers in Catholic schools must move well beyond the Common Core in their much more profound efforts toward the integral formation of their students in mind, body and spirit. They do this through their intellectual and moral example, living the truth with love, and exposing their students to complex reality in all of its glorious manifestations.  In the Vatican’s document The Catholic School (1977), we read:

The school considers human knowledge as a truth to be discovered. In the measure in which subjects are taught by someone who knowingly and without restraint seeks the truth they are to that extent Christian. Discovery and awareness of truth leads man to the discovery of Truth itself.  (para. 41)

It also leads students to a discovery of Truth, Himself.  The purpose of our Catholic educational institutions, according to Pope Benedict (2008), is to first and foremost be a place where students can encounter the living God. Pope Benedict (2010) also reminds us that the purpose of our Catholic schools is to make saints!

Overuse of the methodology of Close Reading and a reconstituted literary approach of New Criticism is insufficient in the much broader and more complex pursuit of truth in which we are called to engage in our Catholic schools. There are other analytical tools and approaches in the field of literature that are also helpful to address the richness and power of literary possi- bility, creativity and passion. Among these are Reader/Response, Moral Criticism, and Struc- turalism (Brizee & Tompkins, 2011). Catholic students need rich exposure to Moral Criticism, which is more open to an analysis of the text’s teachings related to topics of wisdom, grace, beauty and virtue. (See http://www.westga.edu/~jmcclain/Literary%20Theory/moralintellectual_critical_appr.htm for more on Moral Criticism.)  This broader interpretive framework will better enable Catholic schools to avoid unnecessarily or unwittingly narrowing their efforts.

Former Secretary for the Congregation for Catholic Education, Archbishop Michael Miller, C.S.B., describes this dynamic when he warns:

All too many Catholic schools fall into the trap of a secular academic success culture, putting their Christological focus and its accompanying understanding of the human person in second place.  Christ is “fitted in” rather than being the school’s vital principle (2006, p. 26).

He goes on to say, “This conviction about the nature of truth is too important for Catholics to be confused about,” (p. 46) and “Unlike skeptics and relativists, Catholic educators share a specific belief about truth: that, to a limited but real extent, it can be attained and communicated to others.”  He warns that:

Catholic schools (should) take up the daunting task of freeing boys and girls from the insidious consequences of what Pope Benedict XVI has called the “dictatorship of relativism”—a dictatorship that cripples all genuine education. Catholic teachers are to cultivate in themselves and develop in others a passion for truth that defeats moral and cultural relativism.  They are to educate “in the truth.” (p. 46)

Our standards, Catholic school standards, are not synonymous with the Common Core State Standards. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has pointed out, the Common Core Standards are in and of themselves insufficient to guide Catholic educational efforts (USCCB, 2014). Solomon (2003) states that standards represent a culture’s explicit statements that it “finds worthy of transmission” (p. 3). Our culture, as enshrined in the ubiquitous Common Core and its oppressive testing regimen, values a utilitarian approach to education that only half-prepares our students for life beyond high school graduation.  According to Archbishop Miller, “If a Catholic school is to deliver on its promise to provide students with an integral education, it must foster love for wisdom and truth, and must integrate faith, culture, and life” (p.45) by using instructional approaches that focus on much more than evidence from the text and whose horizon includes more than college and career.

There is much more to say regarding weaknesses in the Common Core ELA standards, especially another of the ELA shifts – graduated percentages of informational text.  The Common Core designers have errantly, without clear data or clear direction, mandated an increase in informational texts in all levels or all schools.  This, by necessity, means a  decrease in great literature.  More on this travesty will be forthcoming from The Cardinal Newman Society.

The Common Core’s dismissive attitude toward the transcendent power of literature is hopefully exposed not just by these articles but in reflecting again on Common Core architect David Coleman’s remarks, “[A]s you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a s–t about what you feel or what you think,” and “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’”  We can see how Catholic schools must completely reject these notions and their enshrinement in the Common Core.  We believe we are about authentic human excellence and human flourishing. We will, by happy circumstance, produce better workers and better scholars because we will produce better, more integrally developed, human persons.

Johnson may have a job, but will he have a life? Johnson’s boss may not care about what Johnson feels or thinks: but his wife will, and his children will, and his friends will, and his neighbors will, and if he is a teacher, his students will, and if he is a politician, his constituents will. And even his cynical boss may not care what Johnson thinks or feels, but his boss will care that Johnson thinks or feels. Johnson will not only be a stunted human being having learned under the Common Core, but he will also be a poorer employee.

Even public schools exist to produce thoughtful, productive and independent citizens in a democratic republic, not just workers and college students.   A strong democracy requires strong people, not just strong workers.  We need students to be more humanized in order to address the crisis and challenge of today’s world, not less.  This is not a time to set our sights on the “common” or the cultural status quo.  This is a time requiring vision and excellence.

In Catholic schools, we know we are not just producing workers and scholars, we are producing living, breathing, complex, contradictory, eternally destined, unrepeatable and immensely valuable human beings.  Our bishops and parishes do not support schools and keep them open to provide better “career and college readiness”.  They keep Catholic schools open to provide the liberation that comes from a thoughtful, loving and free encounter with the living God.  Catholic schools exist not for their pragmatic worldly usefulness, but rather to actuate the authentic freedom to which each person is called and to provide skills at apprehending and integrating reality, including that which transcends the text, in all of its fullness and glory.

References

Coleman, D., & Pimentel, S. (2012). Revised publishers’ criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and literacy, Grades 3–12. Retrieved from  http://www. corestandards.org/assets/Publishers_Criteria_for_3-12.pdf.

Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus. (2008). Meeting with Catholic Educators: Address of His Holi- ness Benedict XVI. Retrieved from  http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speech- es/2008/april/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20080417_cath-univ-washington.html.

Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus. (2010). Address of the Holy Father to pupils of St. Mary’s Univer- sity College. Retrieved from http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2010/ september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20100917_mondo-educ.html.

Benedict, Pope Emeritus. (2014). Benedict XVI: Truth is not given up in the name of a desire for peace. Retrieved from  http://www.zenit.org/en/article/benedict-xvi-truth-is-not-given-up- in-the-name-of-a-desire-for-peace.

Brizee, A., & Tompkins, C. (2011). Form follows function: Russian formalism, new criticism, neo- Aristotelianism. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/03/.

Delahoyde, M. (n.d.). Introduction to literature: New criticism. Retrieved from  http://public. wsu.edu/~delahoyd/new.crit.html.

Miller, Michael. (2006). The Holy See’s teaching on Catholic education. Atlanta, GA: Solidarity Association.

Murfin, R., & Ray, S. (1998). The Bedford glossary of critical and literary terms. Retrieved from http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/virtualit/poetry/critical_define/crit_newcrit.html.

National Council of Teachers of English. (2004). On reading, learning to read, and effective reading instruction: An overview of what we know and how we know it. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/about/over/positions/category/read/118620.htm.

Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. (2011). PARCC model con- tent frameworks: English language arts/literacy  grades 3-11. Retrieved from  www.parccon- line.org/sites/parcc/files/PARCCMCFELALiteracyAugust2012_FINAL.pdf.

Pearson, P. (2013). Research foundations for the Common Core State Standards in English lan- guage arts. In S. Neuman and L. Gambrell (Eds.), Reading instruction in the age of Common Core State Standards. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Retrieved from http:// www.scienceandliteracy.org/research/pdavidpearson.

Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education. (1977). The Catholic school. Rome, Italy: Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education.

Solomon, P. (2003). The curriculum bridge: From standards to actual classroom practice. Thou- sand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.

Spitzer, Robert. (2011). Ten universal principles: A brief philosophy of the life issues. San Fran- cisco, CA: Ignatius Press.

Stabrowski, S. (2014). The omnivore’s dilemma: Close reading of a non-fiction text. Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/omnivore-dilemma-close-reading-of-non- fiction-text-core-challenge.

Steven, K. (1982). Can we improve reading by teaching background information? Journal of Reading, 25, 326-329.

USCCB. (2014). Common core state standards FAQs. Retrieved from  http://www.usccb.org/ beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/catholic-education/common-core-state-standards-faqs. cfm.

It’s About Navigating Life: The Importance of Philosophy & Theology

Here is one of the clearest criteria for choosing or judging a college: you can be almost certain that any college that has dropped philosophy and theology from its core curriculum is not serious about a liberal arts education. And in my experience I find that this is true of many of the colleges in America.

This raises two questions: (1) What are philosophy and theology, and why are they crucial to a young person’s education today? (2) Aren’t they outdated, impractical, abstract, irrelevant, elitist, superfluous and even dangerous to faith and sanity?

Some Definitions

“Philosophy” means “the love of wisdom.” Wisdom is the knowledge of ultimate causes, explanations and principles. It includes knowledge of values, not just facts. It gives you a “big picture,” a “world-view” and a “life-view.” It explores such questions as these: What is the essence of a human being? What is the meaning (value, goal, purpose) of human life? What is a good life? What is a good society? Are there higher laws than man’s laws? Are we here by chance or design? Are we fated or free? How do we know what is good or evil? How do we know anything? Is anything certain? Can reason prove (or disprove) the existence of God? Why do we suffer? Why do we die? Is there life after death?

Anyone who is simply not interested in these questions is less than fully human, less than fully reasonable. Reasonable persons, even if skeptical about the possibility of answering them, will not dismiss them as unanswerable without looking (that is not reason but prejudice) but will examine the claims of philosophers to have given reasonable answers to these questions before settling into a comfortable, fashionable skepticism.

Theology comes in two forms, philosophical and religious. Philosophical theology (“natural theology”) is a subdivision of philosophy. It uses natural human reason to explore the greatest of all questions, the questions about God. Religious theology (or “revealed theology”) is a rational exploration of the meaning and consequences of faith in a revealed religion—in our case, the “deposit of faith” or “Sacred Tradition” of the Catholic Church which comes from Christ and His apostles, and the scriptures they wrote.

In most Catholic universities today, Sacred Tradition is no longer sacred. It is treated as something to be “dissented” from (“diss” is the first part of “dissent”), as an enemy to enlightenment, progress, maturity and liberation, or at least as an embarrassment to be “tweaked,” “nuanced” or “massaged” rather than as a gift to be gratefully, faithfully and lovingly explored.

Most Catholic universities today have philosophy departments that are excellent spiritually as well as academically, but have deeply compromised theology departments. Their effect on students is much more often to weaken their faith than to strengthen it, not only in controversial moral issues such as abortion, contraception, cloning, euthanasia and sexual morality, but even in fundamental doctrines such as Christ’s divinity and resurrection and the historical truth of the Gospels.

We badly need good philosophy and theology. But why? To answer this question, look at where they are taught. They are taught in colleges and universities. So to find the “why” of philosophy and theology, we must find the “why” of colleges and universities.

The Goal of Education

Considering the trillions of dollars spent on universities by parents, governments and foundations, it is amazing that most of the people who go there (the students) and most of the people who pay for them (the parents and the government) never even ask, much less answer, this question: What is the purpose of the university? It is the most influential institution in Western civilization, and most of us don’t really know exactly why we entrust our children to them.

The commonest answer is probably to train them for a career. A B.A. looks good on your resume to prospective employers. That is not only a crass, materialistic answer, but also an illogical one. Consider what it means. It means that the reason students should study in universities is so that they can get high grade-point averages and thus get better jobs when they graduate.

What does “better jobs” mean? It means first of all, to most of them, better-paying jobs. But why do they need better paying jobs? For the money, of course. Silly question. But why do they need money? That is an even sillier question. Life has expenses. What life? Most of them hope to marry and raise families, and it takes a lot of money to do that. Why does a family need a lot of money? The two most expensive things a family needs money for are a house and a college education for the kids.

Ah, so a student should study to get high grades to get an impressive resume to get a good job, to finance his family when it sends his kids to college to study, to get high grades, et cetera, et cetera.

This is arguing in a circle. It is like a tiger pacing round and round his cage in a zoo. Is there a better answer? There is if you know some philosophy. Let’s look.

Probably the most commonsensical and influential philosopher of all time was Aristotle. Aristotle says that there are three “whys,” three purposes, ends or reasons for anyone ever to study and learn anything, in school or out of it. Thus there are three kinds of “sciences,” which he called “productive,” “practical” and “theoretical.” (Aristotle used “science” in a much broader way than we do, meaning any ordered body of knowledge through causes and reasons.)

The purpose of the “productive sciences” (which we today call technology) is to produce things, to make, improve or repair material things in the world, and thus to improve our world. Farming, surgery, shipbuilding, carpentry, writing and tailoring were examples in Aristotle’s era as well as ours, while ours also includes many new ones like cybernetics, aviation and electrical engineering.

The purpose of the “practical sciences” (which meant learning how to do or practice anything, how to act) is to improve your own behavior in some area of your own life. The two most important of these areas, Aristotle said, were ethics and politics. (Aristotle saw politics not as a pragmatic, bureaucratic business of running a state’s economy, but as social ethics, the science of the good life for a community.) Other examples of “practical sciences” include economics, athletics, rhetoric and military science.

The third kind of sciences is the “theoretical” or “speculative” (contemplative), i.e., those that seek the truth for its own sake, that seek to know just for the sake of knowing rather than for the sake of action or production (though, of course, they will have important practical application). These sciences include theology, philosophy, physics, astronomy, biology, psychology and math.

Theoretical sciences are more important than practical sciences for the very same reason practical sciences are more important than productive sciences: because their end and goal is more intimate to us. Productive sciences perfect some external thing in the material world that we use; practical sciences perfect our own action, our own lives; and theoretical sciences perfect our very selves, our souls, our minds. They make us bigger persons.

And that is the reason for going to college in the first place: not to make money, or things, or even to live better, but to be better, to be more, to grow your mind as you grow your body.

The Big Picture

What we have been doing for the last several paragraphs is philosophy. We need philosophy because we need to explore such reasons, reasons for studying, reasons for universities’ existence, even (especially) reasons for your own existence. For one of the primary questions all great philosophers ask is: What is the meaning of life, the reason for being, the point and purpose and end of human existence in this world?  If you don’t know that, you don’t know anything because you don’t know the point of everything. If you don’t know that, you may get all A’s in all your subjects, but you flunk Life.

The answer to that question for any intelligent, honest and serious Christian, Jew or Muslim is God. Supreme wisdom is about knowing God. And philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom. So philosophy is ultimately the pursuit of God, using the tools of natural human reason and theology by faith in supernatural divine revelation.

The “wisdom” philosophy pursues is not a factual knowledge like physics or history; but a knowledge, and understanding, and appreciation, of values, of what ought to be rather than merely what is. For instance, we need to know whether career (work) or family is more important, because most of us will invest enormous emotional and physical energy in both, and they will always compete and conflict to some extent.

We want to know the meaning of falling in love and romance and sex. What is its meaning, its purpose? For two generations now we have been asking every conceivable question (and many inconceivable questions, too), but not this one, not the very first and most basic one.

You see? Philosophy and theology raise the mind’s eyes to The Big Picture. If we can’t see that, we miss the forest and see only the trees; we count the syllables in the book of life but don’t know what kind of a story we are in.

Good Philosophy, Good Theology

One philosopher tells this story. (I paraphrase.) I was raised in a New York City slum. There were no books in my house. No one in my high school cared about education. I found an escape in the great 42nd Street library, where I devoured books indiscriminately. One day, I happened to read the famous “allegory of the cave” from Plato’s Republic. It changed my life. I found my identity. My life was that cave, and philosophy was the way out into another, bigger world. My mind was born that day. For the rest of my life I have explored the world outside the cave, the world of ideas, and taught others to do so. The biggest thrill in my life is finding among my students someone like me whom I can show that there is a way out of the cave, and that there is a bigger world outside.

That is why we all need to study philosophy (and, even more obviously, theology): because it is the discovery of another world, another kind of world, another kind of reality than the material world: the discovery that ideas are real, and that (in the words of a great book title) “ideas have consequences.”

The only alternative to good philosophy is bad philosophy. “I hate philosophy” is bad philosophy, but it is a philosophy: egotism. “Philosophy isn’t practical” is a philosophy: pragmatism. “Philosophy doesn’t turn me on” is a philosophy: hedonism.

Everyone has a philosophy, just as everyone has an emotional temperament and a moral character. Your only choice is between “knowing yourself” and thinking about your philosophy, or hiding from it and from yourself. But what you do not think about will still be there, and will still motivate you, and have consequences, and those consequences will affect all the people in your life up to the day of your death and far beyond it.

Your philosophy can quite likely and quite literally make the difference between heaven and hell. Saint Francis of Assisi and Adolf Hitler were not professional philosophers, but both had philosophies, and lived them, and went to heaven or hell according to their philosophies. That is how much of a difference thought can make: “Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” Buddha said, “All that we are is determined by our thoughts: it begins where our thoughts begin, it moves where our thoughts move, and it rests where our thoughts rest.”

Philosophy can lead you to God, and theology can lead you further into God (or away from Him). And God is the source of all truth, all goodness and all beauty; that is, of everything we value. (If that is not true, then God is not God.) All truth is God’s truth; when an atheist discovers some scientific truth, he is reading the mind of God, the Logos. All goodness is God’s goodness; when an agnostic secularist loves his neighbor, he is responding to divine grace. All beauty is God’s beauty; when a dissipated, confused and immoral artist creates a thing of beauty, he is using the image of God in his soul, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, however anonymously, and participating in God’s creative power.

Philosophy is a necessity if you want to understand our world. Bad philosophy is the source of most of the great errors in our world today. Errors in philosophy are devastating because they affect everything, as an error of an inch in surveying the angle of a property line will become an error of ten yards a mile down the line.

Most of the controversies in our world today can be understood and solved only by good philosophy and theology; for instance, the relation between world religions, especially Islam and Christianity; human life issues such as abortion, euthanasia and cloning; the justice of wars; the meaning of human sexuality and of the “sexual revolution”; the relation between mind and brain, and between human intelligence and “artificial intelligence”; the relation between creation and evolution; how far we are free and responsible and how far we are determined by biological heredity and social environment; the relation between morality and religion, and between religion and politics; and whether morality is socially relative or universal, unchanging and absolute.

Revealed theology claims to have the answers, or at least the principles that should govern the answers, to many of these questions. So theology is even more important than philosophy, if answers are more important than questions. And of course they are, for the whole point of asking a question, if you are honest, is the hope of finding an answer. It is nonsense to believe that “it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive,” and good philosophy refutes that self-contradiction. If it’s not better to arrive at your goal of truth than to strain after it, then truth is not really your goal at all, and the straining after it is a sham.

That is not, of course, to say that it is easy to arrive at the goal of truth, or that all we need is a set of answers we believe on the Church’s authority but do not understand. The truly respectful attitude toward the authority of the Church—which is an extension of the authority of Christ—is to let revealed truth permeate our minds and our lives like light, not simply to preserve that light by hiding it under a bushel basket. All “ideas have consequences,” especially divinely revealed ideas; and it is our job to lovingly draw out those consequences, like philosophers, and not to fear them, like heresy hunters, or to claim them as our own in a spirit of superiority to our divine teacher, like heretics.

Answering Objections

But there are objections to philosophy and theology out there. If this were not so, the teaching of these subjects would not have declined so precipitously. Let us briefly consider and answer some of them.

What can you do with philosophy and theology anyway? We have already answered that question by noting that it is the wrong question. The right question is what they can do with you.

But they’re so abstract! Yes, and that is their glory. To be incapable of abstraction is to be less than human, or a less than fully developed human. Animals and small children, for instance, are incapable of abstraction. They do not talk about Fate and Freedom, or Good and Evil, or Divinity and Humanity, or Life and Death (all abstractions). They talk only about hamburgers and French fries, boo boos and bandages, malls and cartoons. These things are not “the real world.” They are the shadows on the walls of Plato’s cave. Philosophy and theology are not fantasy. They are the escape from fantasy.

But philosophy is a dinosaur—it isn’t up to date, modern, popular, etc. No. Neither is wisdom, virtue, happiness, piety, fidelity, courage, peace or contentment.

What does philosophy have to do with real life? Everything. It is more important to know the philosophy of a prospective employee or employer, landlord or renter, friend or enemy, husband or wife, than their income, social class or politics.

Philosophy is elitist. It speaks of “Great Books” and “Great Ideas” and “Great Minds.” Yes, it does. At least good philosophy does. If you prefer crummy books, stupid ideas and tiny minds, you should not waste your money on college. If you believe that all ideas are equal, rather than all persons, you are confused and need a philosophy course. (Is the idea that all ideas are equal equal to the idea that they are not?)

“Philosophy bakes no bread.” It does not make you rich.  It is contemplative, like monasticism.  True. But why do we make money and bread? Is money our means (of exchange) to our end? Money is for bread, and bread is for man, and man is for truth. The ultimate end of human life is contemplative: knowing and appreciating the truth. We will not be baking bread or making money in Heaven, but we will be philosophizing.

Religion makes philosophy superfluous. If you have faith, you don’t need reason.  Yes, you do: you need reason to understand your faith. And you need reason to know whether your faith is the true faith. There are many fakes. And how do you know that unless you think about it? And if you don’t want to think about your faith, then either you aren’t really very interested in it, or you are afraid it is so weak that it will not endure the light. In that case you need a faith-lift.

But philosophy can be a danger to faith. Many have lost their faith through philosophy. Yes, and many have gained it, too. Of course, philosophy is dangerous. So is love, and trust, technology and money. Bad things are always misuses of good things. Wherever great harm is done, great help could have been done.

Final Things

This is especially true in theology. I know a chaplain who was ministering at the bedside of an old, dying man who had “lost his faith” and left the Church decades ago. The chaplain asked him what he believed about life after death, and the man replied that he had no idea where he was going and he didn’t think anyone else did either, because no one had any idea where they came from in the first place or why they are here.

The chaplain disagreed. He said, “You know the answers to those questions. You learned them as a little boy. You forgot them. But you can remember them now. It’s not too late. You learned the Baltimore Catechism, didn’t you? Yes, you did. Do you remember how it begins?”

The man wrinkled his brow, retrieving an old memory. “Yeah. It went like this: ‘Who made you? God made me. Why did God make you? God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” The man paused, lifted his eyes, and said, “You’re right. That’s true!” And a smile appeared on his face. And then he died.

You need philosophy and theology now because you will need it on your deathbed later.

 

Common Core Assessments May Be Cost-Prohibitive for Catholic Schools

This is part of a series of reports on the Common Core State Standards Initiative and its potential impact on Catholic education.

Of key importance to parochial, private, and public school administrators and superintendents is the question of how to address the costs associated with the technological requirements for assessing students under the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Looking into what is being asked of schools by the two companies producing the CCSS assessments, one quickly sees that the expense associated with implementation of the new evaluation instruments is in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  In addition to the cost of training teachers and purchasing the testing materials, school districts and private schools that choose to use Common Core Standards will find hardware costs taking a significant chunk out of their operating budgets.

Cost Drivers

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smart- er Balanced Assessment Consortium are both designing assessments for use with computers that have at least one gigabyte of memory and a screen display of 9.5 inches (10-inch class) at a resolution of 1,024 X 768 or greater (Norris & Soloway, 2013).  For optimal use, Smarter Balanced recommends at least an 80-GB hard drive or at least one GB of hard drive space be made available (Smarter Balanced, 2013a).  These requirements eliminate popular Netbooks and iPad minis or any of the new versions that have display sizes smaller than the required 9.5 inches.  Smarter Balanced recommends the iPad 3+ running iOS6 (Smarter Balanced, 2013a).

Additionally, many of the school systems and private schools are falling short of the recom- mended hardware-to-student ratio of 1:6-7 (Kantrowitz, 2013; Davis, 2012).  While there may be adequate technology available for Internet access, the support systems may be outdated or not compatible with the new assessment software.  For example, the testing software is not able to run on Microsoft XP systems. Thus these popular, well-functioning computers are not eligible for use with tests for this particular assessment.  Some states may initially choose to continue to use paper and pencil for their annual high-stakes tests, but this will not be an op- tion for schools that choose advanced techniques to master the Common Core assessments.

Inadequate bandwidth can also rule out some eligible computers and schools. At a minimum, additional bandwidth will be required along with the associated costs to enable simultaneous testing of multiple grades and sections.  What happens when not enough money is available? Will there be a divide between the “haves” and the “have nots?”  Who gets the new tests and other tools necessary to properly prepare students for these assessments?  How will these af- fect issues of adequacy and equity?  Will the lack of technology create a bigger achievement gap?

Of concern to administrators is the degree of technology dependence that has occurred throughout most programs associated with all schools. This reliance is evident and necessary, as there can be as many as five different tests administered within the year.  PARCC is developing three separate diagnostic tests (reading, writing, and mathematics) and both a mid-year and end-of-year assessment. In addition, two other performance tests associated with speech and listening are in the development stages (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers, 2013).   Smarter Balanced has similar requirements with both an interim and end of year assessment. Needs are enhanced when there is a quick turnaround time for school administrators and teachers to receive results, analyze them, and implement necessary instructional changes and interventions. In addition to student assessment, assessments will also be attached to some teacher evaluations whose deadlines vary throughout the year.

Teachers, as well as students, will need to become proficient on the use of testing software so that these variables are minimized when students are testing.  Nuances include kindergarten students being required to respond through a keyboard and students in grades four to five asked to type their responses in a minimum one-to two-page document (Carr & Dreilinger, 2013).  Time and money will need to be allocated toward teacher and student proficiency in online test-taking skills prior to any testing.

The per-pupil cost for PARCC assessments is quoted to be between $22.50 to $29.50, which is one reason why Florida opted out of these assessments (Chieppo & Gass, Aug. 15, 2013; Kantrowitz, October 15, 1013).  Georgia withdrew from PARCC, citing skyrocketing cost and loss of local control.  The GADOE intends to develop its own in-state tests aligned to Com- mon Core standards and is looking to other states to form possible partnerships in this development (Shearer, July 22, 2013).  Smarter Balanced tests are estimated to run from $22.50 to

$27.30, including scoring services (Smarter Balanced, 2013b).  According to Jacqueline King, Ph.D., (email communication, November 2013) private schools interested in participating in the Smarter Balanced testing option must be located in a state that is working with Smarter Balanced. Each state Department of Education has the option as to whether this arrangement exists.

Alternate Testing Possibilities

Options to the PARCC assessments include the new Aspire test being field tested by ACT. Scheduled for release in April 2014, Aspire was recently adopted by the state of Alabama (Stacey, 2013; ACT, personal communication, October 17, 2013).  This test will eliminate concerns about having to purchase computer software and hardware, as it offers an option of pencil and paper administration.  For scoring, schools can either mail in assessments with a turnaround time of 4-6 weeks or submit immediately through online access.  Aspire is being developed only for grades 3-8 and early high school (9th/10th  grade).  It is aligned to the Common Core Standards, and the reports will be coded to the pre-existing 1-36 scale of college readiness already used for the ACT exam. Per-pupil cost has yet to be released, but one can sign up on the ACT Website to receive immediate updates about the test’s release. Subject area exemplars are given on the website, and Common Core skills are evident, especially in the math exemplars where questions are asked as to how the student arrived at his or her answer.  At this time, ACT has not released how or who will grade these student self-response items, or if there is a local grading option. This test is available on the open market and not restricted to states that have signed on to one of the national testing consortia.

Private-school administrators who currently use the Iowa Test of Basic Skills may consider upgrading to Iowa Form E. Form E is the newest edition to the assessment suite of Iowa tests and was developed in 2010, before the Common Core Math and Language Arts Standards were finalized (Michele Baker, personal communication, Sept. 17, 2013). Norming for the 2010 Form E was performed in 2011, before most schools fully implemented CCSS. New norms for Form E can be expected every five years and according to Michele Baker, Senior Assessment Consultant for Riverside Publishing, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Form E will probably be available for 10 years or longer, at which time a newer edition will be released along with a new set of norms. By purchasing the Form E or Form F version (a parallel version in development) of the Iowa assessments, administrators would have the newest test based on pre-CCSS norms and full implementation.

Currently, Iowa Assessments have a turnaround time of about two weeks.  When tests are given in the fall (generally late September or early October) using a prescriptive approach for learning, it is not until November, after the administration reviews test results, that teachers are able to make classroom instructional changes.  By this time, 40 percent of the school year has passed.  With the new Iowa Form E assessment, a quick turnaround is now a possibility with the use of DataManager. This program is a robust online reporting system that provides administrators and teachers with almost immediate online reports.  While learning the system and how to request the reports might be a little time-consuming, anyone who has been granted access can generate a student report.  The Iowa Form E has also been aligned to the Common Core with a report option to print out a typical or traditional report, instead of the CCSS report.  This is beneficial for schools that may be in transition to new standards or that are waiting until the “dust has settled” before deciding to implement the CCSS.   Students can test in the traditional pencil and paper format, or the school can use an online computer testing option.  The per-pupil cost ranges from $7.43 to $10.08 for full DataManager reporting services, with an additional $3.00 for the Cognitive Abilities Test (Michele Baker, personal communication, September 17, 2013).  An additional benefit of using the Iowa tests is the use of standard scores students receive on Iowa tests, which have been validated and found to have a strong relationship with ACT college benchmark scores for college readiness (University of Iowa, n.d).

Private schools can also continue using the reasonably priced Stanford 10 for annual assessments.  These assessments were developed from a variety of professional organizations (International Reading Association, National Council of Teachers of English, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) and were normed in 2007, prior to CCSS.  The Stanford 10, Form A has been aligned to the CCSS.  The cost is between $7.78 and $9.28 per student test with answer sheets costing $2.00 each.

It seems that for parochial, private, and public schools that are committed to any of the testing consortia, little can be done to escape the costs and time necessary for technology upgrades and teacher and student training.  For schools that are considering the CCSS assessment options and are in states governed by one of the consortia, considerations including computer upgrades, additional per-pupil testing costs, and possible additional testing time need to be budgeted and allotted.  Additional time is also required to train the students and teachers on the test-taking.  Until the impact of the CCSS initiative along with the newly designed testing instruments is realized, and in consideration of the research reported on this topic, schools can find a safe haven, at least for the time being, in the Iowa Forms E & F and Stanford 10 traditional assessments.

References

Carr, S. & Dreilinger, D. (September 29, 2013). “A Core dilemma: Will the littlest learners be able to type?”, The Hechinger Report. Retrieved from http://hechingerreport.org/content/a- core-dilemma-will-the-littlest-learners-be-able-to-type_13198.

Chieppo, C. & Gass, J. (August 15, 2013). “Why states are backing out on common core standards and tests,” The Hechinger Report. Retrieved from http://hechingerreport.org/content/ why-states-are-backing-out-on-common-standards-and-tests_12895.

Davis, M. (2012). “Are You Tech-Ready for the Common Core?”, Education Week. Retrieved from www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2012/10/17/01readiness.h06.html?tkn=NVZFOAfSykw%2BRxSo395jo6lu%2FANympkgfH41&print=1.

Kantrowitz, B. (October 15, 2013). “Testing the Common Core in Tennessee,”The Hechinger Report. Retrieved from http://hechingerreport.org/content/testing-the-common-core-in-ten- nessee_13468.

Norris, C., & Soloway, E. (2013). “Common Core Technological Standards: They Are the Tail, Not the Dog,” The Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/Articles/2013/01/14/ Common-Core-Technological-Standards.aspx?p=1.

Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (2013). PARCC Test Administration Policies. Retrieved from www.PARCConline.org.

Shearer, L. (July 22, 2013). “Georgia will drop out of Common Core-aligned testing consor- tium.” Retrieved from http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2013-07-22/georgia-will-drop- out-common-core-aligned-testing-consortium.

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (February, 2013a). “Hardware and Software Requirements Overview.” Retrieved from http://www.smarterbalanced.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Executive_Summary_Tech_Framework.pdf.

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (2013b). “Frequently Asked Questions.” Retrieved from http://www.smarterbalanced.org/resources-events/faqs/.

Stacey, E. (February 13, 2013). “Alabama Exits National Common Core Tests.” Retrieved from http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2013/02/13/Alabama-exits-national-common-core-tests.

University of Iowa (n.d.). “Tracking Growth towards Readiness with the Iowa Tests.” Retrieved from https://itp.education.uiowa.edu/ia/documents/Assessment-Brief-Readiness- Final.pdf.

Catholic Identity Should Be at Heart of Common Core Decisions

This is part of a series of reports on the Common Core State Standards Initative and its potential impact on Catholic education.

As a former Catholic school administrator, of interest to me are the countless articles detailing the controversy surrounding the Common Core which are dominating educational news stories throughout the United States.  While passionate authors express their concerns regarding everything from the federalization of education to compromised standards, of most concern to those who share a passion for the mission of Catholic education are suggestions that adoption of the Common Core could compromise the mission of the Catholic education and ultimately secularize its schools.

Detailed throughout the magisterial teachings of the Church, the mission of Catholic education is described in the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education’s document, Lay Catholics, Witnesses to Faith (1982):

The integral formation of the human person, which is the purpose of education, includes the development of all the human faculties of the students, together with preparation for professional life, formation of ethical and social awareness, becoming aware of the transcendental, and religious education.  Every school, and every educator in the school, ought to be striving “to form strong and responsible individuals, who are capable of making free and correct choices,” thus preparing young people “to open themselves more and more to reality, and to form in themselves a clear idea of the meaning of life” (#17).

How the Catholic Church fulfills its role in Catholic education is outlined in the Code of Canon Law.   The Church has a duty and right in education in fulfilling its mission (Canon 794) and considers schools to be of great importance in assisting parents to fulfill the responsibility associated with the education of their children (Canon 796). Acknowledging parents have freedom in their choice of schools (Canon 797), the Church has the right to direct schools (Canon 800), “secure that in civil society the laws which regulate the formation of the young,” (Canon 799), and strive to keep alive the mission of Catholic education (Canon 801).

In regard to the Common Core, how do these standards impact the mission and Catholic identity of schools?  As a former accreditation chair for the Southern Association of Independent Schools (offering a dual accreditation from AdvancEd & SAIS), I found that those not entrenched in educationaleze often used terms such as standards and curriculum synonymously. The Foundation for Educational Excellence defines standards as expectations as to what is to be learned at each grade level and discipline.  A curriculum is the actual program, textbooks, materials, assessments and resources selected by the school to teach and ensure standards are achieved or “a means to the end”. Standards do not dictate how or by what means a concept is taught but present, at a minimum, concepts to be mastered.

Historically, schools have been evaluated for quality since 1895 (AdvancEd website).  More than one-hundred years later, regardless of the accreditation agency (secular, independent, Catholic), guidelines for accreditation include purpose or mission, leadership, teaching and learning, resources, and opportunities available for continuous improvement.  Under teaching and learning, schools must adopt academic standards that set expectations for learning, provide for continuity of instruction across subject areas and grade levels, benchmark progress, and create a foundation for standardized testing.  In our data-driven world, standards actually provide the measurable outcomes many parents equate with academic excellence. Standards do not provide a ceiling on what a student can learn; they provide a framework for the minimum of what must be achieved during a given year. It is important to note, accreditation guidelines do not dictate curriculum or pedagogy but look to see if the curriculum guides chosen (along with materials and resources) support the purpose or mission of the school.

What is clear about non-public schools, is the flexibility to choose a curriculum with goals in line with the mission of the school and that of Catholic education. How a curriculum is chosen in a Catholic school is primarily determined by how it is governed (archdiocesan, independent, regional, parochial, etc…). Most importantly, Catholic schools are under the authority of an ecclesiastical authority (Canon 803) with instruction and education required to be grounded in Catholic doctrine (Canon 803 § 2).  Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Principal/ Head of School to closely oversee and monitor the implementation of the academic program to ensure that the mission of the school is supported and Catholic identity is not compromised.

From a Catholic identity perspective, a debate could be suggested as to whether the mission of Catholic education is truly at the center of the controversy surrounding the Common Core. If we take to heart the integral formation of each child and consider the goals set forth by the USCCB in Renewing our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium (2005), efforts surrounding the nuances of the Common Core need to be directed to ensuring that Catholic school leadership understands and supports the mission of Catholic education, that parents are considered partners in the education of their children, and ecclesiastical authorities (or their delegates) ensure that the standards and curriculum used in ev- ery school support and strengthen Catholic identity.  A discussion as to how Catholic school leaders assess excellence in education should be at the forefront of conversations surrounding Catholic education.  Are academic outcomes (SAT, PSAT, ACT, college acceptance) how we measure the success of Catholic education?  How do Catholic school leaders gauge whether the integral formation of each child has been achieved?

The Common Core has brought to the attention of countless individuals, many the product of a Catholic education, the need to refocus efforts to ensure that Catholic identity is at the fore- front of discussions related to adoption of the curriculum in Catholic schools.  Ecclesiastical leaders must give consideration to educational mandates not created by the Catholic Church. Governing boards, clergy, and superintendents need to carefully weigh who is placed in the position of Principal/Head  of School and entrusted with the academic, managerial, and spiri- tual leadership of the school.  Catholic parents have both the obligation and the right to edu- cate their children in the Catholic faith (Canon 793) and must act as an advocate for their child by working in partnership with the school.  It is the obligation of all constituencies to protect and defend Catholic education, as it is one of the primary evangelization arms of the Church with a legacy that spans over a century.

Catholic Education in America: Accountable to the Church or the Feds?

This is part of a series of reports on the Common Core State Standards Initative and its potential impact on Catholic education.

Catholic schools in America have flourished in large part because of their relative independence from outside influences. But the recent adoption by many Catholic schools of the Common Core standards and tests threatens their ability to fulfill their mission and be faithful to a Catholic vision of education.

The Common Core is a bureaucratic effort to further centralize control over education in America.  Seduced by federal incentives, 45 states agreed to adopt the Common Core in 2009. As schools implement the standards one thing grows clear: the Common Core weakens their ability to direct what they teach the children in their care.  This is particularly problematic for Catholic education.

Heather Crossin’s third-grade daughter goes to a Catholic school in Indiana.  Heather says that when her daughter came home from school with a text book aligned with Common Core, she realized control over what her child was taught had not only left the school building—it had left the state.

In the 45 states that have signed on to the Common Core, parents who send their children to public schools will soon see this scenario play out.  But it is increasingly a reality in private and Catholic education too.

Many dioceses and archdioceses have decided to implement or “adopt” the Common Core national standards.  Last May, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) issued a statement offering its full support of the standards, arguing that implementation would not hinder the teaching of the Catholic Church.

However, Common Core standards are problematic for all of America’s schools—private and public.  Since the majority of Catholic children are educated in our nation’s public schools, Catholic parents should be concerned about whether their local school district, their local principal and their children’s primary teachers have ceded authority to bureaucratic “experts” in Washington, D.C.

A true “common core” teaching of Catholic social thought is the principle of subsidiarity, which counsels that decisions be made at the most effective local level.  The principle of subsidiarity empowers parents, in consultation with local teachers, schools and churches, to decide which sort of education is best for their children.  The Common Core national standards say the opposite: that educational decision-making is best made at the national level.

Common Core aims to impose one set of standards defining what every public school student in America will learn.  As a result of textbook spillover, state regulations and concerns about college-test preparations, many private and parochial schools will be subject to Common Core as well.

They shouldn’t.

The mission of Catholic education is to cultivate the moral and intellectual development of all students, forming their hearts and minds by orienting them to their identity in Christ and His Church while providing an excellent academic education.  Catholic education, by its very nature, requires that local parishes and parents be in charge of the educational decision- making that prepares students for this life, and the life after.

But Common Core is oriented toward different ends.

Since Washington got involved in education with the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the federal government has spent over $2 trillion on K-12 education, tying the hands of local school leaders with red tape and further burdening education with the bureaucracy of an ever-growing administrative state.

Educational achievement has flat-lined despite a near tripling of inflation-adjusted, per-pupil spending by the federal government.  High school seniors are no better off today than the seniors of the 1970s.  Graduation rates for disadvantaged students have remained stagnant. The United States continues to fall behind international competitors.

The federal government’s solution?  Spend more money and usurp more authority from states and parents over what children are being taught.  The Common Core is an extension of this misguided logic—and it is covered with federal fingerprints.

Developed in 2009 by private interest groups in Washington, Common Core was immediately incentivized by the federal government.  The Obama administration offered $4.35 billion through Race to the Top, a competitive grant program.  Perhaps even more enticing, the administration circumvented Congress by offering waivers to states—and now local school districts—from the No Child Left Behind law if they adopted Common Core.

Nearly every state that received a waiver used Common Core to meet the federal requirement to adopt “college and career-ready” standards.  The government also directly financed the two national testing consortia—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment—tasked with designing Common Core-aligned assessments.  Finally, the U.S. Department of Education created a bureaucratically titled “Technical Review Panel” to oversee assessment items.

Not only is Common Core costly in terms of educational liberty, it will also financially strap states and schools.

A study released by the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy estimates that the cost to states of implementing Common Core will reach $16 billion over the next seven years.  Nearly half of the states that have agreed to adopt Common Core already are seeing their testing costs double under the Washington-approved standards.

Despite evident threats imposed by Common Core, states, schools, and districts press on with implementation.  But concerns are growing louder and harder to ignore.

In October, 132 Catholic professors signed a letter sent to each Catholic bishop in the United States, outlining the threat Common Core poses to Catholic education.

The professors’ plea:

We write to you because of what the particular deficiencies of Common Core reveal about the philosophy and the basic aims of the reform. We write to you because we think that this philosophy and these aims will undermine Catholic education and dramatically diminish our children’s horizons. Promoters of the 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 democratic self-government. Common Core adopts a bottom-line, pragmatic approach to education.

The deficiencies in Common Core noted by the professors stem from analyses by James Milgram, professor emeritus of mathematics at Stanford, and Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform emerita at University of Arkansas, both of whom sat on Common Core’s review committee.  They dismissed themselves before the release of the standards because of their concerns with the content.

Dr. Milgram says the mathematics standards will put American students two grades behind international peers by the time they reach seventh grade.  Common Core’s sequencing pushes Algebra I off until ninth grade, when most states had been moving toward Algebra I in eighth grade.  The delay makes students less ready for most four-year universities.

Dr. Stotsky has similar concerns with the content of the English standards.  The diminished emphasis on literature, she says, “makes it unlikely that American students will study a meaningful range of culturally and historically significant literary works before graduation.” She also argues that emphasizing informational text over literature “may lead to a decreased capacity for analytical thinking.”

Catholic schools should not turn over control of curriculum to anonymous boards of experts. Catholic education should recognize the potential in all students and the value of liberal learning regardless of career choices.

Some may argue that because the SAT and ACT college entrance exams have been aligned to the national standards, Catholic schools must adopt them so that their students do well on those exams.  This is unlikely to be so.

By and large, Catholic school students outperform public school students by a significant margin.  According to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 49 percent of Catholic school eighth-graders are proficient in reading compared to 31 percent of public school students.  Also, 33 percent of Catholic school eighth-graders are proficient in mathematics compared to 26 percent of their peers in public school.

If Common Core pushes back Algebra I by two grade levels for most public schools, what effect will it have on math achievement in Catholic schools?

If Catholic school students significantly outperform public-school counterparts in English because Catholic curricula emphasize literature, what will happen when Catholic schools implement Common Core with its emphasis on informational text such as EPA manuals and executive orders?

The letter from Catholic professors expands on this point:

The history of Catholic education is rich in tradition and excellence.  It embraces the academic inheritance of St. Anselm, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Blessed John Henry Newman.  In contrast to such academic rigor, the Common Core standards lack an empirical evidentiary basis and have not been field-tested anywhere.

What great works will Catholic school teachers have to give up to make room for the mandated dose of bureaucratically sanctioned informational texts?

It’s not too late for Catholic schools to reject Common Core, this latest federal overreach. It’s not too late to reclaim all that makes Catholic education unique and reflects the values of Catholic families.  It’s not too late to ensure that local parishes and schools are in the driver’s seat when it comes to defining curricula for our children.

The Common Core vs. the Classical Roots of Catholic Education

In 1977, National Review reprinted a 30-year-old speech given by English mystery author, Dorothy Sayers, on the topic of education. In it, she pointed out evident deficiencies in public discourse that revealed fundamental flaws in British education at the time.  She whimsically proposed as a remedy a return to the Trivium-based education that formed some of the greatest minds in history, little dreaming that her proposals would be taken seriously.  Forty years later, American parents frustrated with an even worse educational situation took her proposal as the basis for a grassroots renewal of a classical approach to education.  Beginning with Douglas Wilson’s Logos school in Idaho and the homeschooling efforts of people like Laura Berquist (Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum) and Susan Wise Bauer (The Well- Trained Mind), classical education has become the way for hundreds of schools and tens of thousands of homeschooling families.

At the heart of Sayers’ proposal was the idea that primary and secondary education should be less focused on passing on the information needed to master prescribed subjects and more focused on making students capable and desirous of life-long learning. The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) for English Language Arts and Literacy, at first glance, might appear to share her goal.  The standards seem less concerned with passing on particular in- formation than with forming a certain kind of person, the “critical thinker.” Looking to make students ready for “college and career,” the CCSSI begins with the view that success in our information age demands the ability to sort through, make sense of, and judge the “staggering amount of information available today in print and digitally.” This raises the question for classical educators and any Catholic schools that value their naturally classical roots: Should they embrace the Common Core?  Is the secular world finally waking up to the needs that motivated parents have been trying to address for the last 35 years?

Catholic schools’ success historically has been based in a classical approach to education, even where substantially compromised by state standards and new theories of education.  Today’s best schools retain at least some key elements of classical education, especially with regard to the study of religion, history, and literature.  A closer look at the goals and methods of the Common Core reveals that they are fundamentally at odds with the discovery of Truth at the heart of an authentically Catholic education.

Ironically, it seems that the developers of the CCSSI would be sympathetic to Sayers’ criticism of the failures of modern education:

Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass pro- paganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?

Are you often bothered by coming across grown-up men and women who seem unable to distinguish between a book that is sound, scholarly, and properly documented, and one that is, to any trained eye, very conspicuously none of these things? Or who cannot handle a library catalogue? Or who, when faced with a book of reference, betray a curious inability to extract from it the passages relevant to the particular question which interests them?

The Common Core aims to address these issues by habituating students to “reflexively dem- onstrate the cogent reasoning and use of evidence that is essential to both private deliberation and responsible citizenship in a democratic republic.”  The CCSSI states that “(s)tudents are engaged and open-minded—but discerning—readers and listeners. They work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying, but they also question an author ’s or speaker ’s assumptions and premises and assess the veracity of claims and the soundness of reasoning.”

So far, so good. But a deeper look shows that Sayers was not on the minds of the authors (nor were Adler, Hirsch, Bauer, etc., who are conspicuously missing from the extensive bibliographies cited in the Appendices).   The thousands of contemporary classical educators inspired by Sayers should take a hard look at the approaches proposed to achieve these goals.  Some of these will be found in the standards themselves, even more in the assessment-driven, industrial way the CCSSI has begun to be implemented.  One important difference they will notice is that Sayers emphasized that a renewed Trivium-based education would approach language development in a way natural to the young. In the grammar stage younger children (up to around age 11) naturally learn by absorbing language and facts.  They are not ready for critical thinking; they are ready to trustingly accept whatever is presented to them in an orderly, engaging manner.  Learning by heart and careful observation are key powers to be developed, not just with facts and vocabulary, but with the beautiful rhythms and rich images of the best poetry and prose. By contrast, though the CCSSI proposes some excellent works be introduced to the young, learning by heart seems to play no role.  The Common Core intends to make critical thinking, embodied in literary analysis, the focus of every grade level. Sayers strongly warns against this approach:

The modern tendency is to try and force rational explanations on a child’s mind at too early an age. Intelligent questions, spontaneously asked, should, of course, receive an immediate and rational answer; but it is a great mistake to suppose that a child cannot readily enjoy and remember things that are beyond his power to analyze—particularly if those things have a strong imaginative appeal (as, for example, “Kubla Khan”), an attractive jingle (like some of the memory-rhymes for Latin genders), or an abundance of rich, resounding polysyllables (like the Quicunque vult).

In the CCSSI, every grade level is dominated by dialectical/logical/critical activities that are most appropriate for what Sayers described as the “Pert” age, those pre-adolescent and early adolescent years of questioning and challenging.  Common Core methods thus push young children into finding their own truths, and also neglect what is natural to older adolescents at the Rhetorical stage. The desire to investigate and formulate ideas about what matters to the student. The dialectical stage begins to close as students desire to really know what they have begun to care about.  “Towards the close of this stage, the pupils will probably be beginning to discover for themselves that their knowledge and experience are insufficient, and that their trained intelligences need a great deal more material to chew upon. The imagination—usually dormant during the Pert age—will reawaken, and prompt them to suspect the limitations of logic and reason.”  Sayers emphasizes that “the attitude of the teachers” will be crucial; they must see the goal of the education and be aware of how each student is progressing towards that goal.  This means that teachers must have much more freedom from bureaucratic assessment if they are going to succeed.  Implementation of the CCSSI in our assessment-obsessed educational culture is sure to mean much more harassment for teachers and much less time for them to actually work with students.

Sayers insists that the Rhetorical stage of development demands greater freedom on the part of the student to pursue subjects whose truth really matters to them.  This is because Sayers’ ultimate goal, (one which classical schools have embraced) is to provide for each human being to flourish as individuals who can contribute to the common life but who are not in service to it. This puts her, and all classical educators, fundamentally at odds with the CCSSI. Although the Common Core Standards seem to have similar aims for student formation, the overall goal limits and colors everything in them.  “The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”  The overriding economic concerns permeate the standards. The critical thinking skills are finally about economic success, not just for the individual, but for the sake of national economic growth.

This latter consideration has raised a great wave of outcry and concern from the classical community, and with good reason.  In the 1950s, Bell Telephone instituted a 10-month intensive introduction to liberal arts education to its most promising, technically-trained employees. The program was judged a great success by participants and the professors who organized it. Bell, however, was not pleased with the outcome:

But Bell gradually withdrew its support after yet another positive assessment found that while executives came out of the program more confident and more intellectually engaged, they were also less interested in putting the company’s bottom line ahead of their commitments to their families and communities. By 1960, the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives was finished.

“The end is the cause of causes,” and the temporal, economic goal of the Common Core will drive it to neglect—if not positively avoid—the means that would truly open minds and hearts to what is most humanly fulfilling.  St. Jerome Academy in the Archdiocese of Washington has gained national attention for its success after choosing a decidedly different path from the assessment-driven, fragmented education of government schools.  Faced with declining enrollment and on the verge of shutting its doors, St. Jerome converted from a traditional parochial school to a Catholic classical school.  Blessed with a number of CUA professors as parishioners, the school benefitted from a dedicated team of educators, theologians, and philosophers who developed a comprehensive new educational plan in less than one year.  St. Jerome’s curriculum goes beyond Sayers’ essay, incorporating her insights but setting them in a broader vision of the goals of a Catholic classical education:

St. Jerome School educates children in the truest and fullest sense by giving them the necessary tools of learning and by fostering wonder and love for all that is genuinely true, good, and beautiful.  …We seek to incorporate our students into the wisdom of two thousand years of Catholic thought, history, culture, and arts so that they might understand themselves and their world in the light of the truth and acquire the character to live happy and integrated lives in the service of God and others.

The Common Core also wants to educate for life, but it articulates life’s highest goals as career success and productive contribution to the global economy. Cultural tolerance is another crucial outcome of the Common Core. Content must be drawn from a wide-range of cultures, leading students to be able to work well with the variety of cultural and personal viewpoints of their future corporate fellow laborers.

Students appreciate that the twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together.  Students actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and they are able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds.  They evaluate other points of view critically and constructively. Through reading great classic and contemporary works of literature representative of a variety of periods, cultures, and worldviews, students can vicariously inhabit worlds and have experiences much different than their own.

Of course, as in many areas, the CCSSI is here proposing some things that any teacher would want for her students. However, under the guise of mutual understanding, curricular materials are likely to usher in an aggressively secular orthodoxy.  Without a strong commitment to the existence of objective truth and an awareness of the contributions of Catholic civilization, CCSSI will lead us to the sort of openness that is the virtue of the “dictatorship of relativism,” as Alan Bloom warned us in The Closing of the American Mind:

Openness—and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings— is the great insight of our times.  The true believer is the real danger.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative intends to form literate, thoughtful, critical readers capable of understanding and judging the best literature and the richest informational literature.  But not only are its goals limited—even subversive with respect to a Catholic education—it represents a massive educational project that has not been tried.  Catholic classical educators have now more than three decades of experience and over two thousand years of expertise to draw on.  Now is not the time to submit children enrolled in any Catholic school to untested, yet no doubt very constraining, shackles.

To the extent that any Catholic school teaches the fullness of Truth in the faith, it offers a piece of the classical vision in its search for wisdom and virtue.  Over recent decades, however, many Catholic schools have adopted secular curricula as well as secular instruction and assessment techniques that undermine the unity of faith and reason.  In this trend they have followed the pattern about which Sayers warned, with the focus on conveying information needed to master prescribed subjects.  By contrast, the time-tested classical approach engages children to discover the truth of reality, both visible and invisible.  This is active learning, not passive learning.  It cultivates habits of mind that allow the human person to discern what is true, good and beautiful, to glimpse the transcendent.  It awakens the soul.

Ironically, it may be the Common Core State Standards Initiative that will awaken all Catholic educators to reject encroaching secular content and methods, and to rediscover the riches of their own tradition.  Given the unique, supernatural beauty of the Catholic faith, they should be decidedly skeptical of anything that bills itself as “common.”

The Common Core and the Private School: The Overreaching Effects of a National Standard

This is part of a series of research reports on the Common Core.

As parents, educators, and legislators learn more about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and doubts continue to rise, the fact that the CCSS have become a national standard presents real challenges to a group that is already providing excellent education—private, faith-based schools.

These schools are successful because of their ability to maintain autonomy, and, in the case of religious schools, their faith-based mission. They enjoy the freedom to make decisions regarding curriculum and teaching methods that best follow their mission. This kind of “local control” allows them to best meet the individual educational needs of their students, and, in the case of faith-based schools, provide an excellent education from a religious worldview. They are not funded by tax dollars, and their accountability is to the parents— the strongest accountability a school can have.  Although these schools are not required to follow government direction regarding standards and curriculum, the CCSS as a national standard will negatively affect the autonomy of these schools, chipping away at the religious freedom enjoyed by faith-based schools.

The CCSS began as a joint effort between the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSSO) to design a set of curriculum standards that could help all students reach the same base-line goals. This collaboration was initially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and resulted in the publication of the Common Core Standards, issued in April 2010.  The first two sets of standards published were in Mathematics and English Language Arts. Remaining to be published are standards in Science and Social Studies, both of which arguably could be the more controversial of the four standards, especially for faith-based or classical curriculum-based schools.

Since the release of the CCSS in 2010, there has been a growing controversy surrounding the standards. Supporters claim the CCSS will allegedly raise the standard of education in America, increase literacy, and prepare students for college and global competitiveness, while the opposition argues that the standards are nothing more than a national standard that impedes educational progress by imposing a “one size fits all approach” from the federal government.  Educational experts have pointed out that the goal of a national standard inevitably will be to close the achievement gap, which will result in mediocre academics and a “race to the middle.”

More specifically, the English Language Arts standards have been criticized for being heavy on the technical and informative writing, and lacking in the classics. The Mathematics standards received criticism for only taking students to math skills of Algebra 2, rather than reaching for skills developed through trigonometry and calculus. Additionally, there has been a flurry of state legislative pushback as states realize the high cost of implementation and assessments for the CCSS. The American Federation of Teachers called for a moratorium on the CCSS due to a lack of professional development to prepare teachers for implementing the CCSS.1 Even several U.S. Senators have written a joint letter opposing the standards based on the fact that the standards are tied to federal dollars which means they are not simply a “state-led” effort.

This may be the most troublesome problem with the CCSS – the strong ties to billions of federal dollars. While the CCSS may have started out as an effort between the NGA and the CCSSSO, the federal Race to the Top funds – for which states competed in 2010 through 2012 – were contingent on states’ adoption of the CCSS. Adoption of “college and career ready standards” constituted 40 of the possible 500 points in the Race to the Top application, and the CCSS were the only standards that met the criteria for that definition. Indeed, this “dangling carrot” in the form of billions of dollars caused 45 states and the District of Columbia to adopt the CCSS before they were even released (and, as noted earlier, are still not finalized as in the case of the social studies and science standards).  An additional $350 million was awarded to two consortia of states through the Race to the Top Assessment competition to develop an assessment that was aligned with the CCSS.

Then, in the spring of 2013 the U.S. Department of Education established a federal review board whose sole purpose is to assess the assessment for the CCSS. With the amount of federal funds being poured into the CCSS adoption, the assessments, and the review of the assessments, the CCSS really cannot be called a “voluntary, state-led” effort.  Rather, it has become a standard with the financial backing and support of the federal government.  One could arguably call this a federal standard.

This is not the first time a national standard has been considered by the federal government. In 1995, a national standard for social studies was voted down 99-1 by the U.S. Senate because the standards had become too politicized. This is one of the problems of a national standard:  It easily becomes politicized and influenced by controversial societal norms.  Such politicization will undoubtedly conflict with traditional values and beliefs undergirding the teaching-learning process.  In 1995, political correctness rose up against historical fact, weakening the educational value and demonstrating the danger of politicization when government decides standards.

Another major problem with the CCSS lies in the fact that a national standard by default will bring a national curriculum and a national test.  (What good is the standard without a curriculum to meet the standard and a test to ensure the standard has been met?) As previously mentioned, the U.S. Department of Education has not only incentivized the creation of a national test for the CCSS, it also established a review board to assess the assessment!  With an endorsement like this from the federal government, the standards and the tests will clearly be controlled from the federal level, rather than the local level where the best educational decisions can be made.2 3

So what does the CCSS mean for private, faith-based schools if they are not required by the government to follow the standards? Consider a few important facts: Recent announcements reveal that the ACT, SAT, and GED tests will be aligned to the CCSS. Students in private, faith-based schools take these tests.  As teachers in these schools prepare their students for these tests, they will need to include the information which is necessary to succeed on these tests and this could potentially conflict with their freedom to teach from a religious worldview or in a way that best reflects their core educational beliefs.  When students apply to colleges and universities, their transcripts are considered for acceptance. Students could face discrimination by a higher education entity if they graduated from a school that did not adhere to the CCSS. Scholarship money for students desiring to be teachers could be tied to whether or not the college to which the student is applying is teaching the CCSS and the methodologies necessary to work in that environment.

The University of California already refuses to accept some high school credits that follow certain Christian-based textbooks, so it is not a far-fetched idea that colleges will accept only those course credits that follow texts and content aligned with the CCSS. This is all ironic of course, considering that it is a well-known fact that students from private, faith-based schools generally do much better on college entrance tests and are much better prepared for college.4  This all places a burden on the private, faith-based school to prove its academics are of a higher quality, exceeding the standards.

Education in America has always thrived because of its diversity and freedom.  Improved educational quality will not result from federally-coerced uniformity.  Rather, a better path to raising standards would be to establish educational options that would not only improve education in all schools but would also protect the autonomy and religious liberty that allow private, faith-based schools great success.

 

Do Catholic Schools Need the Common Core?

The following considerations related to the Common Core were provided to Catholic bishops on November 13, 2013, in Baltimore, Maryland. The Cardinal Newman Society partnered with the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools and the Catholic Education Foundation to present a seminar on the Common Core during the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This publication is part of a series of reports on the Common Core State Standards Initiative and how those standards potentially impact Catholic education.

Our core is the Catholic Faith.

  • The core purpose of Catholic education is student formation and nurturing souls.1 These must be the primary standards from which curriculum and teaching methods are developed and schools are assessed.
  • Catholic identity is not an add-on; it cannot be reduced to values and traditions to be “infused”2 into secular standards. The standards will determine how and what to teach and how schools are evaluated.
  • Catholic schools are successful because of their mission… period. Their emphasis on faith and formation points to classical curricula, good literature, reason and ethics, and individualized attention.
  • Mission drives standards; standards drive curriculum and teaching. Our mission and that of government schools are profoundly different, and different missions demand different standards.
  • Common  Core  is  explicitly  and  only  “college  and  career”  focused.    Our  schools  are focused on assisting our students to encounter Christ and to pursue truth, beauty and goodness.  In the process, they are also well-prepared for college and life beyond.
  • Education should prepare students for life, but college and career cannot be the sole or primary objectives for Catholic school standards.3 Educating for secular ends leads to either pride or despair.
  • Our standards must inspire, not content with the minimum but pressing forward to- ward the maximum.

Catholic schools are already among the best in the nation.

  • On the federal NAEP tests, Catholic schools have significantly outperformed public schools for 20 years. Grade 8 scores in 2013: Reading 286 (public schools 226), Math 295 (public schools 284).4
  • In 2011, religious schools far outperformed public schools on the SAT: Reading 531 (public schools 449), Math 533 (public schools 506), Writing 528 (public schools 483).5
  • Parents care about Catholic identity, school environment and learning outcomes—in- cluding test scores and high school/college  success. But they don’t seek conformity to public school standards.
  • Standards influence how and what students learn, but there is no certain correlation between standards and test scores. States with standards rated both “A” and “F” by the Fordham Institute report similar test scores.6
  • Catholic schools can excel on nationally normed, non-Common Core tests available for the next several years.7 Afterward, testing companies will be eager to serve our schools’ 2 million students.8
  • Avoiding Common Core will highlight Catholic school competitive advantages: choice, freedom, authentic difference, human excellence, Christian faith, proven, successful, safe, outstanding education.

Catholic schools already prepare for college and careers.

  • Catholic high schools have a 99% graduation rate (73% public schools), and 85% of Catholic high school graduates attend four-year colleges (44% public schools).9
  • Good teaching can ensure success on college entrance exams, even when Common Core-compliant, perhaps with some test preparation. The ACT is not changing signifi- cantly, so scores should be stable.10

Common Core is not required for Catholic schools.

  • No government or accreditor requires Catholic schools to adopt Common Core.
  • Some  states  may  tie  Common  Core  to  funding.  The  Church  should  defend  religious liberty and school choice without compromising Catholic schools’ autonomy.
  • We must lead with confidence; we do not follow in fear or from intimidation. We do not simply “get on board” because others are doing it.  Common Core is becoming toxic, and every failure will be laid at our doorstep if we rush into this.

Common Core seeks radical change in education.

  • “The  Common  Core  represents  a  fundamental  shift  in  the  teaching  and  learning process.”11 It proposes to fix broken public schools, but Catholic schools are not broken.
  • Common Core embraces theories of exploration learning and constructivism, conflict- ing with the proven method of direct instruction in younger grades.12
  • Common Core is largely a privately funded initiative of the morally reprehensible Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,13 which pays the NCEA to promote Common Core.14
  • Common Core advocates reassure parents that the standards “are not a curriculum.”15 That’s a red herring. The standards are intended to drive changes in curriculum, teach- ing and assessment.16

Common Core is untested and experimental.

  • Before any intervention, there should be 1) a need and 2) empirical evidence that the need will be satisfied. Common Core offers neither; its standards have never been test- ed.17 They were developed by little-known “experts” with no solid research basis, de- spite misleading claims.18
  • Common Core’s proponents—the Gates Foundation, several state governors and school leaders, the Obama administration, and “big business”—have quietly avoided public scrutiny and accountability by working around Congress, state legislatures, and now Catholic school educators and parents.
  • Common  Core’s  emphasis  on  informational  texts  depends  upon  distortions  of  NAEP data and lacks solid evidence. The 2006 federal Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that higher literacy scores correlate to more reading of novels and less frequent reading of information.19

The Common Core standards are flawed.

  • Common Core demands greater emphasis on reading informational texts, with a cor- responding decrease in great literature.20 Some recommended (not required) texts are morally problematic.
  • Common Core imposes “reform math,” not our traditional and successful math pro- grams. It lowers standards: pre-algebra or algebra is no longer the eighth-grade norm, nor pre-calculus or calculus for 12th grade.21 22
  • There  is  a  misalignment  with  early  grade  expectations  and  lack  of  detail  in  upper grades.23
  • There is a lack of specific content knowledge; too much is simply skills-based.24

Common Core aims for nationalization, not pluralism.

  • The Church favors “a plurality of school systems” to “safeguard her objectives in the face of cultural pluralism” and increasing state control of education.25 Common Core seeks national uniformity.
  • Catholic schools risk losing autonomy by accepting national standards. The Church’s relationship to the state should focus on protecting autonomy and school choice, not embracing national uniformity.26
  • Common Core is quickly moving toward a state and federal government program. It is becoming a political issue in the states, and the Obama administration has tied it to federal funds.
  • It is not valid to argue that we must follow Common Core because we always follow state standards. This is something much more, aiming for nationalization and substan- tial change. Common Core is under intense scrutiny, in ways that state standards never were.

Common Core poses a creeping threat to schools’ Catholic identity.

  • Common  Core  reduces  Catholic  school  autonomy  and  focuses  assessment  on  secular objectives, thereby distracting educators from their core mission. Catholic schools have always  been  independent,  but  beware  the  secularizing  path  of  Catholic  universities, hospitals and charities.
  • Common Core’s priorities “crowd out” the elements of a rigorous, classical Catholic education, emphasizing skills and practicality over vocation and reasoning from a foundation of truth.
  • State and federal involvement in Common Core could lead to religious liberty viola- tions. Catholic schools’ protection depends on consistent Catholic identity27 — which Common Core diminishes.

Bishops, parents and educators are being ignored.

  • We can see no evidence that the NCEA and many diocesan educational leaders have listened to the bishops on Common Core, recognizing their canonical authority and responsibility for the Catholic identity of our schools.
  • Parents have been poorly informed and not consulted about Common Core changes in Catholic schools, despite their primary authority and responsibility for the education of their children.
  • Catholic school teachers and principals also have been poorly informed and not prop- erly consulted about Common Core. Among the nation’s best Catholic High School Honor Roll schools, 92% of principals have concerns about Common Core’s impact on Catholic identity.28
  • Should we not pause and more carefully study and evaluate the Common Core?