The mission and goals of Catholic education are significantly different from the college and career goals that guide public schools. Because the mission of a school should guide its choice of standards, the unique and broader mission of Catholic education requires additional and foundational standards that include specific Catholic modes of intellectual reasoning as well as accompanying dispositions.

A discussion of standards in use in a Catholic school should therefore begin with a discussion of the mission of Catholic education. There is no shortage of guidance from the Church on this topic. Building on insights from Vatican II’s Gravissimum Educationis (1965), these documents echo the fact that Catholic education has a primarily evangelical mission. It is to foster in students an awareness of the God-given gift of faith and to nurture their development into mature adults who will bear witness to the Mystical Body of Christ; respect the dignity of the human person; lead virtuous, prayerful, apostolic lives; serve the common good; and build the Kingdom of God.[i]

Through Catholic education, students encounter God’s transforming love and truth.[ii] With Jesus as its foundation,[iii] Catholic education integrally forms all aspects of students’ physical, moral, spiritual, and intellectual development, teaching them responsibility and the right use of freedom and preparing them to fulfill God’s calling in this world so as to attain the eternal kingdom in the next.[iv]

To guide students toward this goal, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) created the Curriculum Framework[v] for high school religion classes. But the mission of Catholic education is not limited to religion classes, nor is it separate from the intellectual formation of the students.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman observed that because of the divine origin and the destiny of all reality:

All branches of knowledge are connected together, because the subject-matter of knowledge is intimately united in itself, as being the acts and the work of the Creator. Hence it is that the Sciences, into which our knowledge may be said to be cast, have multiplied bearings one on another, and an internal sympathy, and admit, or rather demand, comparison and adjustment. They complete, correct, [and] balance each other.[vi]

This is a critical addition to the academic approach common in secular schools. Like these schools, Catholic educators lead students to know and appreciate reality using the best and most appropriate methods for the subject at hand and delve deeply into each specific academic discipline on its own terms, but Catholic education is also specifically and distinctly open to transcendent truths and an objective reality which surpasses and integrates the disciplines.

When illumined by the light of faith, all knowledge becomes living, conscious, and active.[vii] Because students have access to reason, revelation, and the guidance of the Catholic Church, Catholic education is uniquely positioned to offer guidance on issues of values and morality as well as to provide life-giving and definitive answers related to questions of human purpose, human dignity, and human flourishing. These questions arise quite naturally in academic practice and inquiry.

The Catholic educational project, to bring human wisdom into an encounter with divine wisdom,[viii] cultivates in students not only the intellectual but also the creative and aesthetic faculties of the human person. It develops the ability to make correct use of judgment, promotes a sense of values, encourages just attitudes and prudent behavior, introduces a cultural heritage, and prepares students to take on the responsibilities to serve society and the Church.[ix] It prepares students to work for the evangelization of culture and the common good.[x] In the light of faith, Catholic education critically and systematically transmits the civic and religious cultural patrimony handed down from previous generations, especially that which makes a person more human.[xi] Both educator and student participate in a dialogue with culture and pursue the integration of culture with faith and faith with living.[xii]

In Catholic education, there is no separation between learning and formation. The atmosphere is characterized by discovery and awareness that enkindles a love for truth, a desire to know the universe as God’s creation, and an awakening of a critical sense of examination which impels the mind to learn with order and precision.[xiii] Catholic education, imbued with the light of faith, instills a sense of responsibility and encourages strength and perseverance in the quest for knowledge.[xiv] Catholic intellectual efforts and formation are significantly more rich and profound given this broader understanding of reality, access to transcendent truths, support from a cultural heritage, and the efficacy of God’s grace poured forth from the Sacraments and guided by the Holy Spirit. Catholic academic standards must take all this and more into account, and, drawing from guidance in Church documents, should ensure these key components are addressed. Therefore,

Catholic education:

1.      Involves the integral formation of the whole person, body, mind, and spirit, in light of his or her ultimate end and the good of society.[xv]

2.      Seeks to know and understand objective reality, including transcendent Truth, which is knowable by reason and faith and finds its origin, unity, and end in God.

3.      Promotes human virtues and the dignity of the human person, as created in the image and likeness of God and modeled on the person of Jesus Christ.[xvi]

4.      Encourages a synthesis of faith, life, and culture.[xvii]

5.      Develops a Catholic worldview and enables a deeper incorporation of the student into the heart of the Catholic Church.[xviii]

Operational Guidance

This resource guide is not a complete set of standards for any particular subject, but it is designed to complement a broader set of primarily content driven academic standards. Not all of the standards in this guide need be implemented.

There are many other possible articulations of standards that might address the intellectual and dispositional needs of Catholic education.[xix] The intent here is to start a conversation and invite further consideration as Catholic educators develop their own standards and curriculum guides based on their unique mission, which extends to the formation of their students in a rich Catholic intellectual heritage.

These standards reflect insights gathered from Church documents on education; books and articles on Catholic education, liberal arts education, and classical education; the educational philosophies of Catholic colleges in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College; and the Cardinal Newman Society’s Principles of Catholic Identity in Education. A list of contributors and consultants is available in the Appendix. Reference tables at the end of the document link most standards with books, articles, or websites for further exploration of the topic.

The standards include the following designations:

  • GS = General Standards that articulate the above five premises.
  • IS = Intellectual Standards that articulate cognitive learning standards grouped by content for ease of use.
  • WS = Writing Standards involve formation of proper and logical thinking.
  • DS = Dispositional Standards involve the formation of character, beliefs, attitudes, and values, or other non-cognitive standards.

They are grouped into two sets, grades K-6 and 7-12, with general, intellectual, and affective dispositions for most subjects. Users are encouraged to select some or all of the standards that they believe might solidify and enhance the Catholic identity of their curriculum. This guide is intended primarily as a general resource for Catholic school curriculum developers, superintendents, and others familiar with creating standards and curriculum. Additional resources are available on the Cardinal Newman Society’s K-12 Catholic Curriculum Standards website at




[i] Code of Canon Law (1983), canon 795; Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on Christian Education Gravissimum Educationis (1965), 2.

[ii] Meeting with Catholic Educators: Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI (Washington, D.C., April, 2008).

[iii] The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), 34.

[iv] Code of Canon Law, canon 795; Gravissimum Educationis, Introduction; Circular Letter to the Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences on Religious Education in Schools (2009), 1.

[v] USCCB, Doctrinal elements of a curriculum framework for the development of catechetical materials for young people of high school age (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2008).

[vi]  Blessed John Henry Newman. The Idea of a University: Defined and illustrated (London, England: Pickering, 1873).

[vii] The Catholic School (1977), 34; The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988), 77, 100; Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating in Intercultural Dialogue in the Catholic school: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (2013), 56; National Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Teach as Jesus Did, (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1973), 102.

[viii] Congregation for Catholic Education, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 57.

[ix] Gravissimum Educationis, 5; The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), 12.

[x] Saint Pope John Paul II, Ad limina visit of bishops from Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, (May 30, 1998), 2; Gravissimum Educationis, 8; USCCB, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary & Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2005), excerpts.

[xi] The Catholic School, 15, 26, 36; Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, 12; The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 108.

[xii] The Catholic School, 49: The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 34, 51 & 52.

[xiii] The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 49.

[xiv] The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 47, 49.

[xv] The Catholic School, 36, 47, 49; Gravissimum Educationis, 1, par. 1; USCCB. Seven themes of Catholic social teaching.

[xvi] The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 52, 56; The Catholic School, 55.

[xvii] The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 52; The Catholic School, 37.

[xviii] The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 71, 74-77; The Catholic School, 50.

[xix] For instance, religion standards are not included in this compilation, as the USCCB has addressed these in their Curriculum Framework. The reader will, though, find in these standards some natural overlap with the Curriculum Framework, specifically in the areas of science (discussion of creation S.K6. IS1-4 and human dignity S.712.GS3) and history (History begins and ends in God and has a religious dimension H.K6.IS1).