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3 Eye-Opening Lessons for Catholics under Common Core

It’s been five years since controversy peaked over the Common Core State Standards and their use in Catholic schools. What have we learned?

By 2013 the Common Core was being adopted rapidly by Catholic schools and dioceses across the country, prompting deep concern among Catholic families. The Cardinal Newman Society launched its Catholic Is Our Core initiative to press for authentically Catholic standards. Urgent meetings with Catholic education leaders and bishops were convened to explain why the Common Core was the wrong approach for Catholic schools.

Thanks be to God, shortly thereafter the U.S. bishops’ conference advised dioceses to “review, study, consultation, discussion and caution,” noting that the Common Core was “incomplete” and not designed for Catholic schools.

Today, many dioceses have moved toward genuinely Catholic standards for their schools, but the Common Core has never been fully rooted out of Catholic education. It continues to impact testing, curriculum, and textbooks in many dioceses—although the impact varies and is never quite clear.

While the experience has been messy, hopefully it has given new insight to Catholics and Church leaders and reminded educators of the primary mission of Catholic education. Here are three key lessons that have emerged:

1. The Common Core seems unable to live up to its promises.

National test data suggest that the Common Core has failed thus far to live up to its promise of strengthening student achievement in math and language arts, even in public schools.

In an analysis of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) published this week by Denise Donohue, deputy director of K-12 education programs for the Cardinal Newman Society, she finds, “Neither public nor Catholic schools experienced the upswing that was promised by the authors of the Common Core Standards.”

Public school scores from 2009 (pre-CCSS) to 2017 (post-CCSS) are relatively the same and are categorized in the “basic” range on the academic standards scale for the NAEP, whereas Catholic school 8th grade math scores have slid three points in the pre-test/post-test scenario (297 in 2009 to 294 in 2017). Interestingly, the cut-off for “proficient” according to the NAEP literature is a score of 299, leaving Catholic schools that much more to attain before reaching the mark. Meanwhile, the opportunity costs are unknown. Perhaps Catholic schools’ 8th grade math and reading scores might have continued their positive upward trend before the onset of the CCSS.

The U.S. Education Department’s NAEP, Donohue observes, has never been re-aligned to the Common Core like many state tests, so it is a good measure of pre- and post-Common Core achievement. International benchmarking tests also indicate that American students have not made any substantial progress relative to other nations, Donohue finds.

2. Catholic education needs Catholic standards.

Aside from the impact of the Common Core on secular education, the standards are simply wrong for Catholic schools. As the U.S. bishops conference declared in 2014:

Catholic schools must consider standards that support the mission and purpose of the school as a Catholic institution. Attempts to compartmentalize the religious and the secular in Catholic schools reflect a relativistic perspective by suggesting that faith is merely a private matter and does not have a significant bearing on how reality as a whole should be understood. Such attempts are at odds with the integral approach to education that is a hallmark of Catholic schools. Standards that support an appropriate integration should be encouraged.

The Common Core controversy helped many Catholics become aware that dioceses around the country had been relying heavily on secular state standards for many years. That is how the Common Core was initially adopted by Catholic schools without due caution and analysis. When the standards were adopted by states, dioceses quickly and voluntarily followed suit.

Now there is a greater realization that authentically Catholic standards are needed. Many dioceses have made great progress in this direction, such as the Diocese of Grand Rapids and the Diocese of Venice, which both work from the faithful Catholic Curriculum Standards published in 2016 to provide Catholic schools with an alternative.

3. Parents are the primary educators.

Many national, state and local organizations produced important analyses of the Common Core that ultimately halted its spread in Catholic schools. But it was parents who had the most important and influential voice—some voting with their feet and turning to independent Catholic schools and homeschooling.

The Common Core experience has helped remind Catholic bishops, educators and even families that parents are the first educators of their children. Catholic education serves the needs of families in educating and forming children, or it is not Catholic education at all.

Canon law states, “Catholic parents also have the duty and right of choosing those means and institutions through which they can provide more suitably for the Catholic education of their children, according to local circumstances.” If local Catholic schools aren’t enthusiastically and fully providing a truly Catholic education, parents are fully within their rights, and may have a duty, to find better, more faithful options for their children.

As Catholic school enrollment continues to decline, the Church urgently needs to renew the Catholic identity of Catholic schools to support only those that serve parents and the mission of the Church well.

For their part, parents should continue to find their voice and explain to their pastors what genuinely helps them form children for sainthood. This does not include secular fads such as the Common Core.

T This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Catholic Schools Not Improving Under Common Core

The Nation’s Report Card1 administered by the U.S. Department of Education reveals stagnant and even slightly declining test scores among Catholic schools since 2013, when many embraced the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Public schools also are showing no marked improvement, which is not what many had claimed would result from “internationally benchmarked” and globally competitive standards.2

With more than 100 Catholic dioceses implementing the CCSS to some degree3 in Catholic schools, it’s worth taking a look to see how Catholic schools are faring.

NAEP Assessment Results

Catholic schools are one of the largest private school groupings in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data collection, perhaps because their involvement is encouraged by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). The NAEP was last re-worked in 2009 and was never re-aligned to the Common Core, so it is a good measure of pre- and post-Common Core achievement.

Historically, Catholic schools have scored well above public schools in both 4th and 8th grade reading and math,4 and they continue to do so. Over the last two decades, reading scores have averaged 19.5 points higher for 8th graders in Catholic schools and 16.1 points higher for 4th graders. In math, Catholic schools have scored 12.7 points higher in 8th grade and 7.6 points higher in 4th grade.

The scores of both public and Catholic schools have remained largely stable over the past 8 years, with a small decrease in Catholic school scores that slightly narrows the gap with public schools.

(Sources: MathReading)

(Sources: MathReading)

This isn’t what was supposed to happen, is it? Neither public nor Catholic schools experienced the upswing that was promised by the authors of the Common Core Standards. Public school scores from 2009 (pre-CCSS) to 2017 (post-CCSS) are relatively the same and are categorized in the “basic” range on the academic standards scale for the NAEP, whereas Catholic school 8th grade math scores have slid three points in the pre-test/post-test scenario (297 in 2009 to 294 in 2017). Interestingly, the cut-off for “proficient” according to the NAEP literature is a score of 2995, leaving Catholic schools that much more to attain before reaching the mark. Meanwhile, the opportunity costs are unknown. Perhaps Catholic schools’ 8th grade math and reading scores might have continued their positive upward trend before the onset of the CCSS.

As for international benchmarking, the 4th grade U.S. scores in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) remained the same in 2015 at the internationally low benchmark.6 The 8th grade TIMMS scores went up,7 but they are still at the internationally low benchmark.8

In reading, scores for U.S. 4th grade students on the Progress for International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) have declined from 556 in 2011 to 549 in 2016 (the most recent year for scores).9 The United States is currently sitting in 15th place in reading achievement for 4th graders, down from 6th place in 2011.10

Common Core and Catholic Schools

What the test scores don’t measure is the loss to Catholic identity when Catholic schools conform to secular school standards that fail to consider essential differences in faithful Catholic education.

Recognizing that the CCSS would drive textbook publishing, teacher preparation programs, state assessments, teacher professional development11, and college-entry exams12, the NCEA encouraged Catholic schools to adopt the CCSS as they saw fit or as they were compelled to do, based on state and accreditation requirements.

But with parent concerns rising across the country and Catholic parents wondering why Catholic schools were using the same academic standards as public schools, The Cardinal Newman Society launched Catholic is Our Core13 in 2013 to evaluate the CCSS and counter many of the dangerous and progressive claims advanced by Common Core proponents.

In December 2013, the Newman Society expressed serious reservations14 about the use of the CCSS in Catholic schools, especially since historical data for Catholic high school graduation and college attendance was consistently outstanding and there seemed no need to work from standards designed primarily to raise academic achievement of students in the lower national quartile.

Moreover, the utilitarian underpinning of the CCSS stands in stark contrast to the full flourishing of the human person, as promoted in Church documents on education. Children and young adults are not to be viewed as components of an economic machine to be manipulated and directed toward labor slots in manufacturing15, as some would like. An impoverished view of the human person, which pervades society, is not how the Church has traditionally approached Catholic education. To take on such limiting constraints is unworthy of the dignity of the educational institution.

In 2014, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement recognizing the limitations of the CCSS for faith-based formation:

Catholic schools must consider standards that support the mission and purpose of the school as a Catholic institution. Attempts to compartmentalize the religious and the secular in Catholic schools reflect a relativistic perspective by suggesting that faith is merely a private matter and does not have a significant bearing on how reality as a whole should be understood. Such attempts are at odds with the integral approach to education that is a hallmark of Catholic schools. Standards that support an appropriate integration should be encouraged.16

Embracing subsidiarity and local decision-making, the USCCB directed that each bishop, along with their education leaders, decide whether to adapt, adopt, or reject the CCSS. About 33 dioceses17 announced they would not use the CCSS, preferring to retain their already workable standards and curricular frameworks. Most of the others, though, chose to work with the Common Core in some fashion.

Today, we can see the wisdom of the Newman Society’s warnings against the rapid adoption of CCSS in Catholic schools, “a mistake that will be difficult or impossible to undo for years to come.” The NAEP scores suggest that the Common Core comes with empty promises, and it may in fact hinder progress toward excellence in both public and Catholic schools.


America’s Common Core: Standardization by a Low Standard

Many years ago, the English writer G. K. Chesterton claimed that the “coming peril” facing civilization was “standardization by a low standard.” Today, almost a century later, Chesterton’s words have something of the mark of prophecy about them. Standards of literacy and numeracy, to say nothing of standards of morality, are not so much declining as plummeting.

The calamitous “dumbing down” of America’s already beleaguered education system is encapsulated and epitomized by the monstrous Common Core. At the risk of seeming a trifle sensationalist, this affront to educational standards is nothing short of being a crime against humanity. Let’s not forget that the humanities are thus called because they teach us about our own humanity. A failure to appreciate the humanities must inevitably lead to the dehumanizing of culture and a disastrous loss of the ability to see ourselves truthfully and objectively.

The problem is that the architects of the Common Core do not believe that it is possible to see ourselves truthfully and objectively. They have a chilling indifference to truthfulness and objectivity in human affairs, rejecting all discussion of truth and objectivity except in terms of that which can be measured empirically by science. With regard to the truth that we can know about ourselves as human beings, and which is expressed in the great works that have graced our civilization through the centuries, they never get beyond Pontius Pilate’s famous question, quid est veritas?, which is asked not in the spirit of philosophy as a question to be answered, but in the ennui of intellectual philandery as merely a rhetorical question that is intrinsically unanswerable. This intellectual philandery spawns numerous illegitimate children, each of which has its day as the dominant fad of educationists, at least until a new intellectual fad replaces it. It is in the nature of fads to fade but in the brief period in which they find themselves in the fashionable limelight they can cause a great deal of damage, a fact that Chesterton addressed with customary adroitness in 1910, over a century ago:

Obviously it ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people; the assured and experienced truths that are put first to the baby. But in a school today the baby has to submit to a system that is younger than himself. The flopping infant of four actually has more experience and has weathered the world longer than the dogma to which he is made to submit. Many a school boasts of having the latest ideas in education, when it has not even the first idea; for the first idea is that even innocence, divine as it is, may learn something from experience.

Implicit in Chesterton’s critique of the nature of modern education is a condemnation of the intellectual elitism that fuels the transient fads and fashions of the zeitgeist, the antidote to which is the timeless touchtone of Tradition.

It should, of course, be obvious that the disenfranchisement of the past inherent in the Common Core’s manic pursuit of novelty is not only an abandonment of the wisdom of the dead but also a disenfranchisement of the unborn. In denigrating and deriding the Great Books of Western Civilization, and the great ideas that informed them, the doyens of the modern academy have broken the continuum by which the wisdom of the ages is transmitted to each new generation. In refusing any authority beyond the individualism of the self, egocentric Man (homo superbus) has disinherited himself from his own priceless inheritance; in imposing his egocentric ethos on the Common Core, he is also disinheriting future generations. He is a contemptuous and therefore contemptible cad who not only kicks down the ladder by which he’s climbed but tries to destroy the ladder so that no-one coming after him can climb it either.

The Common Core is nothing less than the dogmatic imposition of radical relativism, the only philosophy compatible with homo superbus, a philosophy which goes hand in glove with the implementation of secular fundamentalism, the political ideology of homo superbus. Such a philosophy and its accompanying ideology refuses to tolerate anything but the things it tolerates itself, doing so in the name of “tolerance”, an egregious and outrageous example of the sheer chutzpah of Orwellian double-think! In short, homo superbus has recreated education in his own image, sacrificing all rival dogmas on the altar of self-worship he has erected to himself, on which the tabernacle of any god other than himself has been replaced by the mirror of self-referential subjectivism. There is no place in such self-referential education for religion or for any metaphysical philosophy, nor for the great writers and thinkers who espouse religion or a metaphysical understanding of the cosmos. Homer and Plato and Aristotle are vanquished, vanishing from school curricula. There’s no room for Dante or Chaucer or Shakespeare; or Austen or Dickens or Dostoyevsky. Instead today’s already malnourished high school students will be fed trivia and trash, selected on the basis of its perceived “relevance”. Instead of a good, solid education offering real meat and gravitas, American kids, thanks to the Common Core, are being fed a thin gruel of nutrient-free nonsense. A good education is health-food for the mind and soul, full of nourishing traditions; the Common Core offers only fast food and junk food for the soulless and the mindless.

The reductio ad absurdum at the heart of such a system of education was certainly not lost on Chesterton, who perceived it as the very antithesis of the object of a true education: “The whole point of education is that it should give a man abstract and eternal standards by which he can judge material and fugitive standards.” The problem is that the radical relativism of the Common Core presumes that there are no abstract and eternal standards but that, on the contrary, all standards are merely fugitive, here today and gone tomorrow. Education does not serve truth because there is no truth to serve. Chesterton’s bon mot will not serve as a motto for the modern academy because the modern academy does not serve anything but itself. Its motto is non serviam. In such circumstances, education ceases to be the means to an end because there is no end, in the objective sense of a purpose or meaning to life. Such an education, incarnate in the Common Core, is nothing less than the end of education in that other doom-laden sense of the word. It has put an end to it.

The tragedy of the Common Core is that it has left us perilously ignorant of who we are, where we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. We are lost and blissfully unaware that we are heading for the abyss. Such is the price we are doomed to pay for our blind faith in nothing in particular.

This article was first published in the International Business Times.

Gerard V. Bradley: Common Core Catastrophe

Editor’s Note: This guest commentary by University of Notre Dame Law Professor Gerard V. Bradley was originally published on November 15, 2016, at Public Discourse, an online publication of the Witherspoon Institute, and is reprinted here with permission.

Pyrotechnics about unsecured e-mails, groping, pay-to-play, and multiple personality disorders suffocated what was—early in the 2016 election cycle—an essential discussion about the most far-reaching reform of K-12 schooling in our country’s history. “Common Core” is the latest, and by far the most comprehensive, plan for national educational standards. Developed by a select group of consultants and bankrolled by the Gates Foundation, Common Core was aggressively promoted by the Obama administration beginning in 2010. Within eighteen months, forty-six states adopted it, 90 percent of them egged on by a chance to snag federal dollars in the form of “Race to the Top” funds.

Gerard V. Bradley
Gerard V. Bradley

President-elect Donald Trump regularly denounced Common Core on the primary campaign trail, beginning with his speech to CPAC in 2015. This also gave him an opportunity to browbeat Jeb Bush, a fervent early supporter of this educational overhaul. Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Common Core was limited to lamenting its “poor implementation”; about the revision’s basic soundness and desirability, she expressed no doubt. Had she prevailed last Tuesday, Common Core would have been safe in the hands of Clinton constituencies who brought it to life, especially the public education establishment and the business oligarchs who want shovel-ready workers. The grassroots rebellion against Common Core (which “paused” its implementation in 2013 or triggered reassessment of it in a few states) would have been squeezed from the top down. Those rebels must refocus President Trump’s attention upon Common Core and persuade him to ignite a national movement to roll it back.

The stated objective of Common Core is to produce “college- and career-ready” high school graduates. Yet even its proponents concede that it only prepares students for community-college level work. In truth, Common Core is a dramatic reduction of the nature and purpose of education to mere workforce preparation.

In 2013, a group of 132 scholars, myself among them, spoke out against Common Core. Our criticism was and is sound:

Common Core adopts a bottom-line, pragmatic approach to education. The heart of its philosophy is, as far as we can see, that it is a waste of resources to “over-educate” people. The basic goal of K-12 schools is to provide everyone with a modest skill set; after that, people can specialize in college – if they end up there. Truck-drivers do not need to know Huck Finn. Physicians have no use for the humanities. Only those destined to major in literature need to worry about Ulysses. …

Perhaps a truck-driver needs no acquaintance with Paradise Lostto do his or her day’s work. But everyone is better off knowing Shakespeare and Euclidian geometry, and everyone is capable of it. Everyone bears the responsibility of growing in wisdom and grace and in deliberating with fellow-citizens about how we should all live together. A sound education helps each of us to do so.

One silver lining that could be expected in this gray cloud is a renaissance for Catholic schools. The overwhelming majority of Catholic children attend public schools, there being “educated” according to Common Core’s secularized workforce prescription. Catholic parents who are informed about Common Core could be expected to seize the moment and switch their kids to one of the Church’s thousands of elementary or high schools.

For the contrast between a sound Catholic education and Common Core could scarcely be sharper. That difference was illumined by us, the 132 scholars—Catholics all—who addressed our letter (which was subsequently made public) to each of America’s bishops:

Common Core is innocent of America’s Catholic schools’ rich tradition of helping to form children’s hearts and minds. In that tradition, education brings children to the Word of God. It provides students with a sound foundation of knowledge and sharpens their faculties of reason. It nurtures the child’s natural openness to truth and beauty, his moral goodness, and his longing for the infinite and happiness. It equips students to understand the laws of nature and to recognize the face of God in their fellow man. Education in this tradition forms men and women capable of discerning and pursuing their path in life and who stand ready to defend truth, their church, their families, and their country.

The case for the incompatibility of Common Core with a Catholic education has now been extended, and completed, with the release of “After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core.” A joint publication of the Pioneer Institute and the American Principles Project, this white paper is authored by Anthony Esolen, Dan Guernsey, Jane Robbins, and Kevin Ryan. They observe that at

the heart of Common Core agenda is a century-old dream of Progressive educators to redirect education’s mission away from engaging the young in the best of human thought and focusing instead on preparation for “real life.” While a reasonable but quite secondary goal, workforce-development is dwarfed by Catholic schools’ transcendent goals of human excellence, spiritual transformation, and preparation for the “next life” as well.

In a compact but rich Preface to “After the Fall,” former ambassadors to the Holy See Raymond Flynn and Mary Ann Glendon write that the “basic goal of Common Core is not genuine education, but rather the training and production of workers for an economic machine.” By contrast, Catholic schools have traditionally provided “a classical liberal-arts education” that seeks to “impart moral lessons and deep truths about the human condition.” Glendon and Flynn observe that religion and the integrated humanist education that Catholic educators have long offered have “never been more needed than they are in this era of popular entertainment culture, opioid epidemics, street-gang violence, wide achievement gaps, and explosive racial tensions.” Just so.

It is no wonder, then, that John Doerfler, Catholic Bishop of Marquette, Michigan, recently announced his rejection of Common Core, saying that adopting it would not “benefit the mission, Catholic identity or academic excellence of our schools.” Just so.

Bishop Doerfler is, however, in the minorityHis rejection of Common Core is the exception, not the rule. In fact, most Catholic dioceses and archdioceses—approximately 100 (including New York and Los Angeles)—have adopted Common Core. This means that the vast majority of our nation’s Catholic schoolchildren will be taught from Common Core, whether they are enrolled in public or private Catholic schools.

“After the Fall” tells some of this sad tale. The de facto voice of Catholic education in America is the National Catholic Educational Association, to which about 85 percent of America’s 6500 Catholic schools belong. By May 2012, the NCEA was encouraging Catholic schools to embrace Common Core, gushing a bit later that it contained “high quality academic standards,” which would “in no way compromise the Catholic identity or educational program of a Catholic school.” Catholic school systems rushed to buy in. More recently and after much negative feedback, the NCEA has backed off its embrace of Common Core and has begun to provide some helpful resources and tools for teachers who have no choice but to teach within its strictures. But the damage of hasty adoption was done.

What could explain the mad rush? Anecdotal feedback to the Catholic scholars’ letter (which I not only signed but organized) strongly suggests that, in spite of so many enthusiastic public statements, Catholic educators recognized effortlessly that Common Core was deeply flawed. It is doubtful that any serious Catholic educator would have recommended adopting it, or anything like it, were it not for real or perceived pressure from public authorities and teachers’ organizations to do so. Their view seems to have been: Common Core is not good for a Catholic school, but it is not so bad that it needs to be rejected, at least where the local political and economic powers-that-be want us to go along with it. These Catholic educators thought that they could “work with” Common Core.

“After the Fall” carefully states and cogently refutes the pragmatic reasons offered by these Catholic educators for adopting Common Core. The study also shows—conclusively, in my judgment—that these educators’ pragmatic approach is ill-conceived in a deeper, more important, way: Common Core is so philosophically at odds with a sound Catholic education that an acceptable modus vivendi is unavailable. Trying to pour Common Core into such venerable wineskins will burst them.

I would add the further criticism that these educators’ accommodationism is shortsighted. It is ultimately a recipe for the demise of Catholic schools. Already a great many dedicated Catholic parents have withdrawn their children from Catholic schools due to low academic standards and substandard Catholic character. These parents homeschool or send their children to a burgeoning number of new “classical Christian” schools, which are almost always outside the control of the local Catholic educational establishment. Other dedicated parents send their children to decent public schools where they are available, reckoning that the avowedly secular atmosphere there at least portends no confusion about the content of the Catholic faith. Adopting Common Core will surely accelerate this exodus, a hemorrhage of precisely those students who should form a Catholic school’s backbone.

Left behind in many Catholic schools, especially but not only in Rust Belt cities, are non-Catholic students happy to escape under-performing public schools, as well as Catholics who are in it for sports, college prep, or an ambiance of social justice service projects. These are all good things, and a good Catholic school should have them if it can. But they are secondary features of a sound Catholic education, not essential ones. A perfectly good Catholic grade school might have no sports and no service projects, and a solid Catholic high school might enroll only a few students with serious college aspirations.

The important point is that the appetite (if you will) for an integral Catholic education is already perilously suppressed in a vast swath of this country’s Catholic schools. Students in them tolerate the distinctly Catholic quality of the education they are getting. But it is not a big reason for their attendance, and for some it is not a reason at all. Its decline would not deprive them of anything they came to a Catholic school to get. The decision of so many Catholic administrators and teachers to embrace Common Core probably reflects their recognition of exactly this unfortunate situation. They would give the students pretty much the education they want.

These schools are already far down the path of transition from providing a truly Catholic education (as it is so aptly described in “After the Fall”) to being more like a religiously inspired, affordable private alternative to dysfunctional public schools. The appeal of this denouement is undeniable: urban “Catholic” schools might be the best route up and out of the ghetto for thousands of non-Catholic children who deserve that opportunity. But this encouraging effect is and must be just that: a welcome side-benefit of providing a genuine Catholic education.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence is now in charge of the Trump transition. That is a good omen; as Indiana governor Pence heeded the grassroots rebellion against Common Core—led, as a matter of fact, by two very able moms (Erin Tuttle and Heather Crossin)—and orchestrated a significant modification of the curriculum. He should now be encouraged to recommend to Donald Trump the appointment of an Education Secretary who will release the pressure from Washington, and instead encourage the states to explore alternatives to Common Core.

For those interested in genuine Catholic education, the politics is local. School parents and others with the best interests of students at heart will have to seek, and insist politely, on receiving straight answers from principals and administrators about whether, and to what extent, Common Core is in their schools. In places such as Marquette, Michigan, officials from the bishop on down should be thanked for their stand against it. In the hundred or so jurisdictions where Common Core (or something practically indistinguishable from it) is in place, respectful but firm corrective action is needed, including the organization of parents who want more than workforce prep for their Catholic school children. The sponsors of “After the Fall”—American Principles Project and Pioneer Institute—have the resources and the experts to help.

Eight Bad Reasons for Adopting Common Core in Catholic Schools

There are many expertly crafted reasons presented in After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core for why Common Core State Standards are insufficient for Catholic education. Among them are refutations of eight popular arguments used by proponents of the controversial standards to justify Common Core in Catholic schools.


After the Fall was published by the Pioneer Institute in collaboration with American Principles Project in October 2016. The Cardinal Newman Society praised the report for its “devastating critique” of Common Core’s use in Catholic schools.

The Cardinal Newman Society’s Dr. Dan Guernsey, director of K-12 education programs, and his co-authors of After the Fall, Dr. Anthony Esolen, Jane Robbins and Dr. Kevin Ryan, show why Catholic school leaders should move above and beyond the flawed Common Core standards by embracing truly Catholic standards of excellence in education, such as the Newman Society’s new Catholic Curriculum Standards.

Below are eight bad reasons for adopting Common Core in Catholic schools that are debunked in After the Fall:

Bad Reason #1: “Catholic schools need to adopt the Common Core standards because they are high-quality standards that will keep test scores high and enable Catholic schools to compete with public schools.”

Debunked: “Catholic schools have been outperforming public schools by double-digit margins for the last 20 years on federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math tests (often referred to as “the nation’s report card”). Catholic-school college preparation is outstanding, with over 99 percent of students graduating from high school and 84 percent going on to four-year colleges (almost double the public-school rate). … These statistics establish that in adopting the Common Core, Catholic schools were attempting to fix what was not broken. …

“Five years into the Common Core experiment, the [test score] data is at best mixed, and in fact NAEP scores are dropping, although causation is not yet clear.”

Bad Reason #2: “Catholic schools need to adopt the Common Core standards because some states require Catholic-school students to take state tests aligned to them.”

Debunked: Only six states “require that Catholic-school students at some point take state-administered tests … but wholescale adoption of the Common Core standards is not necessary or advisable, especially as the state tests themselves are in flux.

“Roughly 90 percent of states either leave Catholic schools entirely alone on testing issues or only require them to take a nationally normed test … of their own choice. There are a number of non-Common Core options for schools to choose from … Catholic schools should be wary of simply choosing Common Core-based tests because they are perceived as being more current or valid. State testing related to the Common Core is still uncertain and controversial.”

Bad Reason #3: “Catholic schools need to adopt the Common Core standards because they will influence college-entrance exams.”

Debunked: Commenting on the two major college entrance exams, the ACT and the SAT, “ACT is not beholden to the Common Core,” and “If the SAT were to swerve too deeply into the Common Core, hampering its perceived ability to evaluate all students across the nation, ACT will gain millions of more customers from non-Common Core schools.”

Further, “About a thousand colleges and universities, including more than 125 featured in U.S. News and World Report rankings, no longer require SAT or ACT scores at all.”

Bad Reason #4: “Catholic schools need to adopt the Common Core standards because most teachers will be trained under the new standards, and most teacher in-services for ongoing development will occur in a Common Core world.”

Debunked: “While this argument seems plausible on the surface, it is also true that for years, when states had different standards, it was never thought that a teacher trained in Michigan under its specific curricular standards would therefore be unqualified to teach in Florida under its different particular curricular standards. A professional educator with strong core teaching skills can easily adapt to a set of curriculum standards. It simply was never an issue before. …

“Competent educators can move skillfully through any set of standards. To a professional educator, there is nothing sacrosanct, magical, or deeply mysterious about a particular set of standards.”

Bad Reason #5: “Catholic schools need to adopt the Common Core standards because most textbooks and materials will reference them.”

Debunked: “Most textbooks have always covered a broad set of standards. Teachers in individual states would adapt the use of those texts to ensure that they meet their own state standards. In fact, even though there is a related effort to nationalize science standards, there technically are no Common Core science standards today. Each state has its own history standards, yet that does not prevent states from using the same textbooks to teach to their individual standards. This dynamic has not changed. Catholic educators can still follow their own standards and not be lost in interacting with any textbooks, Common Core-based or not.”

Bad Reason #6: “Catholic schools can adopt the Common Core standards because criticism of them is just ‘political,’ not educational.”

Debunked: “To say that [critics’] legitimate concerns about academic rigor and Catholic identity are ‘political as opposed to educational’ is dismissive and ignores their legitimate educational concerns. Even the many concerns of a political nature that plague the Common Core, specifically about the proper role of government in citizens’ lives, are legitimate and should not be simply dismissed. Catholics are citizens and have the responsibility to ensure the political order operates for the common good. …

“Few activities are more ‘political’ than forming other people’s children. It is the responsibility and duty of politics to inform this process. Political concerns, even though they are not the focus of this report, cannot simply be brushed away.”

Bad Reason #7: “Catholic schools can adopt the Common Core standards since schools can simply ‘infuse’ Catholicism into the existing standards.”

Debunked: “Most Catholics would agree it is a good and important thing for Catholic schools to infuse their curriculum with Catholic subject matter as appropriate. … However, a fundamental concern remains: The Common Core standards are not enough to guide the complete intellectual formation in a Catholic school. The attempt to ‘work within’ the Common Core by infusing Catholic content (or, as the superintendent of schools in one archdiocese said, to use the Common Core but ‘sprinkle Catholicism on top’) is inadequate — ultimately much more is needed to retain a genuine Catholic education.”

Bad Reason #8: “Catholic schools can adopt the Common Core standards since standards are not a curriculum and therefore do not really affect what, when, and how Catholic schools teach.”

Debunked: “Especially in Catholic education, mission should drive standards; standards should drive curriculum. Both standards and curriculum serve the mission. If mission drives standards, then to the degree the Catholic schools’ educational mission is similar to public schools’ (e.g., in teaching basic math skills to second-graders), there can be some sharing of standards (if there is proof of their effectiveness). However, to the degree that elements of the Catholic mission are broader than the public schools’, different or additional standards are required. …

“The Common Core is clear that it seeks to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to prepare students for college and career. If there is any other purpose to education, the Common Core does not recognize it. The mission of a Catholic school, though, is much broader.”

Let’s Move Beyond the Common Core in Catholic Schools

By now, it should be apparent that the Common Core State Standards for schools won’t come close to fulfilling the grand promises of its proponents.

Parents, scholars, unions and the media all seem to be painfully aware of the fact — but after the mad rush to implement the standards, create new tests and market new textbooks, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of momentum to change course.

At least, that’s true of the nation’s public schools. But our Catholic schools can and should do much better, with standards that truly reflect their Catholic mission. I get the sense that most Catholics are eager to move above and beyond, and many dioceses are already working on it.

Last December, the Associated Press reported a “backlash” against Common Core in Catholic schools. Families want what’s best for their kids, and so do Catholic school leaders. Now’s the time to unite behind something better.

major new report on the Common Core might be just the catalyst that we need to finally break away. After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core is published by the reputable Pioneer Institute and the American Principles Project, whose founder Robert George of Princeton University joined more than 130 Catholic scholars in a letter criticizing the Common Core in 2013.

The new report presents a rather dismal picture of Catholic education under the Common Core, but its conclusion is hopeful, suggesting that Catholic schools may have a special opportunity amid the chaos to reassert their superiority. Urging the Church to embrace and celebrate faithful Catholic education, the authors claim, “Now is the time for Catholic schools to press their advantage.”

Nothing could be more welcome to beleaguered Catholics today, after the long slide in Catholic school enrollment and Catholic identity over recent decades. In today’s society, we greatly need strong Catholic schools.

Incompatible and unsuited

The authors of After the Fall know this well. Anthony Esolen is the insightful author and critic from Providence College whose expertise is literature — perhaps the worst casualty of the Common Core. Dan Guernsey is the visionary expert in Catholic education who is launching an outstanding teacher program at Ave Maria University and leads The Cardinal Newman Society’s K-12 education programs. Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project and Kevin Ryan of Boston University have made great contributions to education policy, especially in their criticism of the Common Core.

Together they have provided Catholics “a tremendous service,” according to two of America’s former ambassadors to the Vatican: Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon and former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn. In their preface to the report, Flynn and Glendon declare the Common Core standards “incompatible with and unsuited for a traditional Catholic education.”

The specific arguments are provided by the authors of After the Fall. They delve into three “insufficiencies” of the Common Core: its “misunderstanding of the nature of character formation due to a corrupting workforce-development view,” its “misunderstanding of the nature of literature due to a lack of understanding about man, creativity, and God,” and its “misunderstanding of the liberal arts due to a lack of understanding about the relationship of man and God to each other and to everything else.”

They could have simply written that the Common Core ignores what is most important to Catholics about God and man. But that’s the point that critics have been saying all along. What makes After the Fall such an important document is that it carefully examines and debunks arguments for the Common Core and then explains the case for faithfully Catholic standards of education, all in great detail. It should convince the most devoted fan of the Common Core.

The intended audience is clearly Catholic school leaders and scholars, but any Catholic will benefit from its outstanding defense of authentic Catholic education.

Toward better standards

After the Fall validates many of the concerns of Common Core critics, but it shouldn’t be used simply for an “I told you so” moment. Instead, as the authors strongly encourage, now is the time to more deeply examine the purpose of Catholic education and embrace educational standards that appropriately drive the curriculum and fulfill the mission of Catholic schools. The prospect is very exciting.

“A benefit of the Common Core to Catholic schools,” according to authors of After the Fall, “is that it has drawn attention to the need for Catholic educators to better articulate exactly what the unique standards and elements of Catholic education might be.”

Next week, The Cardinal Newman Society will be releasing Catholic curriculum standards to help move this process forward. Dioceses and other organizations have made important contributions as well.

After the Fall is what the Education Department of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recommended three years ago, when it warned, “The CCSS [Common Core] should be neither adopted nor rejected without review, study, consultation, discussion and caution.” The office also advised:

Catholic schools must consider standards that support the mission and purpose of the school as a Catholic institution. Attempts to compartmentalize the religious and the secular in Catholic schools reflect a relativistic perspective by suggesting that faith is merely a private matter and does not have a significant bearing on how reality as a whole should be understood. Such attempts are at odds with the integral approach to education that is a hallmark of Catholic schools. Standards that support an appropriate integration should be encouraged.

Well-intentioned Catholic educators have tried to contort Common Core to fit within Catholic schools. But as the After the Fall authors suggest, such efforts ultimately will not be successful, because the design and purpose of the standards makes them impossible.

Focusing standards on the mission of Catholic schools, however, is eminently possible — and necessary. It’s a great time to get it done.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

high school class

Common Core ‘Never Needed’ in Catholic Schools, Says Study’s Lead Author

Is the great debate over the use of Common Core State Standards in Catholic schools finally resolved? It should be, especially with this week’s publication of After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core, the first thorough academic critique of the standards and their impact on Catholic education.

Dr. Dan Guernsey, director of K-12 programs for The Cardinal Newman Society, was the lead author of the report, joined by education experts Dr. Anthony Esolen of Providence College, Jane Robbins of American Principles Project and Dr. Kevin Ryan of Boston University. The study was jointly sponsored by the Boston-based research group Pioneer Institute and the public policy organization American Principles Project.

Since the release of the Common Core in 2010, Catholic families, educators and even some bishops have expressed concern about use of the standards in Catholic schools. The Cardinal Newman Society strongly cautioned school leaders against rushing to adopt the Common Core and launched the Catholic Is Our Core initiative to inform families and educators about the standards’ failings. The essential concern is that the Common Core’s one-size-fits-all secular approach to education and its emphasis on preparing students for college and workforce training are incompatible with the much higher goals and mission of Catholic schools.

In After the Fall, Dr. Guernsey and his fellow scholars confirm the warnings of the Newman Society and many other critics of the Common Core.

In about 50 pages of analysis, the authors debunk key arguments that Catholic school leaders have made when adopting the Common Core in Catholic schools. The report explains how the philosophy behind Common Core simply cannot be reconciled with the mission of Catholic education.

I spoke recently with Dr. Guernsey about the findings in After the Fall and his thoughts about the Common Core’s impact on Catholic education:

What was the conventional wisdom at the time the Common Core was first adopted in Catholic schools, in terms of it being a good idea?

Dr. Guernsey: Conventional wisdom at first seemed to be: Common Core was just business as usual for Catholic schools, seeking to adapt to the latest state standards that had come their way — only this time the scale was national.

Previously, some dioceses had followed their individual state standards closely, in some cases not so closely, and many Catholic educators and parents did not overly concern themselves with their state’s standards. It seemed prudent to some professional educators to get out ahead of the new standards and do them better than the public schools, and thus ensure our competitive advantage.

The problem was that the standards obfuscated our real competitive advantage as Catholic schools: we educate the whole person and have access to full and transcendent views of man, his purpose and his ultimate good.

Also, the early conventional wisdom of some professional educators failed to predict the tremendous negative backlash that accompanied the Common Core and the concerns of parents who were seeking an elite education — that their expensive private school was now just “common” like the public schools they fled.

Overall, and compared to public schools, in what position were Catholic schools academically before Common Core?

Dr. Guernsey: The Common Core was purportedly designed to meet the perceived academic crisis in public schools. But no such crisis existed in Catholic schools.

Catholic schools have been outperforming public schools by double-digit margins for the last 20 years on federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math tests (often referred to as “the nation’s report card”). Catholic-school college preparation is outstanding, with over 99 percent of students graduating from high school and 84 percent going on to four-year colleges (almost double the public-school rate). Once they get to college, Catholic-school graduates are twice as likely as those from public schools to graduate from college within eight years of high-school graduation (62 percent vs. 31 percent).

These statistics suggest that in adopting the Common Core, Catholic schools were attempting to fix what was not broken. Why Catholic schools should plunge into an untested “solution” for a nonexistent problem has never been satisfactorily explained.

And what effect has Common Core had on Catholic school academics where it’s been implemented?

Dr. Guernsey: There is no specific published data on how Catholic schools’ standardized test scores per se have done post-Common Core. We do know that for all schools, five years into the Common Core experiment, the data is at best mixed. NAEP scores are dropping and below expectations, although causation is not yet clear.

But what we are not hearing is wide-scale applause and admiration for the Common Core. It has not delivered. Public school teacher support for the Common Core has dropped from 76 percent to 40 percent. So the bloom is off the rose.

So Common Core hasn’t led to test scores going through the roof and kids being more prepared for college?

Dr. Guernsey: There is no evidence that the Common Core has led to increased test scores. There is data to suggest that five years into the Common Core, professors report that students are less prepared for college.

Again, it is hard to prove strict causation, but according to the 2016 ACT National Curriculum Survey, while in 2009 and 2012, 26 percent of college instructors reported that their incoming students were well prepared for college-level work, by 2016 that the percentage had dropped to 16 percent. ACT also found that of those college instructors who reported a degree of familiarity with the Common Core, a full 60 percent reported that the Common Core expectations were not “completely” or “a great deal” aligned to what the professors expect of their college student.

What about Catholic educators? How has the adoption of Common Core in Catholic schools impacted their ability to teach and form students?

Dr. Guernsey: Those in the know have always been free to work around the standards as they see fit. Since the standards set minimums, Catholic educators can and should do more. A danger is that those not fully aware of the weaknesses in the standards or those not fully immersed in the Catholic intellectual tradition, might not know what they do not know.

In an effort to help address this potential need, The Cardinal Newman Society has been publishing several helpful resources available on our website. The most recent, being released this month, is a set of Catholic Curriculum Standards which seek to outline specific elements of the Catholic intellectual tradition which schools should include in their efforts to teach math, history, science and literature.

In terms of the mission of Catholic schools and overall student formation, what effect has Common Core had on Catholic schools?

Dr. Guernsey: It’s hard to say what has happened, but my sense is that Catholic educators as a whole are more attuned to figuring out what the specific mission of Catholic education is. The grief many Catholic schools who implemented the Common Core experienced caused them to dig deeper to justify to their customer base why they are different from public schools. This is a great development.

Here, again, The Cardinal Newman Society has developed crucial resources including our forthcoming Principles of Catholic Identity in Education which outlines the Church’s expectations for her schools.

Is it safe to say Common Core was never needed in Catholic schools and should have never been implemented?

Dr. Guernsey: It is safe to say they were never needed. If mission drives standards, then to the degree the Catholic schools’ educational mission is similar to public schools’ (e.g., in teaching basic math skills to second-graders), there can be some sharing of standards, if there is proof of their effectiveness. However, there is no proof the Common Core standards are an improvement over other standards.

Surprisingly, there is little data to suggest that better standards even result in higher test scores. Education is much more complex than that. But even if some still want to try to maintain that the Common Core standards are effective, they are just one set of possible standards among hundreds that are out there, many of which have stronger track records.

That being said, we also have to remember that to the degree that elements of the Catholic mission are broader than the public schools’, different or additional standards are required.

So what should Catholic schools do now?

Dr. Guernsey: As we wrote in the conclusiong of After the Fall:

To the degree that Catholic schools learn to articulate and embrace the Catholic intellectual tradition and their unique salvific mission, they have a pearl of great price. They have the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

A quality religious education is the number one reason Catholic school parents (the customer base) decide to enroll in Catholic schools; a safe environment and quality academics are close behind. Catholic schools have a competitive advantage in that they are free to offer all of these elements in an uncommon way — according to their standards of excellence. They can cater to parents’ natural desire for their child to experience excellence rather than basic common educational norms.

The Common Core helps throw this reality into stark relief. The distinct mission of Catholic schools is clearer and can stand out now more than ever. Now is the time for Catholic schools to press their advantage.

Catholic Schools Should Leave Common Core Behind

Nearly three years ago, The Cardinal Newman Society urged Catholic school leaders to exercise caution and refrain from rushing into adoption of the Common Core State Standards. In meetings with bishops and diocesan superintendents, we and other education advocates raised important concerns:

  • We said the Common Core was developed for secular public schools and fails to address key priorities in Catholic education.
  • We warned that its utilitarian objectives are contrary to the mission of Catholic education.
  • We noted that the untested Common Core has nothing to offer Catholic schools that already excel and score high on national tests.

Today our concerns are validated and confirmed by a new, thorough and scholarly critique of the Common Core’s use in Catholic schools. After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core is published by the Pioneer Institute in collaboration with American Principles Project and authored by Dr. Dan Guernsey, director of K-12 education programs for The Cardinal Newman Society, along with the impressive Dr. Anthony Esolen, Jane Robbins and Dr. Kevin Ryan.

After the Fall should finally and forever convince Catholic school leaders to move above and beyond the flawed Common Core standards by embracing truly Catholic standards of excellence in education.

For Catholic schools to thrive and fulfill their mission of forming the whole person — mind, body and soul — they must make the Catholic faith the core of all that they do. Sprinkling Catholicism on top of secular Common Core standards, as After the Fall describes the approach recommended by some Catholic educators, in fact weakens Catholic identity and denies students the formation that is essential to a truly Catholic education.

The fact of the matter is faithful Catholic schools already outperform secular schools and help prepare students not only for college and career, but more importantly for this life and the next. They do well because of their emphasis on Christian formation, which is absent from the Common Core and other government standards.

Because Common Core gets man wrong, it gets education wrong. Catholic insight into human nature and into man’s relationships with his fellow man, nature, and God allows for a more complete exploration of the world and not just all that is in it, but also that which transcends it as well. We are about a more substantial project and need more substantial standards. The Cardinal Newman society will soon be releasing resources to aid the discussion of what those standards might include.

Before the publication of this new scholarly analysis, there was already considerable momentum in Catholic education away from dependence on the Common Core and toward a more faith-centered approach to Catholic education. With After the Fall’s devastating critique proving accurate Catholic concerns about the Common Core, we hope this trend will continue.

It’s time for all Catholic schools to turn the page. Catholic is the core of Catholic education.

For more information about the Common Core click here

Child doing homework

10 Facts Every Catholic Should Know About the Common Core

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from a 2014 newsletter, which was based upon materials The Cardinal Newman Society provided to U.S. bishops at a November 2013 meeting.


In December 2013, The Cardinal Newman Society issued a statement expressing serious reservations about the rapid adoption of the Common Core State Standards in Catholic schools across the country:

The Cardinal Newman Society is concerned that adoption of the Common Core at this time is premature. Worse, it may be a mistake that will be difficult or impossible to undo for years to come.

We do not doubt the good intentions of those who advocate the Common Core in Catholic schools, and we acknowledge their confidence that Catholic schools can maintain a strong Catholic identity even while measuring their quality according to secular standards.

But we do not share this confidence, in light of the sad experience in recent decades of many Catholic colleges, hospitals, and charities that believed they could infuse Catholic identity into the secular standards that they embraced.

The Common Core standards — developed with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and promoted with federal grants from the Obama administration — were adopted rapidly by many states and have quickly become controversial, often in the political arena but also in Catholic circles. We responded to these radical changes in education by launching our Catholic Is Our Core initiative. We have also expanded our programs for K-12 Catholic education. Our added expert staff will promote and defend faithful Catholic education with regard to Catholic school standards, accreditation, teacher orientation, new school startup procedures while we continue our popular Catholic Education Honor Roll.

This has all moved so rapidly, and The Cardinal Newman Society continues to receive questions about the Common Core and Catholic education nearly every day. For your convenience, we have detailed 10 facts that every Catholic should know about the Common Core. In addition, our statement on the Common Core and many other helpful resources are available on our special Common Core website, We welcome your contributions of additional information and insights that may be valuable to Catholic parents, educators, pastors, and bishops.

1. The Common Core is not mandatory for Catholic schools.

No government has required the Common Core in private schools, and Catholic educators are under no obligation to conform. It is up to each state whether to adopt the standards as their own, and those standards are mandatory only for government schools.

Nevertheless, for decades many Catholic schools have voluntarily conformed their curricula and teaching to secular state standards — now Common Core in most states.

The lack of distinct standards for authentic Catholic education has long been a concern, but it is getting more attention due to the national controversy over the Common Core.

2. The Common Core is not intended for Catholic education.

The Common Core’s stated purpose falls far short of the Holy See’s rich vision for Catholic education: “The standards … are designed to ensure students are prepared for today’s entry-level careers, freshman-level college courses, and workforce training programs.”

While educators and reformers are hotly debating whether the Common Core’s objectives are appropriate for government schools, clearly the objectives were not developed with Catholic education in mind. Catholic education is much greater than college and career preparation.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, former secretary to the Congregation for Catholic Education, explained in a 2005 lecture at The Catholic University of America:

The enduring foundation on which the Church builds her educational philosophy is the conviction that it is a process which forms the whole child, especially with his or her eyes fixed on the vision of God. The specific purpose of a Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of this world, enriching society with the leaven of the Gospel, but who will also be citizens of the world to come. Catholic schools have a straightforward goal: to foster the growth of good Catholic human beings who love God and neighbor and thus fulfill their destiny of becoming saints.

3. Catholic schools already outperform public schools.

The Common Core is a response to the failings of government schools. It can’t be assumed that the standards will improve Catholic schools, which for two decades have outperformed public schools on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests. In 2013, eighth-grade students at Catholic schools had an average score of 286 in reading (as compared to 226 at government schools) and 295 in math (284 at government schools).

Likewise, in 2011, students from “religious schools” far outperformed those at government schools on the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT). They scored 531 in reading (government schools 449), 533 in math (government schools 506) and 528 in writing (government schools 483).

Some have expressed concern that national tests are adjusting to conform to the Common Core. This is true of many common tests like the SAT and the California Achievement Test (CAT). Others, like the ACT college readiness test and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, will remain stable for at least several years. Regardless, students with a strong Catholic education should continue to perform well on Common Core-adjusted tests.

Meanwhile, Catholic educators can and should develop national tests that measure success according to authentic Catholic education standards.  Testing companies will be eager to serve more than 2 million Catholic school students plus homeschoolers, and quality colleges will continue to be eager to recruit graduates with a traditional Catholic education.

4. Catholic schools already prepare students for college and career.

Even if the Common Core truly helps prepare students for college and career, Catholic education has no apparent need of such help. According to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), Catholic high schools already have a 99 percent graduation rate, as opposed to 73 percent in government schools. Most Catholic school graduates attend four-year colleges (85 percent), as opposed to fewer than half (44 percent) of government school graduates.

It is primarily two-year community colleges and government universities that have expressed enthusiasm for the Common Core standards, which aim for entry-level job skills. An authentic Catholic education prepares students for success in life as well as vocation, and the typical graduate is well-prepared for a college-level liberal arts education.

5. The Common Core is rushed, untested and experimental.

The Common Core was developed quietly by a few bureaucrats using Gates Foundation funds and then “sold” to the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to avoid public scrutiny and accountability. It became popular to educators and then legislators as the Obama administration dangled a promise of federal grants, causing many states to adopt Common Core standards even before they were completed. Catholic educators and bishops were warned that “it is important to get on board” with the untested standards.

The Common Core standards have never been tested, and there is no evidence that they will achieve their objectives of college and career readiness. Indeed, although standards influence how educational success is measured, even the “best” state standards — as ranked by the respected Thomas B. Fordham Institute — have no discernible impact on student outcomes.

Instead, the Common Core’s English language and “new math” standards were developed by little-known “experts” with no solid research basis, despite misleading claims. For instance, the push for reading more “informational texts” — such as manuals and scientific articles — relies upon distortions of NAEP data. The 2006 federal Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that higher NAEP scores for literacy in fact correlate to more reading of novels and less frequent reading of information.

6. The Common Core is (ultimately) about textbooks and curriculum.

The Common Core’s proponents note that standards are not the same as curricula, textbooks or teaching, and so adopting the Common Core does not — in itself — control what happens in the classroom. But it’s disingenuous to ignore the huge impact that standards can have on students. Textbook publishers and testing companies are already conforming to the Common Core, and the standards do prompt changes in curricula and teaching.

The Gates Foundation has committed more than $10.5 million in grants to develop Common Core-compliant curricula. In May 2014, the Foundation also granted $10 million to the New Ventures Fund to help implement Common Core with “lesson plan content, webinars, online platforms for sharing instruction plans, and networking events.”

Textbook publishers look to make millions of dollars with new products that conform to the Common Core, and many such texts are already in Catholic schools. Not surprisingly, publishers are among the leading supporters of the Common Core.

7. The Common Core may hinder students’ education and formation.

Hardly the least concern, critics have noted several ways in which the Common Core could do real harm to education. The standards demand greater emphasis on reading informational texts, with a corresponding decrease in great literature. Some recommended (not required) texts are morally problematic. The “new math” techniques ignore traditional and successful math programs. Math standards are lowered: pre-algebra or algebra is no longer the eighth-grade norm, nor pre-calculus or calculus for 12th grade. Some of the expectations are simply not age-appropriate.

The emphasis on skills and career preparation ignores other aspects of student formation that are key to Catholic education. Proponents argue that the Common Core can be supplemented with Catholic instruction, so weak standards do no harm. But if the success of schools and students is measured by the Common Core standards, the natural inclination is to reduce attention to Catholic identity and student formation. It is the same path taken by now-secularized Catholic colleges.

8. The Common Core violates the principle of subsidiarity.

National standards tend to confine educators to a particular vision for education, which stifles innovation and threatens the independence and unique mission of Catholic schools. In April of 2014, the U.S. bishops’ office for Catholic education issued a statement acknowledging their concerns about the Common Core:

In the Church, the principle of subsidiarity directs that human events are best handled at the lowest possible level, closest to the individuals affected by the decisions being made. … This principle provides a great strength for Catholic schools as it gives the local diocesan and school community the ability to make decisions at the school level related to guidelines and curriculum. It also allows for adjustments and adaptations to be made by teachers and administrators for the children under their care.

Subsidiarity also applies to the parents’ role as first educators of their children, a fact taught clearly in the Holy See’s teaching on Catholic education. Parents have been largely absent from decisions regarding the Common Core. Our Catholic Is Our Core initiative seeks to bring parents into the conversation so their concerns are heard.

9. The Common Core may endanger religious freedom for Catholic educators.

State and federal involvement in Common Core could lead to religious liberty violations. Catholic schools’ protection from threats like the HHS mandate depends on showing consistent Catholic identity, because First Amendment protections often depend on demonstrating a bona fide religious character. The Common Core may diminish a school’s Catholic identity by “crowding out” important elements of authentic Catholic formation, emphasizing skills and practicality over vocation, and failing to teach reasoning from a foundation of truth.

10. Our “common core” is our Catholic faith.

Catholic education didn’t become successful by striving for secular standards; its success begins with its Catholic mission. Traditional classroom methods and pedagogy in Catholic schools developed precisely because of the desire to form students morally, spiritually, intellectually and socially. “Reforms” that are not rooted in the Catholic faith are unlikely to bear good fruit.

Many educators see the danger. In a Cardinal Newman Society survey of Catholic high school principals, only 26 percent told us they prefer to adopt the Common Core as it is, without significant changes to protect Catholic identity. Among principals of our Catholic High School Honor Roll schools, 32 percent would reject the Common Core entirely, while 40 percent want the Church to pause and take more time to study the standards.

Our purpose, then, for our Catholic Is Our Core initiative remains “to provide those concerned about faithful Catholic education with solid information, analysis and arguments to more fully understand the potential impact of the Common Core on Catholic education and to advise caution about the Common Core until it can be further studied and evaluated.” It is our hope that the Common Core proves to be the catalyst that leads to more helpful standards and reforms, resulting in even stronger Catholic education.

Statement Regarding Common Core

December 20, 2013 – In recent decades, Church leaders, together with Catholic families, have come to better appreciate that Catholic identity is essential to Catholic schools’ mission, teaching methods, curriculum, and appeal.  It is because of their Catholic identity that schools are most attentive to the needs of students and their families.  “These Catholic schools afford the fullest and best opportunity to realize the fourfold purpose of Christian education, namely to provide an atmosphere in which the Gospel message is proclaimed, community in Christ is experienced, service to our sisters and brothers is the norm, and thanksgiving and worship of our God is cultivated” (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium, 2005).

Although Catholic schools in the United States—which have served students and the Church in an exemplary way for more than a century—have avoided many of the pedagogical and curricular trends in public schools, some Catholic educators have recently advocated for Catholic schools to adopt or adapt the untested and increasingly controversial Common Core State Standards Initiative.

We have grave concerns.  This school reform effort is nothing short of a revolution in how education is provided, relying on a technocratic, top-down approach to setting national standards that, despite claims to the contrary, will drive curricula, teaching texts, and the content of standardized tests.  At its heart, the Common Core is a woefully inadequate set of standards in that it limits the understanding of education to a utilitarian “readiness for work” mentality.

Well-intentioned proponents of adopting the Common Core in Catholic schools have argued that Catholic identity can be “infused” into the Core.  This approach misses the point that authentic Catholic identity is not something that can be added to education built around thoroughly secular standards, but that our faith must be the center of—and fundamental to—everything that a Catholic school does.

The Common Core revolution in American education was launched behind closed doors and rushed to implementation in public schools with the promise of tax dollars as an inducement—even though all the Standards have not yet been completed, and those that have been released are controversial among many expert educators and parents.  Catholic educators need not rush to follow this potentially dangerous path.

There is an ongoing, healthy debate about whether the Common Core is appropriate in public schools, and even more so in Catholic schools.  Let it run its course.  The Cardinal Newman Society—together with the countless Catholic parents, principals and pastors we have heard from—is concerned that we will be locked into the Common Core before it has been thoroughly and rigorously evaluated.

Most troubling in the public debate about whether Catholic schools should adopt the Common Core is that parents, whom the Church recognizes are the primary educators of their children, have been largely absent from it.  They lack sufficient information to make judgments about the Common Core.  And yet, as the Church has clearly taught, parents deserve a strong voice in deciding whether to embrace this “fundamental shift” in Catholic education, as the Common Core has been described by one leading Catholic advocate.

The Cardinal Newman Society is concerned that adoption of the Common Core at this time is premature.  Worse, it may be a mistake that will be difficult or impossible to undo for years to come.  We do not doubt the good intentions of those who advocate the Common Core in Catholic schools, and we acknowledge their confidence that Catholic schools can maintain a strong Catholic identity even while measuring their quality according to secular standards.  But we do not share this confidence, in light of the sad experience in recent decades of many Catholic colleges, hospitals, and charities that believed they could infuse Catholic identity into the secular standards that they embraced.

We seek to help inform the dialogue about the Common Core with our new project and website, Catholic Is Our Core (, while expanding the conversation to include parents, educators and principals who have largely been absent from the debate.  The Cardinal Newman Society’s mission is to promote and defend faithful Catholic education.  We are working closely with key Catholic education experts and others to provide analysis of the Core and its potential impact on Catholic schools.  We seek to provide those concerned about faithful Catholic education with solid information, analysis and arguments to more fully understand the potential impact of the Common Core on Catholic education and to advise caution about the Common Core until it can be further studied and evaluated.