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.

NAEP Scores Suggest Some Concerns for Catholic Schools


While Catholic school scores continue to dominate public school scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), it is the internal trends of these scores that tell an interesting story. Grade 8 Catholic school math scores have seen a decline since 2009 after an almost decade trend of gains. Fourth grade math scores showed a steady decline in the differential between public and Catholic school scores from 2000 to 2013 with a rebound, finally, in 2015. NAEP is “the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas”. It serves as a common metric for states and stays essentially the same from year to year.


On October 30, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) published an article stating in its lead paragraph that “Catholic school scores continue to trend higher than public school scores overall by up to 20 percentage points.”  Highlighting the fact that Catholic schools “marry rigorous academics, faith formation and Catholic identity,” the article details the major comparisons between 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

That’s great news.  But while Catholic schools might still be outpacing the public schools in overall average NAEP scores, fluctuations and the continued decline in 8th grade math scores since 2009 warrant further study, especially in terms of the effects of the Common Core standards in many Catholic schools and instructional shifts required to implement the standards.

Scores for public school 8th grade students in both reading and mathematics showed a decrease this year, but so did Catholic school NAEP scores.  In both 8th grade math and reading, Catholic student scores dipped by 2 points.  On the other hand, 4th grade reading scores increased by 2 points and 4th grade math by one point.

8th Grade Math and Reading Scores Decline

Looking closely at the average math scores for 8th grade Catholic school students (see Table 1) reveals a decrease in the average score for Catholic students since 2009.  Catholic schools had enjoyed a run of an average 2 additional points per year, but in 2011 we saw a slide of 2 points that held steady in 2013 then declined again in 2015.  With the NAEP acting as the steady barometer of U.S. student abilities, not having been significantly changed since the early 1990s, we need to ask what’s happening in Catholic schools to cause the lower test scores.

Catholic school NAEP scores for 8th grade mathematics have outdistanced public school scores by an average 12-point spread since 1996, but when one examines the Catholic scores closely, the average increase per test drops from 2.4 (1996–2009) to -1.3 (2011–2015).  Calculating the trend for the full administration of the tests,1 Catholic schools saw a 1.11 per-test increase from 1996–2015.  Yet we have a 2-point drop in 2015.

The 2015 reading score for 8th grade Catholic school students has also declined. While it still represents a 20-point advantage above public school scores, this internal decline is worth noting, because it is out of the expected trend for 2015. The average point increase from 1998 to 2013 was .06 points, so one would not expect a 2-point reduction.

Table 1: 2015 NAEP (2013) – 8th Grade

2015 NAEP (2013) – 8 th Grade


4th Grade Math and Reading Score Trends

The difference in scores between 4th grade Catholic school and public school students (Table 2) remains substantial in reading, with Catholic scores averaging 16 points higher than scores for public school students.  The Catholic reading score increased a promising 2 points after some stagnation since 2009.

What is interesting is this year’s reversal of a trend showing a steady decline in the difference between Catholic and public school student 4th grade math scores since 2000.  In 2015 the differential increased 2 points, after decreasing in every assessment from 2003 to 2013.  The Catholic school average score increased one point this year.

Table 2: 2015 NAEP (2013) – 4th Grade

2015 NAEP (2013) – 4 th Grade


Changes to 8th Grade Math

One factor to consider with regard to math scores is the traditional pace in Catholic schools to move students toward Algebra I in 8th grade.  Catholic school data is not available when drilling down to compare scores of students who took Algebra I versus a basic math course in 8th grade, but it is possible to review the trends of public versus private schools as a whole, of which Catholic schools are a part.

With data available for 2007 to 2013,2 one can see that private school scores outdistance public schools in both 8th grade math and Algebra I (Tables 3 and 4).  It is also evident that students who took Algebra I as 8th graders scored better on the NAEP than students who took 8th grade math, especially since NAEP Algebra questions comprise almost a third (29 percent) of the math test.3  With some progressions toward delaying Algebra 1 until high school, Catholic schools would be wise not to follow this delayed progression, should these NAEP scores and entrance to STEM colleges be a concern.

Table 3: Average Scale Scores for mathematics,
Grade 8 by percent enrolled in 8th-grade mathematics

Average Scale Scores for mathematics, Grade 8 by percent enrolled in 8th -grade mathematics

Note: Private school data was not reported for 2015 and no separate Catholic school data is available.

Table 4: Average Scale Scores for mathematics,
Grade 8 by percent enrolled in Algebra I (1 year course)

Average Scale Scores for mathematics, Grade 8 by percent enrolled in Algebra I (1 year course)


Note: Private school data was not reported for 2015, and no separate Catholic school data is available.

Effects of Common Core

Has anything changed in Catholic schools to bring about these trends?  Certainly, the implementation of Common Core math and English language standards by more than 100 dioceses is the largest single change, but instructional shifts intended to implement the standards should also be reviewed along with other possible factors.

Some Catholic school systems may be using these instructional shifts — such as cognitively guided math instruction, close reading, and the shift between information and fictional texts as recommended by the publisher — and not the standards themselves.

Catholic school systems that participated in NAEP testing (not all Catholic school systems participate) might review the changes they have made since 2009 in both math and reading to begin to pinpoint areas for further inquiry.  By doing this review, a great service would be provided to the other diocesan systems.

States such as Maryland and cities like New York are themselves taking on this internal review task since, according to the data, “Not a single state had an increase in 8th grade math scores,” and, “Twenty-two states had declines in 8th grade math.”4

Some have suggested that the drop in NAEP math scores has to do with the misalignment of the NAEP with the Common Core Standards, but a recently released report (Oct. 2015) commissioned by the NAEP Validity Studies Panel, Study of the Alignment of the 2015 NAEP Mathematics items at Grades 4 and 8 to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), touts that the NAEP mathematics framework was developed to account for all the major curricula across the country (p. iii) and that the alignment in 8th grade math is “strong” and 4th grade is “reasonable.” Nevertheless, the report also suggests that perhaps now is the time for a major review of the framework in light of the Common Core Standards.

Standards and Testing

Catholic school educators cannot rest on their laurels and assume they will always outscore public schools, especially if they slavishly follow public school patterns and standards.  Parents in Catholic schools expect outstanding scores.  This is not unreasonable, since students who come from supportive, involved, and tuition-paying families are expected to score higher on standardized tests.  The academic setting lends to higher scores and demands higher standards.

Catholic schools should ensure that their standards have been created and specifically tailored to not only demand excellence, but also to promote deep, creative, and precise thinking as well as developing within students a sense of wonder about mathematical relationships and critical, convergent thinking in literature.  A re-evaluation, especially of the 8th grade math curriculum, along with the instructional approaches advocated by publishers and others, is recommended and long overdue.

Standardized tests should also be chosen to align with the instructional approaches and content standards used in Catholic schools.  Working with private assessment companies is extremely important now to ensure a valid assessment of student learning, as well as longitudinal data to evaluate student academic growth and compare against NAEP results.


Teach, Witness and Advocate: Catholic Education’s Response to Secularism

This report was adapted from a lecture delivered as part of the Distinguished Speakers Series at Franciscan University of Steubenville on October 15, 2015


The Catholic Church in the United States today faces serious challenges arising from secularism and an increasingly secular society, including growing threats to religious freedom.  But while Catholic education is a victim of these threats and can even—when done poorly—make matters worse, faithful Catholic education must be embraced as a key solution to the challenges that secularism poses to Christianity and as a primary means of the New Evangelization.

While the entire Church should renew its appreciation for the essential role of faithful Catholic education, it is most urgently the Catholic educator’s role to proclaim, defend, and witness to the value of Catholic education.  The Catholic educator’s response to secularism should be characterized by resistance to violations of religious freedom and public witness to the Faith and to the integrity of Catholic education—and not by compliance and silence.

Catholic educators cannot rely simply on legal and public policy efforts to preserve their institutions.  Even if the Church and her allies successfully fend off current threats to religious organizations in the courts or legislatures, the underlying crises of truth and faith are likely to persist, laying the groundwork for new violations of natural and constitutional freedoms.

Moreover, Catholic educators must not be tempted into silent compliance, even if they are able to identify moral and legal options for operating under government coercion.  Any action or commitment of the Catholic educator must avoid the risk of scandal and—even more—should have the intention and effect of teaching truth by explanation and example.  Catholic educators should vigorously assert their rights in a free society and use every available means within their competency and mission to defend the integrity of Catholic education.

Above all, Catholic educators can most effectively respond to secularism by better fulfilling their authentic, divinely inspired mission to evangelize by forming the human person.  They do so in their teaching to students and others, research and writing about key moral and social concerns, public witness to the Faith, advocacy for Catholic education, defense of the rightful autonomy of Catholic education from the state, and solidarity with others in each of these tasks.

It may seem an odd position that Catholic education is proposed as a solution to actual and threatened violations of religious freedom, when it is most certainly a victim of those same violations.  In an increasingly secular society, actors in all levels of government are attempting or threatening to abuse their powers and violate religious freedom in a manner that could damage, cripple, and ultimately bar Catholic education—including Catholic homeschools, schools, colleges, and universities.  Especially with regard to sexuality and gender, marriage, the sacredness of human life, and human dignity, a growing divide between Catholic teaching and social mores has motivated public policymakers and courts to show increasing insensitivity and even hostility to the demands of the Catholic faith upon believers and the fidelity that is necessary to Catholic apostolates and ministries.

Not only do these violations conflict with a school or college’s institutional commitment to a Catholic identity, but they also interfere with the ability of Catholic educators to teach and witness to the Faith.  In this sense, the impact of religious freedom violations is especially damaging to Catholic education.

Moreover, not only is Catholic education a victim of the growing threats to religious freedom, but where our Catholic institutions are marked by infidelity and indifference to their mission, Catholic education is also a contributing cause of this crisis.  The abuses of religious freedom—and secularism generally—are rooted in ignorance, misunderstanding, and often hostility to the truth about man and God.  This secular confusion both feeds and is fed by the scandal of Christian infidelity and poor catechesis and theology; many Catholics, together with many other Americans, are experiencing what Pope Benedict described as a “contemporary ‘crisis of truth’ [that] is rooted in a ‘crisis of faith’”.1

Weakened Catholic identity and dissent within our very own Catholic institutions—particularly many colleges and universities—sow greater confusion within the Church and society.  They also invite further encroachment upon the freedoms of religious institutions, because non-Catholics are understandably suspicious of the Church’s sincerity when she seeks legal exemption from government policies and regulations in order to uphold certain Catholic teachings and practices, but Catholic institutions and educators openly dissent from those same teachings and practices.

Nevertheless—or perhaps precisely because of the confusion that has crept into many Catholic educational institutions—faithful Catholic education is a necessary and primary solution for the Church in facing the challenges of secularism.  Catholic education, when done rightly, is that apostolate of the Church that seeks and communicates truth in the light of faith, forming the human person to know, love, and serve God.  That mission is urgently needed today.

According to Ex corde Ecclesiae, the 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, Catholic educators serve both the Church and society and fulfill their mission to teach “the whole truth about nature, man and God”.2  Especially in higher education, they engage in writing and research “so that the united endeavor of intelligence and faith will enable people to come to the full measure of their humanity, created in the image and likeness of God, renewed even more marvelously, after sin, in Christ, and called to shine forth in the light of the Spirit.”3

The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education has taught that Catholic education is “a privileged means of promoting the formation of the whole man” and an instrument of evangelization, which is the Church’s mission in this world.4  Pope Francis has said that education is “key, key, key” to evangelization.5  Pope Benedict XVI said that Catholic education is “an essential resource for the new evangelization,” while cautioning that Catholic colleges especially “need to reaffirm their distinctive identity in fidelity to their founding ideals and the Church’s mission in service of the Gospel.”  He added, “It is no exaggeration to say that providing young people with a sound education in the faith represents the most urgent internal challenge facing the Catholic community in your country.”6  Saint Pope John Paul II said, “In the overall work of the new evangelization, the educational sector occupies a place of honor.”7

At a time when the New Evangelization has a limited focus on casting its nets wide but shallow, the Church should place increased priority on the deep, integral formation that Catholic education provides.  Catholic education, more than any other means of evangelization, helps ensure a lifelong commitment to the Faith and preparation of our young people for sainthood in an increasingly difficult and often hostile culture.

Catholic education, then, is itself an appropriate and necessary response to the contemporary crises of truth and faith that are the bases for a secularized culture and violations of religious freedom.  Nothing short of a substantially increased effort to educate Catholics in the Faith may be sufficient to protect against the dangers of a culture that is rapidly becoming what Blessed John Henry Newman called “simply irreligious.”8

First Response: Teach

The principal duty of the Catholic educator is to teach, and the Church in American society is in great need of this service.  Too much of education is no longer grounded in truth and “the fount of truth”,9 and young people are lacking in the most human faculties of reasoning and communication.

Catholic education forms students intellectually and in the Faith, and prepares them for service to society and for lifelong witness to the Faith.  In each respect, Catholic educators can fulfill their mission in ways that respond to secularism and its root causes.

A Catholic educator’s objective is to educate the student—to form the student intellectually and in relationship to God.  According to the 1977 Vatican document, The Catholic School, Catholic education’s “task is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and also 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.”10

Saint Pope John Paul II said the vision of Catholic education has “its origin in the person of Christ and its roots in the teachings of the Gospel.  Catholic schools must seek not only to impart a quality education from the technical and professional standpoint, but also and above all provide for the integral formation of the human person.”11

The endeavor to interweave reason and faith, which has become the heart of individual subjects, makes for unity, articulation, and coordination, bringing forth within what is learnt in school a Christian vision of the world, of life, of culture, and of history.  In the Catholic school’s educational project there is no separation between time for learning and time for formation, between acquiring notions and growing in wisdom.  The various school subjects do not present only knowledge to be attained, but also values to be acquired and truths to be discovered.12

The Catholic college or university continues this formation.  Ex corde Ecclesiae says that students participate in “a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge”.13  Their education combines “academic and professional development with formation in moral and religious principles and the social teachings of the Church”.14

Catholic education has not only an inward concern for the student’s own development, but also an outward concern for society and its evangelization.  According to the Vatican II declaration Gravissimum Educationis, Catholic education aspires that students “learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them (cf. Peter 3:15) but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society”.15 And Ex corde Ecclesiae demands that graduates should be prepared to “devote themselves to the service of society and of the Church, but at the same time prepared to give the witness of their faith to the world.”16

Catholic education responds to secularism by better ensuring that future generations of Americans know God, know the Catholic faith, and are capable of defending the Faith and religious freedom.  This simply fulfills the teaching mission of Catholic education, already embraced by faithfully Catholic schools, colleges, and universities.

But where is the evidence that students in Catholic schools, colleges, and universities today are graduating with adequate knowledge of the Faith and are living in fidelity to the Church’s moral and social teachings?  If Christian formation is the heart of Catholic education, it should also be the central focus of student outcomes measurements and periodic assessments to better ensure the results that we promise, followed by intensified efforts to improve those results.  This is a challenge even to the most faithful Catholic institutions, which need better instruments to document their degree of success in the formation to which they are publicly committed.

Do all of our Catholic schools, colleges, and universities put at least as much emphasis on Christian formation as on academic achievement and career preparation?  Is this reflected in our standards, curricula, course plans, choice of textbooks, extracurricular programs, and policies?  In our teachers and our hiring priorities?  In our celebration of the Sacraments, prayer, sacramental preparation, and other activities?  Are opportunities for formation simply made available to students, or are they integral to the student experience, with due respect for freedom of conscience?  Especially on college campuses, is there an implicit relativism that suggests a false equality between Christian formation and the practice of other religions?

With particular relevance to contemporary culture, a Catholic education—in partnership with parents—forms young people in sexual purity and provides understanding of the Church’s teaching with regard to sexuality, marriage, human dignity, and the sanctity of human life.  Today these truths are distorted and often attacked in American society, encouraging sympathy for laws that offend morality and violate the rights of Catholic institutions to uphold Catholic teachings.  Do the graduates of Catholic education embrace sexual morality and the true nature of marriage, counter to contemporary American culture?  Do they embrace the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person?  Note that these are more than questions of institutional commitment to the faith; they require commitment to achieving outcomes and the promise of a sure formation of students.

How, then, does Catholic education make the further claim to prepare students for evangelization, to “give witness of their faith to the world”?  This objective requires inspiration and skills preparation that are largely absent from most Catholic school, college, and university programs of study.  This requires our attention, especially at a time when the Church is calling the laity to a New Evangelization.

Beyond teaching students, the extraordinary challenges facing Catholic education today should inspire educators to teach others in the Church and community, thereby confronting the ignorance that feeds violations of religious freedom.  The Church proclaims the benefits of Catholic education for both the student’s formation and “the common good of societies.”  According to Ex corde Ecclesiae, the Catholic college or university is committed to dialogue with culture and to be an “effective instrument of cultural progress for individuals as well as for society.”17  Catholic educators should consider ways of making their teaching available to ever-widening audiences, including non-Catholics, in ways that simultaneously benefit their institutions.

The Church’s efforts to make use of new technologies and methods of communication suggest ways that Catholic educators can share their teaching with society without significant distraction from the priority of teaching students.  Professors and teachers can be held out to news media as experts, providing a Catholic perspective when possible.  They can be publicly visible as bloggers and columnists, television and radio guests, and speakers at public events.  They can share classroom materials and even videos in all subjects to help adult Catholics and others learn what is presented to students, especially with regard to the integration of the Faith.  All of this enhances the reputation of Catholic institutions while increasing appreciation for the formation provided in Catholic education.

The secularization of American society invites Catholic educators to more vigorously seek ways of using their expertise for catechesis and evangelization in the community.  New apostolates or associations of educators joined together for this purpose would be an effective and valuable service to the Church and society.

Second Response: Research and Writing on Key Moral and Social Concerns?

In addition to teaching, Catholic college educators often make important contributions by their research and writing.  Focusing this work on the falsehoods that lie at the root of secularism and on the tragic consequences of secularism is a much-needed service of Catholic education today.

In elementary and secondary education, this begins with the “critical, systematic transmission of culture in the light of faith” in Catholic schools.18  Educators and students are called to examine culture and to consider how it should be transformed in the light of the Gospels.  This can be carried outside the classroom through social activities, events, lectures, debates, the arts, and other means of interacting with the surrounding culture.

But it is especially in Catholic higher education that educators are called to writing and research that serves the needs of the Church.  Despite observations that the West has already entered a “post-Christian” age, we are reminded of the hope expressed by Saint John Paul II in Ex corde Ecclesiae, that Catholic universities around the world:

…are for me a lively and promising sign of the fecundity of the Christian mind in the heart of every culture.  They give me a well-founded hope for a new flowering of Christian culture in the rich and varied context of our changing times, which certainly face serious challenges but which also bear so much promise under the action of the Spirit of truth and love.19

Ex corde Ecclesiae places special emphasis on the role of research in the Catholic university to help “discern and evaluate both the aspirations and the contradictions of modern culture, in order to make it more suited to the total development of individuals and peoples.”20

University research will seek to discover the roots and causes of the serious problems of our time, paying special attention to their ethical and religious dimensions.  If need be, a Catholic University must have the courage to speak uncomfortable truths which do not please public opinion, but which are necessary to safeguard the authentic good of society.

A specific priority is the need to examine the predominant values and norms of modern society and culture in a Christian perspective, and the responsibility to try to communicate to society those ethical and religious principles which give full meaning to human life.21

Catholic educators, especially in higher education, could support the Church’s response to secularism and its root causes by engaging in a variety of research and writing projects.  Already some of the best arguments for religious freedom and its legal defense have come out of universities, including some Catholic institutions.  Much more can be done to marshal college and university resources—the most precious of which is the expertise of faculty members—to provide intellectual support, gather valuable information, and analyze the strategies and activities of the Church’s many apostolates.

In particular, the violations of religious freedom impel Catholic educators to place priority on research that directly supports efforts to defend the Church’s institutions or addresses the needs of apostolates and ministries that are focused on the issues central to most violations: sexuality and gender, marriage, the sacredness of human life, and human dignity.  While much valuable research has already been provided by professors in Catholic colleges and universities, it cannot be said that their faculties are, as a whole, as committed to this work as the times require.

In his First Things article a few months ago, proposing various preparations for the 2015 Synod on the Family, George Weigel provided an example of the myriad ways scholars could provide valuable support for the Church’s mission.  He wrote:

More data should be brought forward—and [it is] abundantly available—to demonstrate that the Church’s idea of permanent and fruitful marriage, like the Church’s teaching on the appropriate means of regulating fertility, makes for happier marriages, happier families, happier children, and more-benevolent societies than does the deconstruction of marriage and the family that is inundating the West like a tsunami.  In teaching the truth about marriage, about love, and about the complementarity of the sexes, the Catholic Church is proposing the path to happiness and human flourishing, not the road to repression and misery.  It should make a bold, data-driven case in defense of that teaching, which is a defense of the dignity of the human person.22

It is this sort of “bold, data-driven” research and argument that is needed from Catholic scholars to address not only issues concerning marriage, but all the issues that feed a cultural disdain for the Catholic Church and are consequences of secularism.

Third Response: Public Witness to the Faith

Catholic educators are called to be witnesses to the Faith.  That witness is greatly needed today, both inside and outside the classroom.

Catholic education, by definition, assumes fidelity to the magisterium of the Church.  According to Canon Law, “The instruction and education in a Catholic school must be grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine. …”23  Ex corde Ecclesiae requires that a Catholic college or university “informs and carries out its research, teaching, and all other activities with Catholic ideals, principles, and attitudes. …Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities, while the freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected.  Any official action of commitment of the university is to be in accord with its Catholic identity.”24

Such fidelity depends most heavily on the witness of the educators themselves.  In schools, says Canon Law, “teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life”.25  In colleges and universities, requires Ex corde Ecclesiae, “all Catholic teachers are to be faithful to, and all other teachers are to respect, Catholic doctrine and morals in their research and teaching”.26

There is great value to the Church and society in the very example of Catholic educators who remain steadfastly committed to Christian formation in complete fidelity to the magisterium of the Church—especially when such formation is contrary to the norms of secular culture and defies government threats and laws violating religious freedom.  Such educators provide an important public witness to the authentic purpose and value of Catholic schools, colleges, and universities.  Such witness creates opportunities to explain and demonstrate to policymakers and the American public why many Catholic institutions are unwilling to compromise their fidelity to Catholic teaching when faced with government coercion.

This witness is all the more important amid the current crisis of Catholic identity within Catholic education.  Many institutions today fail in significant and public ways to uphold their mission, thereby promoting confusion and doubt regarding the necessity of freedoms that protect religious education.  By contrast, faithfully Catholic schools, colleges, and universities can be effective and much-needed models of Catholic education within the Church and society, demonstrating why religious freedom remains valuable and necessary to preserving their integrity.

There have been substantial efforts in recent decades to strengthen the Catholic identity of schools, colleges, and universities—and also to establish new, lay-directed schools and colleges that are often extraordinary in the formation provided to students—but the present threats increase the urgency for such efforts.  The Church is in great need of their witness and their courage to stand against violations of religious freedom and protect the integrity of Catholic education.  Those institutions that do so may be weakened financially and in their ability to compete for students and employees; the Church should not abandon them to that fate, but should substantially increase support for such institutions in recognition of their great importance and with gratitude for their example.

Fourth Response: Defense of the Rightful Autonomy of Catholic Education from the State

Inherently connected to the mission of the Catholic educator is the obligation to explain and, when necessary, to defend that mission.  This is greatly needed today, amid increasing government threats to religious freedom.

Catholic educators provide a vital service not only to the Church, but as Pope Benedict said to American educators in 2008, they “truly serve society”.27  The benefits to both Church and society need to be proclaimed loudly in defense against the threats to educators’ ability to provide authentic Catholic teaching and formation.  Catholic educators should appeal to the Church for her public witness to the value of Catholic education, but primary responsibility rests upon Catholic educators themselves to more convincingly argue their place in the Church and society and to celebrate their contributions.

Within the Church, not only does Catholic education suffer from declining enrollment and financial hardship in elementary and secondary schools, but there appears to be declining appreciation for the unique benefits of Catholic education at all levels.  This is greatly exacerbated by the crisis of Catholic identity in Catholic education, with many Catholics no longer aware of the significant impact that an authentic Catholic education can have for a young person.  A vigorous defense of traditional Catholic education and proposals for its renewal are urgently needed.  Catholic educators can also do much to help Catholics better understand and appreciate what they do and why it has such great importance for the Christian formation of young Catholics.

In addition, the case must be made more convincingly for the rights of Catholic educators amid the pluralism of American society.  Again citing the Vatican document, The Catholic School:

The Church upholds the principle of a plurality of school systems in order to safeguard her objectives in the face of cultural pluralism.  In other words, she encourages the co-existence and, if possible, the cooperation of diverse educational institutions which will allow young people to be formed by value judgments based on a specific view of the world and to be trained to take an active part in the construction of a community through which the building of society itself is promoted.

Thus, while policies and opportunities differ from place to place, the Catholic school has its place in any national school system.  By offering such an alternative, the Church wishes to respond to the obvious need for cooperation in a society characterized by cultural pluralism.  Moreover, in this way she helps to promote that freedom of teaching which champions and guarantees freedom of conscience and the parental right to choose the school best suited to parents’ educational purpose.

…In fact, as the State increasingly takes control of education and establishes its own so-called neutral and monolithic system, the survival of those natural communities, based on a shared concept of life, is threatened.  Faced with this situation, the Catholic school offers an alternative which is in conformity with the wishes of the members of the community of the Church.28

Included in this is a defense of the rights of parents in a free society to direct the education of their children and to choose authentic Catholic education that is not compromised by government mandate.  Saint Pope John Paul II wrote in Ecclesia in America:

To carry out [her] tasks, the Church in America requires a degree of freedom in the field of education; this is not to be seen as a privilege but as a right, in virtue of the evangelizing mission entrusted to the Church by the Lord.  Furthermore, parents have a fundamental and primary right to make decisions about the education of their children; consequently, Catholic parents must be able to choose an education in harmony with their religious convictions.  The function of the State in this area is subsidiarity; the State has the duty “to ensure that education is available to all and to respect and defend freedom of instruction.  A State monopoly in this area must be condemned as a form of totalitarianism which violates the fundamental rights which it ought to defend, especially the right of parents to provide religious education for their children.  The family is the place where the education of the person primarily takes place.29

The place of Catholic colleges and universities in American society must also be vigorously promoted and defended.  According to Ex corde Ecclesiae:

Catholic Universities join other private and public Institutions in serving the public interest through higher education and research; they are one among the variety of different types of institution that are necessary for the free expression of cultural diversity, and they are committed to the promotion of solidarity and its meaning in society and in the world.  Therefore they have the full right to expect that civil society and public authorities will recognize and defend their institutional autonomy and academic freedom…30

Fifth Response: Solidarity with Others in Responding to Secularism

My final suggestion is for increased collaboration both within and without the Catholic Church in pursuing these tasks.  In all of this, the Catholic educator is united with the Church and others who seek the common good.  Collaboration should be desired and invited to increase the effect of the educator’s efforts and to promote Christian unity and charity.

The Code of Canon Law states that the Church’s bishops have “the duty of arranging everything so that all the faithful have a Catholic education,”31 “to establish and direct schools,”32 to consent to use of the label Catholic,33 and to “watch over” and regulate Catholic education.34  In higher education, according to Ex corde Ecclesiae:

Bishops have a particular responsibility to promote Catholic Universities, and especially to promote and assist in the preservation and strengthening of their Catholic identity, including the protection of their Catholic identity in relation to civil authorities.  This will be achieved more effectively if close personal and pastoral relationships exist between University and Church authorities, characterized by mutual trust, close and consistent cooperation, and continuing dialogue.35

Collaboration to promote and defend Catholic education is an important expression of the close relationship between Catholic educators and their bishops.  Catholic educators should communicate frequently with their bishops to ensure the Church’s guidance and to encourage support for their protection and mission.  The Church should expect educators’ vigorous defense of that mission, and educators who courageously engage in self-defense should expect the full support and assistance of their bishops.

Canon law also calls on “the Christian faithful” to “foster Catholic schools, assisting in their establishment and maintenance according to their means,”36 and to “strive so that in civil society the laws which regulate the formation of youth also provide for their religious and moral education in the schools themselves, according to the conscience of the parents.”37  Also, “the entire ecclesial Community is invited to give its support to Catholic Institutions of higher education and… in a special way to guard the rights and freedoms of these Institutions in civil society.”38

Partnerships with Catholic laity and Catholic apostolates, then, are to be encouraged when confronting violations of religious freedom.  Those apostolates that are independently engaged in such efforts should be encouraged to recognize the high priority of preserving faithful Catholic education and supporting its mission as itself necessary to the protection of the rights of the Church.

In fulfilling their mission, Catholic educators should look especially to other Catholic educators and schools, colleges, and universities for mutual support.  There is a great need for unity and a shared response to government aggression.  Ex corde Ecclesiae prescribes collaboration among Catholic scholars as “imperative” in university research, emphasizing “various national and international associations.”39  If existing structures for scholars and institutions do not sufficiently provide the mission-centered support and assistance that is needed for research and communication with the government, American bishops, and Vatican, then the times may call for new associations to meet urgent needs.

Finally, Catholic educators should look to the shared experience and collaboration of scholars and leaders from other religions.  In particular, Catholic and other Christian educators share many common concerns, and the latter’s commitment to Christian formation is often very similar to that of the most faithful Catholic schools, colleges, and universities.  The Cardinal Newman Society has had much fruitful collaboration especially with Evangelical Christian educators who share most of our concerns about threats to religious freedom.  Cooperation with associations of Christian scholars, schools, colleges, and universities would prove valuable, I am certain.

Conclusion: Resistance and Witness

The value of Catholic education is reason enough for a vigorous defense and efforts to preserve it, when confronted by secularism and government violations of religious freedom.  But to return to an earlier point, survival alone—if it means silent acquiescence to the law—is insufficient and even dangerous, for it would so compromise the mission of Catholic education that it surely would not survive in any authentic form.

That is because the very mission of Catholic education requires assent to the truth and to God, the fount of truth, in all its activities.  That calls for so much more than quiet compliance with laws that conflict with Catholic morality.  Any government coercion that would compromise Catholic education must be resisted according to the methods and competencies of Catholic educators, in collaboration with each other and with the Church and her allies.

Resistance, however, cannot depend solely or even primarily on legal and public policy responses.  Catholic educators must confront secularism by the most effective means possible—that is, by better fulfilling their authentic, divinely inspired mission to evangelize by forming the human person.  In the ways suggested above and more, Catholic educators should be committed to authentic teaching, research and writing about key moral and social concerns, public witness to the Faith, advocacy for Catholic education, defense of the rightful autonomy of Catholic education from the state, and solidarity with others in each of these tasks.

More than ever, the urgency of the times invites Catholic educators to courageously witness to the Faith and to the great value of Catholic education.  This witness is demonstrated most clearly in their consistent and perhaps courageous presentation of faithful Catholic education despite growing difficulties.  The steadfast support of the Catholic bishops, clergy, religious, and laity to this project will, by God’s grace, bring many blessings to the Church and to American society.


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


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)


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.


Donohue, D. (2014). Private independent Catholic schools: Components of successful start-up schools. Accessible at

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 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.


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.

Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus. (2008). Meeting with Catholic Educators: Address of His Holi- ness Benedict XVI. Retrieved from 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 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 in-the-name-of-a-desire-for-peace.

Brizee, A., & Tompkins, C. (2011). Form follows function: Russian formalism, new criticism, neo- Aristotelianism. Retrieved from

Delahoyde, M. (n.d.). Introduction to literature: New criticism. Retrieved from  http://public.

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

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

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-

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://

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 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 beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/catholic-education/common-core-state-standards-faqs. cfm.

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.


Carr, S. & Dreilinger, D. (September 29, 2013). “A Core dilemma: Will the littlest learners be able to type?”, The Hechinger Report. Retrieved from 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 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

Kantrowitz, B. (October 15, 2013). “Testing the Common Core in Tennessee,”The Hechinger Report. Retrieved from nessee_13468.

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

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

Shearer, L. (July 22, 2013). “Georgia will drop out of Common Core-aligned testing consor- tium.” Retrieved from out-common-core-aligned-testing-consortium.

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (February, 2013a). “Hardware and Software Requirements Overview.” Retrieved from

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (2013b). “Frequently Asked Questions.” Retrieved from

Stacey, E. (February 13, 2013). “Alabama Exits National Common Core Tests.” Retrieved from

University of Iowa (n.d.). “Tracking Growth towards Readiness with the Iowa Tests.” Retrieved from 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 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.