Common Core Is ‘Substandard,’ Incompatible with Catholic Education, Study Reports

Teresa Mull,

The Common Core State Standards are not compatible with a Catholic education because their workforce development emphasis “dramatically diminishes children’s intellectual and spiritual horizons,” a new study reports.

Common Core is a set of national standards dictating what students should know at each grade level. The report, “After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core,” published by the American Principles Project and the Pioneer Institute in October, states, “As 132 Catholic scholars wrote in a letter to the U.S. Catholic bishops, Common Core is ‘a recipe for standardized workforce preparation.’

“Rather than triggering imaginations and nourishing souls through the wonder of sustained encounters with works that have inspired generations, Common Core’s ‘cold reading’ method for informational texts transforms literacy into little more than a content-empty ‘skill set,’” the paper says. “Also, its mathematics framework locks children—except those whose parents are savvy enough to supplement their basic Common Core training—into a substandard education that will not prepare them for serious college coursework in science, technology, engineering, or math.”

The study reports the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) initially encouraged Catholic schools to adopt the standards, but NCEA warned “Catholic schools that textbooks, educational materials, state testing, college entrance exams, teacher training, and teacher resources would all now be Common Core-based, and therefore Catholic schools should plan and adapt accordingly.”

The study also reports that after schools struggled to adopt Common Core while maintaining high standards, “the early attempts [by NCEA and others] to embrace the Common Core as a useful guide for Catholic schools seemed to devolve into downplaying the Common Core’s importance.”

‘Fundamentally Contrary’

Jane Robbins, an attorney, senior fellow at the American Principles Project, and coauthor of the study, says Common Core completely opposes Catholic education.

“[Common Core] is fundamentally contrary to a Catholic education, because the goal of Common Core is fundamentally opposed to the goal of Catholic education,” Robbins said. “The Common Core is a workforce development model. It’s not an education model. In the Common Core scheme, the purpose of education is to develop workers for the economy. Catholic education has very different goals: to develop children into the people that God intended them to be and to give them an appreciation of more fundamental things such as truth and beauty and goodness.

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“You see the workforce development [goal] all through Common Core: its diminishing of classic literature, replacing that with so-called ‘informational texts’ so that students will theoretically be reading things in their English class that they might see in their entry-level jobs,” Robbins said. “You don’t see that in a true Catholic education. You have children reading the classics because that’s what teaches students about fundamental humanity and how life plays out in the grand plan of God. You’re not going to see a Catholic school removing, for example, Dante and replacing Dante with government regulations, which is what Common Core does. The two [goals] cannot coexist.”

‘Soul-Sapping Materials’

Dan Guernsey, an associate professor of education at Ave Maria University, director of K–12 programs at the Cardinal Newman Society, and coauthor of the study, says although Common Core is not specifically heretical, its designers have a poor understanding of real education.

“It’s not what they do; it’s what they don’t do,” Guernsey said. “Since the standards’ writers do not understand human nature, they do not understand education. They are misguided and missing an opportunity to elicit wonder and the pursuit of all that is true, good, and beautiful as they sell out to pragmatic and soul-sapping materials and high-stakes tests. They reduce the transcendent and engaging for the testable.

“A Catholic school’s goal is to produce a fully alive human being who can maximize all of his or her God-given potential in this world as they prepare to be with Him in Heaven in the next,” Guernsey said. “We do this from within a Catholic community and [do so] drawing on centuries of wisdom guided by reason and revelation.”

‘Seen a Lot of Pushback’

Robbins says parents across the nation are dissatisfied with Common Core.

“I think Common Core, I’m happy to say, has sparked a revival of interest among parents in what exactly is going on in their children’s schools,” Robbins said. “Maybe in years past they just assumed the schools were doing a good job and they didn’t get too worked up about it, but now Common Core has really focused their attention on what is happening, so we’ve seen a lot of pushback all over the country against Common Core.

“I know of people who have had their children in Catholic schools that adopted Common Core, and these parents had taken their children out and started their own school, which is of course something not everybody can do, but it’s an example of how strongly good Catholic parents feel about this and what they really want out of their schools,” Robbins said. “Homeschooling is really exploding. All of that is encouraging because it gets the attention of the people who are running the system that they can’t do whatever they want to do with no parental pushback.”

Teresa Mull (tmull@heartland.orgis a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.

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