Educators: Common Core Standards Incompatible with Catholic Education

common_core_chalkboard.jpgAdministrators from Schools of Excellence on The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll recently told the Newman Society that Common Core State Standards pose a significant conflict to Catholic curricula, and found the standards severely wanting in crucial areas of faithful Catholic education such as intellectual and moral formation.

“Regardless of the standards employed, Catholic identity must be at the core of instruction and pedagogy, implemented by faithful administrators and teachers who understand the importance of their role in the formation of students,” Jamie Arthur, senior fellow and manager of the Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll, pointed out.

The Newman Society has documented numerous concerns about the controversial Common Core State Standards through its Catholic is Our Core program, and just this week raised alarms that the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) remains devoted to the Common Core standards, despite serious concerns about their impact on Catholic schools, following the announcement that its annual convention would be headlined by Common Core architect David Coleman.

The most common complaint that educators shared with the Newman Society is Common Core’s single-minded focus on career and college preparation.

“Education should be more than just a means to career-driven pursuits,” Derek Tremblay, headmaster of Mount Royal Academy in Sunapee, N.H., told the Newman Society. Students should be instructed in morality first and foremost, he said.

Moreover, this lopsided focus on job success results in a system that neglects to encourage individual student success, administrators noted.

Tremblay opined that this weakness in Common Core stems from “an ideological starting point that, to some extent, encourages mediocrity.” Students are not incentivized to free thinking and are instead encouraged to perform at the same level, he lamented.

“For Catholic schools, the Common Core’s greatest threat is taking the human person and lowering the standard of greatness that we’re all capable of reaching with the proper formation and education,” said Tremblay.

At Chesterton Academy in Edina, Minn., students receive “a classical, Catholic education” with a “coherent, rigorous curriculum and consistently excellent teaching,” said headmaster John Niemann. “The Common Core is irrelevant to Chesterton Academy [because] its standards are far below those we have set for ourselves. Our families expect more.”

Tremblay told the Newman Society that one of the Common Core’s many disadvantages is its inability to incorporate human formation into academic subjects. This is particularly manifested in the Common Core’s approach to language arts, he explained. At the high school level, Common Core is focused on informational texts and non-literary reading instead of emphasizing literary classics. “Without any of the classic works of Western culture that teach us to be human, readers instead learn to navigate technical books for career-oriented means,” said Tremblay.

“Our standpoint is that if a student can read Shakespeare, Melville and Chesterton, they will certainly be capable of figuring out how to navigate a technical guide,” Tremblay continued. “They’ll have the disciplined habit of mind to deal with whatever problem is before them, regardless of whether or not they’re familiar with that issue.”

Tremblay’s observations were echoed by Mark Jahnke, headmaster of the Rhodora J. Donohue Academy in Ave Maria, Fla. The Common Core’s “emphasis on informational texts, especially in the high school grades, runs contrary to our focus on wisdom-based texts,” he told the Newman Society.

Catherine Neumayr, principal of Holy Rosary Academy in Anchorage, Alaska, also noted Common Core’s deficiencies in literature. “Common Core conversely focuses on useful nonfiction to produce parrots,” she opined. Neumayr told the Society that Holy Rosary Academy instructs students in “primary sources that challenge and enliven the mind, replete with poetry and stories that pass on the full picture of what it means to be human and dignified in the eyes of God and man.”

The Newman Society touched on these concerns in a 2015 report titled “Disconnect between Common Core’s Literary Approach and Catholic Education’s Pursuit of Truth,” authored by Dan Guernsey and Denise Donohue, director and deputy director of the Newman Society’s K-12 education programs.

“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,” wrote Guernsey and Donohue.

Neumayr told the Society that she views Common Core “as a passing fad that will die out as quickly as it came.” It lacks staying power, because “its core aim is to make education useful rather than enjoyable. Pedagogically it ignores the very ideas most teachers recognize; that wonder and engagement of the mind in actively imagining for themselves is the very training that produces great thinkers, leaders and inventors.”

Another headmaster, William Schmitt of Trivium School in Lancaster, Mass., told the Newman Society that “the latest fad should not detract us from the daily and urgent call to teach and prepare the minds of young people for a full life of service to God and neighbor.”

Schmitt continued:

Public education reform is severely limited by its recent exclusion of religion and of any consideration of the student’s origin and end. As a result, it brackets out of the equation the dignity of the student. To use a phrase from our Declaration, students are ‘endowed by their Creator.’ If we exclude this from education, we have nothing to offer them except a ‘dictatorship of relativism’ and an ‘ideology of success.’

“Common Core seeks to narrow the view of children,” agreed Neumayr. This is problematic, because such an approach “produces imitators and assembly line cooperative citizens, but not a winning culture.”

The Newman Society’s Donohue issued another report earlier this year in conjunction with the five-year anniversary of Common Core’s release. Donohue found that diocesan and private schools opting out of Common Core standards are nevertheless thriving in academic excellence.

These schools are seeing success because they “believe in assisting parents to form students to know, love and serve God above all things,” said Donohue.

Catholic education of this kind “focuses on perennial truths that inform the human condition, helping man to become virtuous and better able to understand himself and his neighbors,” said Donohue. “Through constant forming in right reason and a love for the truth, students are formed as thoughtful men and women, of which solid citizenship and industry are mere byproducts.”

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