Eight Bad Reasons for Adopting Common Core in Catholic Schools

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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