Gerard V. Bradley: Common Core Catastrophe

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

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

Gerard V. Bradley
Gerard V. Bradley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

american flag

How to Build a Healthy Political Culture in America

Last month in the heat of the presidential campaign, Pope Francis indicated his dismay about the quality of the candidates and Americans’ depth of understanding of political issues.

Offering a “theoretical” response to a reporter’s question about the Trump-Clinton race, the Pope said on October 2, “When a country has two, three or four candidates who are unsatisfactory, it means that the political life of that country is perhaps overly ‘politicized’ but lacking in a political culture.”

For comparison he pointed to unnamed Latin American countries where people embrace political parties “for emotional reasons, without thinking clearly about the fundamentals, the proposals.”

The solution, he suggested, lies partly with our Catholic colleges. “One of the tasks of the Church and of higher education is to teach people to develop a political culture,” said the Holy Father.

I often find myself seeking a reliable interpreter for remarks made by Pope Francis, and his criticism of America being overly politicized but “lacking in a political culture” is no exception. And since my work at The Cardinal Newman Society promotes faithful Catholic education, I am also intrigued that the Holy Father would suggest that Catholic colleges are partly responsible for building a political culture. What does it all mean?

I consulted a faithful Catholic scholar in political science, Dr. Stephen Krason at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, who also serves as president of the national Society of Catholic Social Scientists and is author of the recent bookChallenging the Secular Culture: A Call to Christians.

I also communicated with James Towey, president of Ave Maria University, who has a long history of working with Catholic apostolates (including direct service with Saint Mother Teresa), was head of Florida’s health and human services department, and served as director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Healthy Culture Doesn’t Coerce or Suppress

To be clear, neither expert claims any certainty about what Pope Francis himself meant in his October 2 interview. But they agreed to help me shed some light on the claim that America is overly politicized without a healthy political culture, and how a Catholic college might contribute to building such a culture.

“A healthy political culture doesn’t indoctrinate, coerce or suppress, but instead welcomes and respects divergent opinion and beliefs,” Towey suggested. But he didn’t think that’s been America’s recent experience under the Obama administration.

“The United States is leaving an eight-year period where religious liberty and the rights of faith-based institutions, including those within higher learning, have been under constant, coercive attack,” Towey said. “America’s culture has become contaminated with a political correctness that now seems to strive to equate the words of Sacred Scripture with ‘hate speech.’”

Krason blamed “the ascendant leftist ideology, which has politicized virtually everything as it has turned away from the transcendent and sought to remake American life according to its grievously flawed vision.”

This, he said, is particularly apparent within the Democrat Party.

“It seems like one can’t be a Democrat without accepting in toto the ruling leftist ideology—probably because of the hold of rigid leftist interest groups on the Democratic Party and the fact that they and their followers provide so much of the funding,” he said.

But it goes beyond political partisanship to the culture itself, which is becoming increasingly hostile to Catholic values and practices.

“If you follow your faith beliefs and speak out on traditional marriage and family values or the so-called ‘gender rights movement,’ or if you don’t follow the script on global warming and pro-choice policies and refuse to march in the ‘armies of contraception,’ then you find yourself assailed as religious bigots, as hateful, as opposed to woman’s rights, and so forth,” Towey said.  “That is not American, that kind of political correctness run amok.”

Instead, Krason said, a healthy political culture “would adhere to natural law and the traditional role of the political, which understands its centrality but does not allow it to consume and shape everything.”

Such a culture should be rooted in “basic moral principles” but have “a commonsensical, realist view about man, culture, and the political,” Krason said. It ought to “rely on human experience as its reference point, in a Burkean fashion,” and reject attempts “to implant ideology.” That’s what the American Left is doing, he warned, “increasingly in the manner of the French Revolutionaries.”

Looking to Catholic Colleges

So what can a Catholic college do about that? Ave Maria University has opted for a strong voice on issues that are important to the Church—especially resisting any sort of political or government coercion.

“People of faith have a right to be in the public square and influence the culture,” Towey insisted, while acknowledging intense opposition. “Those who champion mandatory political correctness and the orthodoxy of radical secularism will continue to try to banish devout Catholics and people of faith and stifle their influence.”

Whereas much of American higher education has been captured by political correctness, “Catholic colleges and universities aren’t called to conform to this nonsense but instead oppose it,” Towey said. He noted his university’s court fight against President Obama’s “HHS mandate” for contraceptive and sterilization coverage in health plans—a fight that in Catholic higher education has been left almost entirely to financially challenged but faithfully Catholic colleges in our Newman Guide, while nearly all large Catholic universities have never filed suit.

“Catholic colleges and universities—the very places where faith and reason intersect and inspire the hearts and minds of our youth—need to be at the forefront of the effort to shape a healthy political culture that is faith-friendly, worthy of human dignity, and consistent with our country’s noble history and values,” Towey said.

This occurs especially within the classroom. Krason believes that Catholic colleges should strive to “teach again sound philosophy and a political science based on it, and renew the notion of scholarship as aiming for the truth and a social science that makes conclusions according to the facts and evidence and also doesn’t pretend that one can or should be value-free.”

In essence, he said, it’s “a restoration of the liberal arts.”

“Catholic colleges and universities need to get back to the highest tradition of the liberal arts, where truth matters,” Krason said.  “The right training of the mind will result in a better politics for and by the future citizens and leaders.”

Within political science, Krason recommended grounding programs in “sound realist philosophy, including sound ethics” and that colleges “teach Catholic social teaching” so that it is “permeated throughout much of their social science curriculum.”

All of this, however, first requires a renewal of fidelity and Catholic identity in most of America’s Catholic colleges. It doesn’t help, Krason said, if a Catholic college teaches philosophy the way secular institutions do—“just an exposure to different philosophical schools, with philosophy not seen as involving truths that reason can discern.” Likewise, Catholics shouldn’t be teaching political science “without a sound philosophical foundation, embodying an empiricism outlook, not paying any more attention to the forming of good citizens than they do the forming of the good human person.”

In other words, Catholic colleges “can’t help transform culture for the better—especially by helping to rightly form the students who are in their charge—when they are operating from the same flawed premises that the secular institutions are,” Krason said.

I wholeheartedly agree. If the Holy Father’s wish is that Catholic colleges will help build a healthy political culture in America, many of them need to first shed their obvious and often coercive political correctness and then find the conviction that undergirds Ave Maria University and other such faithful institutions.

It’s the graduates of such strongly Catholic colleges who will bring the sort of hope and change that is meaningful and good for America.

This article was originally published by The National Catholic Register.

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.”

Catholic Schools Need Catholic Standards

The Cardinal Newman Society presents our new Catholic Curriculum Standards to help Catholic educators strengthen their core mission of evangelization and forming young people for God.

The Newman Society has long promoted and defended faithful Catholic education, and increasingly this work is turned toward helping schools study, embrace and implement the Church’s vision for Catholic education. Our new Standards are central to this work.

We want to help, to propose a path forward that is more appropriate for Catholic schools than the problematic Common Core and other secular options,” says Dr. Dan Guernsey, director of K-12 education programs for The Cardinal Newman Society and co-author of the Catholic Curriculum Standards with deputy director Dr. Denise Donohue.

The Standards point Catholic education in the right direction,” Dr. Donohue says. “We expect and in fact encourage more innovation, continued efforts to delve into the mission of Catholic schools and further develop authentic Catholic standards of education so that Catholic identity thrives.”

With emphasis on literature, science, history and math, the Catholic Curriculum Standards incorporate Catholic insights into these curricular areas and indicate what students should be learning beyond the accumulation of useful skills and knowledge. The standards are grouped into two grade levels, K-6 and 7-12, to help educators assign or develop materials and choose subject matter that serve the unique mission of Catholic education.

For too long, many Catholic schools have relied heavily on secular government standards like the Common Core to measure school success and on similarly focused standardized tests to measure student outcomes. These distract Catholic educators from their core mission, because they ignore key aspects of human formation and often depend on philosophies of education that are contrary to the Catholic faith. Still, Catholic schools have far outperformed public schools because of the genuine concern of their leaders and teachers for students’ personal formation.

Good intentions, sadly, are not enough.

Catholic education’s road to renewal will be paved with genuine Catholic standards, resting on the solid foundation of Catholic teaching and the Church’s vision for Catholic education.

What are standards? Consider the grand promises of the Common Core State Standards: “These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.”

Standards indicate levels of student achievement. They help determine curriculum, testing, and measures of school success. When developed rightly, they are a wonderful tool for educators and have become fundamental to American schooling.

But if standards are fundamental to modern education, then it should be obvious that Catholic schools need Catholic standards. If we measure Catholic school success by standards that do not serve the authentic mission of Catholic education, we fail to attend to Catholic identity — and eventually, our schools simply fail.

But that doesn’t have to be the fate of Catholic education. It cannot be the fate of Catholic education, on which we rely for the reform of Catholic life and American society.

“Even amid growing challenges in today’s society, Catholic schools and homeschool programs that embrace and celebrate the mission of Catholic education continue to thrive across the United States,” write Drs. Donohue and Guernsey in their online letter introducing the Catholic Curriculum Standards. “The Cardinal Newman Society makes this free resource available to all educators, including parents, the primary educators of children, in hopes of continuing this renewal of Catholic education for the benefit of our children, our Church, and the common good they serve.”

Savior of the World

Is There Such a Thing as Catholic Math?

Is there a Catholic way of learning something?

Math? Science? History?

It’s an intriguing question. We wrestled with the question this past year at The Cardinal Newman Society, while developing proposed Catholic curriculum standards for Catholic education.

It’s easy to understand that Jesus is the Master Teacher. “Rabbi,” His disciples called Him. A Catholic teacher should emulate Christ and should lead young people to Him.

But saying there’s a Catholic approach to mathematics evokes a vision of Jesus writing in the sand at the Sea of Galilee, attempting to teach pre-calculus to a school of fishermen. Oh, if only Catholics did have a divinely simple method of advanced mathematics! It’s not, at least, in my translation of the Bible.

I’ve never heard a historian suggest that Catholics should learn only about their own experience while neglecting other important world events. Salvation history deserves priority in Catholic education. But within the particular academic discipline of history, studying the Nazi Holocaust is arguably as necessary as studying the Exodus.

I’ve also never heard a scientist suggest that the scientific method works better for Catholics, or that the Old Testament is a textbook for scientific knowledge.

So what’s “Catholic education,” then? Is it a secular education on which we sprinkle prayer, catechesis and Christian values?

The promise seems much larger. Certainly there’s not much point of Catholic standards for curricula in math, history, science and English language arts, if the “education” in Catholic schools is not uniquely Catholic.

The truth is, there is indeed something very special in Catholic education about how and what a student learns. That’s in every subject — not just religion. It doesn’t mean rejecting knowledge that is truthful and worthy of a secular education. But Catholic education has priorities that are uniquely suited to human development and to the needs of the soul, and so our expectations for student learning are always and substantially different … and better!

A Catholic education is evangelical; it is one of the Church’s chief means of teaching the faith and bringing people to Christ. We find God in all things, inside and outside religion class.

A Catholic education is formational; it strives not only to teach useful knowledge and skills, but to prepare the whole person — body, mind and soul — for service to man and God. We want our students to be saints.

A Catholic education is empowering; it teaches students the knowledge and ability to think critically about the world and about human culture, so that our graduates can go forth and help transform family, society, business, government and Church in accord with the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, we expect students to come away from mathematics with something more than a means of engineering and astronomy. By studying math, we want our students to:

  • “Demonstrate the mental habits of precise, determined, careful and accurate questioning, inquiry and reasoning.”
  • “Respond to the beauty, harmony, proportion, radiance and wholeness present in mathematics.”
  • “Recognize how mathematical arguments and processes can be extrapolated to other areas of study, including theology and philosophy.”
  • “Propose how mathematical objects or proofs (such as the golden mean, the Fibonacci numbers, the musical scale and geometric proofs) suggest divine origin.”

These are just some of the student outcomes identified by my colleagues, Dr. Dan Guernsey and Dr. Denise Donohue, in developing Catholic curriculum standards. They had help from some of the best minds in the Church, like Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Anthony Esolen, Joseph Pearce and several others.

Such a project, of course, could go on forever and still bear much fruit. But the point is made: there is a uniquely Catholic approach to teaching math and other subjects, because God’s revelation opens up wonderful new ways of looking at the same data and methods. The world is so much more exciting and meaningful, given the gift of faith.

Therefore, science becomes more than the observations obtained by our five senses and “proved” (always uncertainly) by the weight of evidence. Paired with divine revelation, science becomes a means of better knowing God, by the analogy of His creation.

Graduates of Catholic education who study science should be able to, “Demonstrate confidence in human reason and in one’s ability to know the truth about God’s creation and the fundamental intelligibility of the world.” They should, “Relate how the human soul is specifically created by God for each human being, does not evolve from lesser matter, and is not inherited from our parents.”

And at the very least, they should be aware of the great Catholic contributions to science. They should know “Copernicus, Mendel, DaVinci, Bacon, Pasteur, Volta, St. Albert the Great, and others and the witness and evidence they supply against the false claim that Catholicism is not compatible with science.”

Upon learning history, a student from a Catholic school should know “the historical impact of the Catholic Church on human events” and “how Christian social ethics extend to questions of politics, economy, and social institutions and not just personal moral decision-making.”

And every student in Catholic education should have experienced great works of literature! By reading good literature, a student comes to a better understanding of “the proper nature of man, his problems, and his experiences in trying to know and perfect both himself and the world.”

There’s so much more to a Catholic education — indeed as much as completes the perfection of man, which of course is limitless. But unless Catholic families and educators seek answers to the question — What is unique and essential to Catholic education? — we will surely fail to prepare our young people according to the vision of the Church.

After considering all that should be present in Catholic education, the Catholic school or homeschool becomes more exciting and inviting than ever before. If the Church wants a renaissance in Catholic education, faithful Catholic standards are a great starting point.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Let’s Move Beyond the Common Core in Catholic Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incompatible and unsuited

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

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

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

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

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

Toward better standards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

high school class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what should Catholic schools do now?

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

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

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

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

Catholic Schools Should Leave Common Core Behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about the Common Core click here

Humanae Vitae Dissenters Should Not Be Teaching at Catholic Colleges

Considering the morally corrupt and hypersexualized state of our culture, it’s not that surprising that dissenters from Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae would think now is a good time to revive their tired, old, anti-Catholic push to reverse the beautiful teachings of the Church regarding human sexuality — specifically, the use of contraceptives.

What should be surprising is that the leaders of this new campaign of public dissent against Church teaching are still allowed to teach theology, ethics, philosophy, religious studies, etc. at Catholic colleges across the country.

More than two dozen professors associated with Catholic colleges are involved in the new campaign to dismantle Humanae Vitae, organized by the dissident Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research. Their report arguing that contraceptives are “morally legitimate and even morally obligatory” has the backing of the United Nations and was presented at the U.N. in New York on Tuesday.

The report of the Wijngaards Institute, “On the Ethics of Using Contraceptives,” features some of the old names of the anti-Humanae Vitae movement still clinging to their dissent, and, unfortunately, still shaping young minds. Professors from Georgetown University, Fordham University, San Diego University, Duquesne University, Fairfield University, Loyola University in Chicago, Loyola University in New Orleans, and several other Catholic colleges appear among the current list of about 150 signatures.

Theologian Father Charles Curran is probably the most well-known signatory. He was one of the most notorious dissidents in Catholic higher education before the Vatican ousted him from The Catholic University of America (CUA) in 1986. These days he’s found at Southern Methodist University.

The ousting of Fr. Curran helped spark a revival of Catholic identity at CUA that continues today. In fact, on the same day the Wijngaards Institute report was released at the UN, CUA hosted an event on campus announcing the release of competing statement affirming the truths of the Church’s teaching on contraception in Humanae Vitae: “Affirmation of the Catholic Church’s Teaching on the Gift of Sexuality.”

This statement, composed by faithful Catholic theologians and supported by more than 500 Catholic intellectuals, outlines how contraception “is not in accord with God’s plan for sexuality and marriage.” This is what the Catholic faith teaches, and this is what we should expect is being taught to students by theology professors at Catholic colleges.

Why is it that on issues of sexuality and gender, dissent from Church teaching is still accepted and even encouraged at Catholic colleges? Would those who deny the divinity of Jesus or the Trinitarian nature of God be acceptable as Catholic theology professors? One shudders to think if the answer is “yes.”

This scandalous situation, in which far too many Catholic colleges have put themselves, directly endangers the souls of students. For any Catholic college that seeks to follow its religious mission, it makes no sense for an employer (the college) to hire and retain employees publicly opposed to the college’s mission.

These dissident Catholic theologians supporting the Wijngaards Institute report are undermining the colleges that employ them and the entire Church in the process. Their scandalous behavior echoes beyond the walls of the classroom and should concern every faithful Catholic.

It will be interesting and telling to see if any of the Catholic colleges whose professors have signed in support of the Wijngaards Institute report decide to part ways with the offenders — or take any action at all. Looking at the list of colleges, it doesn’t seem likely. But Catholic families should expect better and deserve better from these institutions, as long as they continue to claim a Catholic identity.

This article was originally published by National Catholic Register.

learning sign

School Choice Must Support and Protect Catholic Education

School choice, an important issue for Catholic families and a priority for the Church, may soon become a key issue in the presidential race.

Donald Trump has said that school choice will be a centerpiece of his platform, and his campaign this week hired Rob Goad, an advisor to Illinois Congressman Luke Messer, to develop education policy. Hillary Clinton can be expected to oppose whatever he comes up with. Although she strongly supported public charter schools in the 1990s, she appears to be backing away from that, adhering more closely to the positions of the two major teacher unions that have endorsed her.

Meanwhile, Catholic families are in the breach. Despite impassioned efforts for more than half a century to secure Catholics’ fair share of education spending, and despite strong public support, school choice programs are scattered across several states and provide insufficient help to middle-class families.

Moreover, in an age when Catholic trust of government officials has been bruised and beaten by increasing violations of religious freedom, many Catholics are rightfully nervous about school choice. Can Catholic schools ever take public aid without risking attacks on their Catholic identity?

It’s an extremely important question. Trump has touted school choice as a means of lifting up the children of low-income and minority families, but he hasn’t devoted nearly enough attention to the assault on religious freedom. And if by “school choice” he means funding public charter schools just as his opponent did, that does nothing to help families choose Catholic education and throws more money at a failing government system.

Catholics need to stand unified behind certain principles and demand that politicians and legislators support them. They include:

  • Parents have a primary right and responsibility to educate their children, and therefore they must have the freedom to choose an education that teaches their faith and values without government intrusion or persecution.
  • Catholic schools must have the religious freedom to teach the Catholic faith and values without government intrusion or persecution, regardless of their receipt of public funds or their participation in taxpayer-funded programs available to other private schools.
  • Any public funding for education should respect the right of parents to choose the school that is best for their child, and funding should follow the child—not discriminate against religion by funding only secular, government-run schools.

But most importantly, Catholics need to stand unified in demanding faithful Catholic education from our schools, opposing any compromise of the faith for the sake of public funding or secular prestige.

The right to school choice is a clear and consistent Catholic teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own personal convictions. This right is fundamental” (2229).

The Second Vatican Council taught: “The public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children” (Gravissimum Educationis, 6).

And in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI told educators at The Catholic University of America that “everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that [Catholic schools] are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”

Vouchers are the most direct means of school choice. The principle remains sound: any public funding for education should follow the child to the school of choice—Catholic or otherwise—and should not be defined as institutional aid that is subject to “strings” affecting schools. Some form of voucher is available in more than a dozen states, including Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Nevertheless, Catholics are understandably shaken by the Obama administration’s outrageous efforts to compromise our faith and values through healthcare regulations (in the HHS mandate) and education funding (by distorting Title IX regulations to demand compliance with the radical gender ideology). California recently sought to severely punish those few remaining Catholic colleges that uphold Catholic teaching on gender and marriage. For the most part, it’s student aid—not direct institutional aid—that puts Catholic schools and colleges under the thumb of secularist politicians.

So there’s due concern about government intrusion, but other forms of school choice may be safer. For instance, Oklahoma’s Education Savings Accounts are fully parent-controlled and never require a government check to be sent to a school. Many states have individual tax deductions or credits to help pay educational expenses. Some of these are refundable; in South Carolina, for example, low-income families can receive up to $10,000 per student in tax credits, including a rebate for the portion that is larger than what families owe in income taxes. Sixteen states allow tax credits for donations to private scholarship funds, which then help students attend schools of their choice.

Homeschooling, which is growing rapidly in the United States, is another form of school choice. Parents have the option, usually with minimal state regulation, to provide a faithful Catholic education at home using the curriculum of their choice (or making).

On the other hand, some forms of “school choice” are a direct threat to Catholic education. AnAmerica magazine writer recently urged dioceses to turn over Catholic schools to public school bureaucrats, making them public charter schools. That’s not saving Catholic education; that’s abandoning it. And as noted above, plans to pour money into expanding public school choices only strengthen the public school monopoly on education funding and discriminate against religious schools.

Catholics should demand school choice, because it’s our right—but we must never lose sight of our own responsibility to provide our children a Catholic education at any cost, without compromise. Whatever the circumstances in which we live, it’s necessary that we ensure the formation of mind, body, and spirit that prepares the young to serve God in this world and the next. Religious freedom is our right, and faithful Catholic education is our obligation. May God grant us both.

This article was originally published by The National Catholic Register.