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Catholic Schools and the Common Core

One of the strengths of Catholic schools has been that they don't give in easily to educational fads. But that may no longer be the case, since more than 100 dioceses have endorsed the hotly debated Common Core standards, leading to a substantial internal debate. The Washington Post reports:

Catholic educators, scholars and bishops are engaging in an increasingly vocal debate about the Common Core State Standards, with a major split developing between those who support the Core and those who don’t. More than 100 dioceses have already approved the standards for their Catholic schools, but others are rejecting them, including the Diocese of Madison in Wisconsin.

The opposition is being led by Gerard Bradley, a conservative legal scholar at the University of Notre Dame (and schoolmate of mine during Catholic grammar school days in Brooklyn - there were no fads at Mary Queen of Heaven, that's for sure). It's hard to sort out the fear and the hype from the reality of Common Core, which is untested. But if Diane Ravitch is opposed to it, that's good reason to be wary.

The Common Core is another effort on the part of the increasingly dubious, foundation-stimulated, by-the-numbers school "reform" movement to remake American education in a corporate mold. Carried along by bi-partisan political support, federal incentive money, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and media allies, it's a powerful force.

The great strength of Catholic schools is their faith-based belief in human dignity. Studies have quantified how this philsophy of Christian personalism leads to higher levels of faculty engagement and a concern not only for what students learn, but the kind of people they become.  This is what makes Catholic schools special, and it seems inconsistent with a "reform" that treats students like widgets.

The National Catholic Educational Association, which accepted a $100,007 grant from the Gates Foundation for Common Core training, says otherwise. It maintains that its new Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative  will make sure that "Catholic schools can infuse the standards with the faith, principles, values and social justice themes inherent in the mission of a Catholic school."

Catholic schools do need to come to terms in some way with the Common Core, since textbooks will be geared to these standards. As the NCEA explains, it wants to show teachers how to insert Catholic teachings into the lesson plans to strengthen the schools' Catholic identity.

The problem is that if the  Gates Foundation and its allies take Catholic schools along the same path where they have led public education -- to excessive reliance on high-pressure, high-stakes standardized testing -- that will fundamentally change Catholic schools and their Catholic identity, no matter how many cues about church teachings are inserted into lesson plans.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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Paul - I don't object to Catholic schools adopting Common Core.  If the Catholic schools in this area are typical, standard curriculum and standardized testing are already used in Catholic schools, and have been for many years (it was so when I was in Catholic elementary school myself, back in the early 1970s).  I haven't seen anything about Common Core that would lead me to believe that it would be a radical departure.  And speaking as a parent and citizen, I would find it useful to be able to directly compare apples-to-apples test scores and student performance between the local Catholic schools and local public schools.  

If Common Core provides a vehicle (one among several, presumably) for pastors, parents and Catholic school boards to hold Catholic school principals and teachers academically accountable, all the better.

If there are no more pursuasive reasons to oppose Common Core than that Diane Ravitch and the Madison Diocese are opposed (roughly, the left-wing wacko and right-wing wacko blocs, respectively), then I'd think that opponents have their work cut out for them.


I read the Wikipedia description of the language standards, and if the description is accurate, then I say hooray for the Common Core curriculum.  Its goals are classic ones, not fly-by-night innovations.  So what is the furor about?

My biggest concerns are that history is not a required subject, that the "critical thinking" part of the curriculum should include an understanding of just what scienific methoc is, and some logic should be included, especially understanding of common fallacies.  The worst part of the program is that the arts aren't mentioned.  An indication, perhaps, that the inventors of the common core are not themselves well-educated? Or maybe the problem is Wikipedia's article.

Establishment of goals is, of course, necessary.  But implementing them is another matter.  I still see the problem of attracting as teachers students who hve the intellectual wherewithall to implement the goals.  And until the schools/cities/states are willing to offer teacher salaries that are competitive with other professions, then our schools are still doomed.  Successful teaching is a profession, and professionals cost.  Money.

I hope I didn't just see Diane Ravitch called a "leftwing wacko bloc." Read the book, Reign of Error. Then tell me why, after 30 years of edlucation governors, education presidents, Bill and Melinda Gates, the Koch Brothers, the Bradley Foundation and Michelle Lee our kids are still (as of this very week) scoring in the middle on worldwide tests -- which were the excuse for all of the corporate goofing aroiund our education governors and presidents have inflicted on the schools. Thank you.

I know the Common Core is causing some angst in my daughters' school, and the people in my family who are teachers aren't crazy about it. I find them confusing; I've read all of the material parents have been given and looked up the the standards on the internet- I still don't understand them.

Even though everything tells me I should dislike Commmon Core- I don't understand it, teachers don't like it, students are struggling- I find myself still supportive of the idea.

 I think something good has to come out of a process where the State Education Commissioners of almost every state in the country came together to to identify best practices and common standards.

Standardized testing is a feature of the Ontario public school system (and Catholic schools are publicly funded and so fall under that process). The accountability office is entitled EQAO and there is, of course, controversy around testing. Part of it is as Ann mentions, the standard tests focus on literacy and numeracy (math and english). Results are publicly available and the public can look at the results.

Issues I have is that schools with lower EQAO scores are frequently from lower socio-economic and depressed areas. Educational attainment is tied to these factors and it is not fair to judge a school performance based solely on these criteria. Secondly, my understanding is that some boards have special ed students take the test and others exempt them. This can lead to skewing of results from board to board. Thirdly, while Catholic schools have higher scores, they can also self select and expel students with behavioural issues and the public schools are required to take them as they have a right to education.

Be cautious about reliance on standardized testing as there are other issues that need to be considered. So, for example, in those schools with lower scores and poorer demographics are ministry of education committed to providing psychology, social work, hot meals, and other incentives within the school to help students and parents. The school should not be an insulated island disconnected from the community that it serves.


Also, schools and districts can and do "game the system" so that yes Catholic schools may yield higher results but this due to the fact that they can self select those students from higher socio-economic classes and can not accept students with behavioural and other issues due to lack of resources or other reasons. Public schooling needs to be inclusive of ALL students.

Teachers don't like it because the results of that test can be misleading due to all of the factors I mentioned. Large classroom sizes, classroom management issues, etc. all have their impact.


Further how is knowledge assessed and represented? Are the standardized test biased in favour of white middle class privilige? What kind of knowledge is valued and who decides?

One of the first things that dictators and leaders of repressive regimes take over is the education system. In Cuba nuns and  priests in CatholicSchools were replaced almost immedialtely by hard core communists. To paraphrase a Jesuit educator " give me a child at seven years of age and I will have him for seventy".

Who is to blame for the education crisis? To start the court decision that gave students rights that ended discipline in the schools and in the classroom and the end of dress codes both for students and teachers Next universities and colleges that churned out teachers with degrees who had little or no knowledge of basic subjects they would teach. Several examples;

-A young Miami U lecturer gave the incoming freshman class a general information quiz and was so disturbed by the lack of general knowledge that he shared the results with a reporter who wrote an article for a Miami newspaper. A few examples, a majority could not identify the President, did not know the number of States, did not know if Florida was on the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean and the list went on and on. He was not tenured and was fired for embarrassing the University.
-1982 was the first year that  Florida required that college graduates with teaching degrees take an all purpose exam covering basic subjects English Math, History etc and more than 50 percent failed. This caused a mighty uproar in the teaching world with charges of racism and worse after the results were made public. The head of a private school in Miami gave the same test to his 8th  grade class and every student scored 100%.
Next the unionization of teachers who worked by union rules.
Finally the education gurus who deemed that learning should be fun not hard and there went memorization, followed by those who deemed that 'self-esteem' is more important than correct answers and those who now deem testing as the problem. The end result has been a very large body of poorly educated or uneducated parents who are unable to help their children or are not involved in doing so.
A recent program on new math showed a classroom of students trying to solve 28 divided by seven. Teams were set up a different tables, pencils, papers, scissors, glue were provided and a inordinate amount of time was spent talking, giggling, drawing, cutting, pasting and questioning, more like romper room than a classroom. Of course my first eight years in the 1940s were spent in a school with only four classrooms, four nuns teaching eight grades with weekly quizzes and frequent spelling, geography, history and math bees. Written tests in all subjects were monthly and the Iowa tests were taken at the end of the year.We learned and were not harmed by testing and memorization.


Tom - sorry to dash your hopes, dude.  Those middling scores are a composite of some pretty high scores and some very low scores.  Mayor Emanuel presides over a city whose school district delivered some very low scores.  Ask him who the chief obstacle is to educational reform.  I'm pretty sure that Michelle Lee and Melinda Gates won't figure in his response.  Diane Ravitch has managed to reincarnate herself into the stooge of those who profit from the exploitation of poor children, a situation we might call the Preferential Option for Crummy Teachers Who Belong to a Public Sector Union.  Bully for her, I hope she sells a lot of books.

Common Core might not fix a damn thing.  But it's the reform that's within reach right now.  Reality is, a vote against Common Core is a vote for the broken status quo.  I can't do that and look myself in the mirror.


E Patrick

Scarcely know where to begin. Let me start with uniform. My daughter goes to a school where uniforms are worn. She was cold last week and had a sweater over her shirt. The teacher said that violated the uniform rule so she had to take it off. so she removed it but still kept the sleeves on for warmth. Not enough. He nagged her (yes nagged) her until it was removed. Teachers actually police uniforms.

Now, let me share some characteristics of her peer group. Three girls were suspended for smoking marijuana off school property ( about in school suspension with requirement to see drug and alcohol counsellor). Many of the girls in Grade 10 are on anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication. And then there is the cutting. And, of course the usual promiscuity and so on.

Mental health and addiction problems galore but cannot have the public knowing that or dealing with it in an open and transparent way including counselling and so on for kids.

So what do the schools focus on, uniforms?! Good grief!

As far as knowledge of history, we live right next to a First Nation community (aka reserve) and lots of indigenous students. How many teachers or the public even know what residential schools were and the systemic and forced policy of "killing the Indian in the child" (yes those were the exact words of a famous Indian Affairs official and Canadian poet)

This history is barely covered in the Ontario curriculum! Whose history is told? Who gets to write it?

The most successful school systems in the world and in this country are marked by two characteristics:

1) Radically egalitarian schools

2) Specific instructional techniques

To the Ed Reform movement, poverty is an excuse, rather than the underlying rot in the system. And despite all of the rhetoric about "trying what works" and "evidence-based strategies," US schools never change the way they teach. Singapore teaches math differently. Understand that: they teach mathematics in a manner that differs substantially from the way it is taught in the US. Why should we be surprised that they are at the top of the world on all internationally comparative tests?


"My biggest concerns are that history is not a required subject...." raises the question "what history?". Have you had a recent opportunity to examine an American History book used in schools today, I have?

The PC history of the USA starts in the lower school, especially high school history. Several years ago I had the chance to to visit one of my wife's relatives where four high school girls were studying for a US History test, I had an opportunity to ask the girls what was the most important thing they had learned about Washington and Jefferson. The unanimous answer "They owned slaves".
They went to one of the private schools in the county. I borrowed the book and scanned some of the sections and begin to think that the US was no better than the Soviet Union or China pre1989. PC popped out everywhere. Abagail Adams had more coverage on the formation of the US than her husband John. Near the end Bill Clinton' administration had more coverage,favorable and no mention of Monica, than Washington, Jefferson and Adams combined. These students have been primed to accept the liberal historical teachings in colleges and universities without any doubts.

Jim, What you have in Chicago is an education mayor.

You have poor scores in your public schools because so many of your students are poor. You have better scores in Glenview and Winnetka because few of those students are poor. Duh.

Since the teachers have been under the thumb of -- not the unions -- education presidents and governors (and lately in places like Chicago and New York) education mayors for 30 years, there is no way of telling how good or bad the teachers would be if they were allowed to teach instead of text, dude.

Mr. Mosman,

Ideological textbooks run both ways. There are just as many students who are primed to accept a distorted conservative narrative as a liberal one. The creationist thread in science textbooks is just one example. The naive treatment of free market economics is another.

Both narratives should be critiqued. Let's not pretend it's a "liberal" thing.

Cqns. and P.S.

I meant to say 'test,' not 'text,' in the next to last word. And the genius I was disparaging earlier is Michelle Rhee, who only sounds something like the great golfer when she introduces herself.

And I'd like to know more about the University of Miami lecturer mentioned at 10:25 since he somehow sailed under my radar. Who? When? He doesn't Google or turn up at The Miami Herald site with the little I know.

And the solution to economically poor students performing educationally poorly is surely tests and vouchers, I guess. Since "everything else has failed." And has been failing for 30 years despite (or because of) the best efforts of edllucation presidents education governors and education mayors. From reform to reform, the cliche endures forever.



In view of the following please cite evidence that creationism is being taught in US schools and  also provide provide evidence that conservative free market economic values are provided in US textbooks. Actually there is very little in-depth economics being taught in US high schools. What is falls under  politics rather than economic as a science.  

"The 1982 ruling in McLean v. Arkansas found that creation science fails to meet the essential characteristics of science and that its chief intent is to advance a particular religious view.[13] The teaching of creation science in public schools in the United States effectively ended in 1987 following the United States Supreme Court decision in Edwards v. Aguillard.[4] The court affirmed that a statute requiring the teaching of creation science alongside evolution when evolution is taught in Louisiana public schools was unconstitutional because its sole true purpose was to advance a particular religious belief.[13] In response to this ruling, the creation science school textbook Of Pandas and People changed references to creation to intelligent design. The intelligent design movement promoted this version, then teaching intelligent design in public school science classes was found to be unconstitutional in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District federal court case."

It was the University of Miami in Miami Florida in the Fall of 1982 and it made the papers. I was working in Coral Gables at that time and discussed the matter with several professors who were not shocked at the lack of preparedness and general knowledge of incoming freshman. It was common knowledge on campus. 

Tom - Q: How do you take a poor kid and make him less poor?  A: Educate him.

Emanuel is trying hard to do right by the city of Chicago.  There are a thousand reasons for him to want to improve Chicago schools.  It's Ravitch's new pals who block and subvert him every step of the way.   And it's Ravitch's new pals who profit from the current, broken system.  

Btw, you won't get an argument from me that rich school systems perform better than poor ones.  I submit, though, that there are no realistic policy solutions to that inequity that don't involve reforming broken school systems.  Even if Mayor Emanuel had the ability to reach into the pockets of rich suburban residents - and he doesn't - we've seen, over and over and over again, as far back as the Johnson and Carter administrations, and as recently as the Obama Stimulus, that pouring state and federal money into broken school systems doesn't  do a thing to solve their problems.  


Mr. Mosman., Thanks. It was before the era of education governors. Maybe we never did get universal public education right. Just a little earlier than that, the dropout rate in Miami schools was around 50 percent. I guess by then they had started retaining the former dropouts and sending them on to UM.


Jim, This thread is supposed to be about the common core and Catholic schools. I sort of sidetracked it accidentally by defending Diane Ravitch. (Full disclosure: All I know about her is what I've read in her books, plural.) So I am not going to argue with you (other than to note passim that you are wrong in your assumptions and therefore wrong in your conclusions) and repeat what I said in the first place: Read the damn book.

Now let's let everyone get back to what the common core can and can't do for and to Catholic schools

One more for good measure:


Can one credibly claim that there is a universal liberal cultural norm in schools in America? Give me a break. I said ideology was a problem on both side of the "aisle." I'm no more a fan of liberal narratives than I am of conservative ones.

Yes, let's get back to the Common Core Curriculum.  My question is:  is it really a curriculum, i.e., a set of prescribed highly specific subject matter.  In the language section I read about  Shakespeare was the only specific subject matter required.  (And a great requirement, if you want kids to learn about human nature!!)  I have also read that there is no particular method required, e.g., Montessori in the lower grades.  What the CCC is, is a set of *generic standards*, but they look very good to me.  

The problem is in the implementation, which includes both specific content and method.  Those areas will no doubt be disputed further.

And let's have a separate thread on creationism v. "intelligent design".  The latter topic includes both some scientific nonsense and some reputable, largely  *philosophical* arguments.  But note:  ID does include some non-science --  some philosophy.  The crux of the battle is in the scientists' claim that they are speaking pure science, while claiming that the ID people are just talking  nonsensicle science.  It really isn't that simple.  For one thing the scientists *also* get into some philosophy, which they generally aren't competent in any more than the ID people are generally competent in biology.  A lot of pots calling kettles black.

I'm using a math curriculum with the new standards for two of my children (we home educate), and I'm impressed with the new standards. They seem more rigorous than the old and demand a higher level of comprehension. Whether they'll make any difference on the PISA testing, I don't know. It seems to me that the countries with high PISA results too often (not in every case, but often) make education stressful and unpleasant for children and focus too much on breadth rather than depth. My nephew in New Zealand is, at 17, only studying math, biology, and chemistry. My kids, at that age, have studied much more diverse subjects but not always at the same level. For example, they've taken ceramics, digital photography, social studies, foreign languages, etc., as well as math and science. So I don't think the PISA results are all that meaningful, and I don't think our kids in the US are doing too badly.

Oops, sorry, I meant to say that the high-scoring countries (on PISA) focus too much on DEPTH as opposed to BREADTH. Sorry. 

A two page letter from the Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of NY came home in my daughters' bookbags yesterday. It said there has been a lot of negative press about Common Core as well as parental concerns because the students didn't do well last Spring on the new standarized tests aligned to the standards.  

The letter identifies and tries to address 3 concerns: 1. that the standards are less rigorous, 2. that it imposes constraints on what a Catholic school must teach and 3. that it somehow undermines the schools' ability to infuse Church teachig into classroom instruction.

The letter says none of the above is true, but what is true is that the implementation strategy and timeline are very onerous and that schools and teachers need more support to implement the standards;that this is an issue that is being raised with the State of NY. 


Yes, let's get back to the Common Core Curriculum.  My question is:  is it really a curriculum, i.e., a set of prescribed highly specific subject matter.

Hi, Ann, according to this FAQ at the Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative site, to which Paul linked in his post, the answer is: No, it's not a curriculum, but rather a set of standards.  Teachers and principals have the freedom (and the obligation, if they're adopting Common Core standards) to create curriculum directed toward achieving the standards.



For folks with concerns about Common Core, or who would like to understand how Common Core would be implemented within a Catholic school framework, I highly recommend this FAQ page on the Chicago Archdiocese Catholic Schools website.  I believe it would alleviate most concerns.


Tom - fair enough, I haven't read the book yet.  I'll try to - but not today :-)

Jim P.  == Glad to hear that the program is indeed about standards.  

One big question I have concerns student in the higher grades who have not had the advantage of the standards in their lower grades.  How could a kid in the eigth grade be expected to make big progress when his prior preparation has been extremely poor?  Theoretically, wouldn't the kid have to go back to the 4th grade if he can't do arithmetic calculations?  In other words the CCC would seem to require some *transitional* standards for the upper level kids who are just entering the program.

I've read that some people continue to say that it requires particular content and methods when it doesn't.  Why do people lie like that? 

What has really changed? The Common Core is nothing more than Back to Basics reincarnated. What really determines achievement and learning? Small, intimate class sizes, small community oriented and based schools, responsible Principal leadership and a dedicated board of education. The other gimmicks such as ipads, enormous school size, 20,000 students in a gargantuan unified school district and all the blaming of parents, teachers and unmotivated students for the poor scores and outcomes. Why do kids love school up through 5th grade and then hate everything from then on?

One big question I have concerns student in the higher grades who have not had the advantage of the standards in their lower grades.  How could a kid in the eigth grade be expected to make big progress when his prior preparation has been extremely poor?  Theoretically, wouldn't the kid have to go back to the 4th grade if he can't do arithmetic calculations?  In other words the CCC would seem to require some *transitional* standards for the upper level kids who are just entering the program.

Hi, Ann, I would think that, if there are a lot of kids in the higher levels who are deficient in a particular area, that will come through on the standardized test scores.  Those scores become a sort of baseline.  As the years progress, the expectation would be that there would be improvement against the baseline.  If the improvement isn't there, then those responsible for improving performance would need to ask, "Why isn't this getting better?".  I don't think Common Core, by itself, will solve every problem.  But consistent measurement and metrics seems like a no-brainer to me.  How do we know if performance is improving if we don't measure performance?  Students get graded.  There is no reason that teachers, principals and schools shouldn't get graded, too.  


I've read that some people continue to say that it requires particular content and methods when it doesn't.  Why do people lie like that? 

Some people could simply be misinformed.  And of course, people with a stake in the status quo are going to oppose change.


Jim P. = =

Many developmental psychologists (e.g., the Piagetians) maintain that our progress in thinking builds upon certain definite skills that must be learned in order because the higher level skills necessarily incorporate the lower ones.  For instance, if a kid is no good at distinguishing kinds of things it will not be able to do the if p, then q type of thinking later.  Raising standards won't help those children who are behind because they don't have the mental tools to take advantage of the new stuff.  They will need remedial help, is my point.


It seems to me that educators need a much deeper understanding of how the various human thinking skills develop during childhood and adolescence.  The feds could certainly help there by sponsoring a lot more research into developmental psych plus research into whatever teaching methods best assist the development of those skills.

Somebody raised the question of why so many kids simply hate school after the 5th grade of so.  I suspect that the Pieagetian theory would account for that phenomenon.  If a kid hasn't reached the level of thinking needed for the 5th grade, then there is no way the kid can catch up unless he/she gets some remedial work.  School becomes a hopeless task for them, and eventually they quite rationally drop out..

As a member of a military family, we welcome common core whether in public or parochial schools.  We have had children have to re-take classes or in highschool suddenly as seniors have to take a locally mandated class in order to graduate.  Common core puts students who move around all on the same footing.  It is needed. 

This may help you understand that this is not a left-wing or right-wing wacko assessment -

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