NOTRE DAME, Ind. – A group of Catholic scholars have joined the national debate over Common Core in a powerful way.

catholic classroomIn mid-October, 132 Catholic professors and university administrators co- signed a letter – written by Notre Dame law professor Gerard Bradley – summarizing the reasons they oppose the nationalized math and English learning standards that are being implemented in some 45 states.

The group then forwarded the letter to every Catholic bishop in the United States, perhaps with the hope the bishops would discuss it at their annual conference this week in Baltimore.

But the scholars’ letter is more than just a list of complaints against Common Core; it’s also an appeal to the bishops to remove the standards in dioceses where they’ve been adopted, and to prevent their spread to other dioceses.

Bishops have a great amount of influence over whether or not the Catholic schools in their care adopt Common Core. More than half of the nation’s roughly 190 dioceses are remaking their curriculum to align with Common Core, which is worrisome to the scholars.

Their letter reads: “We believe that, notwithstanding the good intentions of those who made these decisions, Common Core was approved too hastily and with inadequate consideration of how it would change the character and curriculum of our nation’s Catholic schools. We believe that implementing Common Core would be a grave disservice to Catholic education in America.”

Citing the “persuasive” critiques of educational experts such as Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. James Milgram, the group concludes the intent of Common Core is to stop teaching students things they don’t need for the 21st-century job market – such as literature – and instead to “provide everyone with a modest skill set” which can be added to in college, if that’s where a student ends up.

By the time students reach their senior year of high school, 70 percent of their reading will be dedicated to nonfiction, a category that includes “historical documents, scientific tracts, maps and other ‘informational texts’ – like recipes and train schedules,” reports a New York Times blog titled “The Learning Network.”

The Catholic educators believe the obsession with nonfiction, “informational texts” denies students the chance to explore literature that reveals “the creativity of man, the great lessons of life, tragedy, love, good and evil … the tales of self-sacrifice and mercy in the works of the great writers that have shaped our cultural literacy over the centuries.”

“We instead judge Common Core to be a recipe for standardized workforce preparation,” the scholars write. “Common Core shortchanges the central goals of all sound education and surely those of Catholic education: to grow in the virtues necessary to know, love, and serve the Lord, to mature into a responsible, flourishing adult, and to contribute as a citizen to the process of responsible democratic self-government.”

This pragmatic, bottom-line approach to education fails to maximize “the intellectual potential of every student,” and “will dramatically diminish our children’s horizons,” they add.

Too little, too late?

It would be surprising if the letter isn’t discussed at the bishops’ gathering, given how persuasively it makes the case against Common Core. The question is: Did it come too late to make a difference?

Not only has the Common Core virus spread to schools in 45 states, it’s also infected much of the educational support system – including textbook manufacturers, teacher training programs and the ACT and SAT college-entrance exams.

Even “the newly designed GED, the high school equivalency test used as an alternative way to get a high school diploma,” is being brought into compliance with the new standards, writes Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post.

It will soon be extremely difficult for Catholic schools, private schools and homeschooling families to escape the clutches of Common Core. If students want a chance of attending a top college or university, they’ll likely need at least some training in the new standards and their “deeper” approach to learning.

For example, if students are trained in traditional mathematical practices – instead of the convoluted math methods taught through Common Core – they may be unable to understand the questions on their college entrance exam. And that will a big disadvantage in the super-competitive world of college admissions.

So, even if the bishops agree with the scholars that Common Core is “deeply flawed,” they may be conflicted about whether or not to repeal them in their dioceses.

The scholars’ best hope may be that bishops reject the Common Core-like science and social studies standards that are coming down the K-12 turnpike. (Common Core refers only to math and English standards; the compatible science and social studies standards are being packaged under a different name.)

“We … believe that the same financial inducements, political pressure, and misguided reforming zeal that rushed those (Common Core) standards towards acceptance will conspire to make acceptance of the (social studies) and science standards equally speedy – and unreflective and unfortunate,” they warn.


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