Nationwide, Catholic Schools Re-Think Common Core


As more states are re-thinking Common Core standards, the backlash has reached Catholic schools across the country as well who are now reconsidering the learning goals for religious reasons.

Surveys carried out by the National Catholic Educational Association have found that around half of the 195 US dioceses had previously adopted the federal standards.  The Common Core learning goals put an emphasis on college preparation through standardized testing and critical thinking development.  Like private schools, religious schools are not obligated to use the standards.

While it is unknown how many of these dioceses have officially ended their use of the Common Core standards, national Catholic organizations are making a push for educators to take a second look at their curriculum with this question in mind: How can religious tenets be integrated into federal standards?

“Right now, Catholic schools are still trying to figure out how they respond to the Common Core and how deeply they embrace it,” said Dan Guernsey, director of K-12 programming at the Cardinal Newman Society. The focus, he said, has to remain on the development of students’ “mind, body and spirit.”

“We don’t open Catholic schools to get kids into college,” Guernsey said. “We open Catholic schools to get them into heaven.”

The Diocese of Albany recently announced that they would be cutting back on the amount of standardized testing their students must complete while at the same time keeping the standards in place, which list skills that must be mastered in each grade level from kindergarten through high school.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is pushing for a review of the standards by educational leaders, but feels that a complete rejection could put students at a disadvantage once they enter high school.  Sister John Mary Fleming said individual diocese are currently making their own decisions with regards to the standards, either keeping them, adapting portions of them, or, as Denver, Colorado and Lansing, Michigan are choosing to do, not using them at all.

The decision made by the Albany diocese comes at the same time that Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked for a “reboot” of the standards after the state became the epicenter for an anti-testing movement.  Across the state, 20% of public school students opted out of the mandatory English and math tests last spring.  An assessment is expected to be made by a specialized task force later this month, writes Carolyn Thompson for ABC News.

The NCEA recently introduced an initiative, making lesson plans available that integrate the Common Core standards with spiritual components.  For example, a fifth grade Civil War lesson discusses righteousness, while fourth-grade geometry incorporates crosses into a lesson on parallel, perpendicular, and intersecting lines.

Some teachers, such as Meghan Bornhorst, feel the standards deserve a place in the classroom but say they will not be directly testing their students on them.

“A lot of students go to public (high) school,” she said. “I don’t want them to go and say, ‘We were supposed to learn this?’”

According to data from the NCEA, there are currently around 1.9 million students in the country enrolled in one of 6,568 Catholic schools, most of which are elementary schools.