Common Core: A Divisive Issue for Catholic School Parents Too

With more than 100 dioceses using the standards, some question their place in Catholic education.

Adriana Landeros staples colored paper to the wall of a classroom after summer school at Our Lady of Lourdes in Los Angeles on July 18, 2012.
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"With the infusion of our Catholic identity, we are in control of the learning process within our schools; it is the academic freedom that we enjoy as nonpublic schools," says a statement from the Illinois superintendents. "We will determine what to adapt from the Common Core standard according to what best fits our unique mission."

Maintaining the Catholic Identity

Still, opponents of bringing Common Core into Catholic schools say they have many of the same concerns as those in the American public school system.

In a December statement, the Cardinal Newman Society – a Catholic education advocacy group – said it has "grave concerns" about the academic rigor of the standards.

"This school reform effort is nothing short of a revolution in how education is provided, relying on a technocratic, top-down approach to setting national standards that, despite claims to the contrary, will drive curricula, teaching texts, and the content of standardized tests," the statement says. "At its heart, the Common Core is a woefully inadequate set of standards in that it limits the understanding of education to a utilitarian 'readiness for work' mentality."

In public schools, Common Core opponents have made the same arguments. They claim the standards do not adequately prepare children for college and careers, that they were created behind closed doors and forced on schools. Common Core standards, they argue, are a federal overreach into local education which will ultimately diminish creativity and innovation.

[MORE: States Cannot Choose Cost Over Quality in Common Core Assessments, Report Says]

But unlike parents and educators in public schools, those in Catholic schools have one additional concern: that adopting the Common Core standards through the "well-intentioned" CCCII will diminish the emphasis on developing students' Catholic identities.

Rather than "infusing" elements of the Catholic faith into the standards, schools should do the opposite, by making the Catholic identity the foundation on which to build, the Cardinal Newman Society argues.

"This approach misses the point that authentic Catholic identity is not something that can be added to education built around thoroughly secular standards, but that our faith must be the center of –and fundamental to – everything that a Catholic school does," the statement says.

Coleen Carignan, one of the founders of the group Pittsburgh Catholics Against Common Core, says she also shares that concern. The group has gathered nearly 550 signatures on a petition to stop the implementation of Common Core in Pittsburgh Catholic schools.

But just as important as the classroom teacher, Carignan argues, is the role of the parent in a child's education. She says the implementation of Common Core diminishes that role.

The Parent as a Primary Educator

Myers, from the Ft. Wayne-South Bend Diocese, says parents traditionally have "a strong voice" in Catholic schools to help educate children. Additionally, he says a policy in the diocese allows parents to review all curricular and resource materials, and participate in academic standard development.

"I found that policymakers, textbook authors, professors, some professors of education, supported the Common Core, but our parents overwhelmingly did not," Myers says.

After more than 100 emails, phone calls and letters of concern from parents, Myers says the diocese chose neither to adopt nor adapt the standards.

"We don't defend it," he says. "We defend the gospels, we defend the holy scriptures, but we don't readily or easily defend something from the secular press. We defend what the church teaches, but we don't adopt or defend Common Core."

Specifically, parents in Myers' diocese were concerned with the academic rigor of the standards and the materials published in alignment with the standards. And their voices were heard.

"The question was asked, why would we deviate from the work that has been fruitful?" Myers says. "Why would we stop generating our own standards when they have served children and families very well for 180 years?"