Why this diocese is ditching Common Core for liberal arts

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The Diocese of Marquette in Michigan says it is already experiencing success in their process of adopting a Catholic liberal arts curriculum for all its schools, rather than using Common Core State Standards.

The schools in the diocese previously had no set curriculum. The adoption of a classical curriculum comes at a time when two bills that would repeal and replace the Common Core State Standards are being considered in Michigan’s state legislature.

In June, Marquette Bishop John Doerfler said in a statement that after serious consideration, the diocesan schools would not be adopting Common Core State Standards “which were developed for the public school system.”

“That said, we acknowledge that there is a base of adequate secular material in the Common Core State Standards that faith-based schools could reference as part of their educational programming,” he said.

“While we respectfully understand that other private and Catholic schools may discern to adapt or adopt the standards for these and other reasons, we do not believe that such actions would benefit the mission, Catholic identity or academic excellence of our schools.”

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of federal education standards in mathematics and English language arts and literacy, with learning goals that outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. In 2011, 46 states and Washington DC adopted the standards, though since then, three states have officially repealed the standards, while 25 states have dropped the program that provides Common Core-aligned exams.

The debate about whether or not to implement of Common Core standards in Catholic schools, which represent the largest segment of private education in the United States, has been fraught with controversy.

In 2013, more than 130 leading Catholic scholars signed a letter to the U.S. bishops criticizing the CCSS for school curricula, warning that the core philosophy will “undermine Catholic education.” The signers argued that Common Core standards would undermine Catholic education, the goal of which is to “form 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.”

By contrast, they said, Common Core is “a recipe for standardized workforce preparation” that “shortchanges” the goals of Catholic education.

In April 2014, the U.S. bishops published a guide to frequently asked questions about Common Core standards and Catholic education.

“CCSS should be neither adopted nor rejected without review, study, consultation, discussion and caution. Catholic schools must take into consideration the horizon of the local, state and national education landscape and the influence and application of the CCSS...The CCSS was developed for a public school audience. But the CCSS is of its nature incomplete as it pertains to the Catholic school. Our schools have resisted the need to adopt educational trends while addressing the ever changing needs of children in education. We have tried to integrate the best in education while leaving behind what is not appropriate to the Church’s educational mission,” the U.S. bishops wrote.

The National Catholic Educational Association appears to have removed their 2013 statement on Common Core from their website. However, the association does provide resources to educators on how to implement the standards in Catholic schools.

The Cardinal Newman Society, an organization whose mission is “promoting and defending faithful Catholic education” reported in a 2015 article that the CCSS “by themselves are insufficient and even potentially harmful for Catholic schools, which must keep Christ and the Catholic faith as the true core of education.”

Dan Guernsey, the Cardinal Newman Society’s director of K–12 programs, told The Heartland Institute that Common Core fails to provide a well-rounded education.

“Catholic schools can use parts of the Common Core, but the Common Core in and of itself is insufficient to guide education in Catholic schools,” Guernsey said. “The Common Core does college/career prep. We adopt this broader approach and vision toward education, and parents will run to that. Parents will pay, if they can afford it, to get an uncommon education and have their children’s depth of thought, compassion, humanity, and vision of man articulated. In the Common Core, we’ve lost this vision of humanity.”

The diocese began the implementation of a classical curriculum last school year, and in April 2016, Marquette Superintendent of Schools Mark Salisbury told the Cardinal Newman Society that the diocese was “enthusiastic about our early successes.”  

Zach Good, the provost of Sacred Heart Academy, a classical Catholic school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been working with Marquette Diocese education personnel on the transition to a new curriculum. Good told The Heartland Institute that since his school’s implementation of a classical curriculum, enrollment more than tripled, from 60 to 300 students. He said he largely credits the success of the program to the way it values parents as the primary educators of children, something that Common Core fails to do.

Andrew Seeley, executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education (ICLE) told The Heartland Institute that the success of a classical Catholic education program is no surprise.

“The Catholic classical schools are deliberately immersing themselves in the Catholic tradition of education,” he said.

“The Catholic Church has much more experience in educating successfully than any contemporary education proposal out there.”

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