Common Core stirs controversy for Catholic schools

Classrooms at some Catholic schools are undergoing a transformation, as decades-old traditions are being updated with Common Core state standards.

Although the standards are not federally mandated for Catholic schools, dozens of dioceses are nevertheless adopting some of the changes.

The way Bob Laird of the Cardinal Newman Society sees it, "beauty, truth, and knowledge" are lost when Catholic schools begin to weave the non-religious standards into lesson plans.

"If Common Core standards are used across the board, then why send students to Catholic school?" Laird protested.  "Just send them to the public school, and have them take some Catholic--CCD--education."

Many public schools have been integrating Common Core for several years, and critics argue the results aren’t impressive enough to bring to Catholic schools, where students traditionally outperform others.

At Catholic schools, 99.4 percent of students graduate, far more than the 78.2 percent of students receiving diplomas at public schools.

Parents also pay a lot for Catholic school: an average of $3,880 for elementary and $9,922 for secondary education.

In 2009 and 2010, Dr. Sandra Stotsky contributed to Common Core's validation committee, charged with making sure the final product was rigorous.

But Stotsky does not think very much of the final product, and said parents of Catholic school students complain to her about the social issues brought up in the pages of some recommended readings.

"The reading selections are offensive to them as devoted Catholics," Stotsky said.  "They do not think these selections enhance Catholic identity."

Still, at least 100 dioceses--out of 195 in the United States--embrace some part of Common Core.

Take the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, for example.

A "FAQ" sheet circulated there assures worshippers that "as a set of instructional standards, the Common Core is neither pro nor anti-Catholic in nature."

Now, Catholic schools trying to work Common Core into their lesson plans are getting help from the National Catholic Educational Association.

The NCEA says Common Core is not a curriculum, but rather, "...a set of high-quality academic expectations that all students should master by the end of each grade level."

Their leaders also want people to know that it is possible to educate children using a foundation of faith and the standards of Common Core.

"In everything that we do, Christ comes first, our faith comes first," said Kathy Mears, an executive director at the National Catholic Educational Association.  "What we are going to do is use materials that are infused with the faith."

The U-S Conference of Catholic Bishops explained in an e-mail Tuesday that Common Core "is by its nature incomplete, as it pertains to Catholic Schools," because it was developed for public schools.

Still, the U-S Conference of Catholic Bishops said, "the Church applauds government efforts to ensure excellent education is available to all U.S. Children."