“Common Core.” Depending on one’s outlook, those words bring relief, confusion or worry.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), one of the latest efforts to improve American education, are either a much needed effort to upgrade schools or an unnecessary, politicized intrusion into local freedoms.
What are the Common Core State Standards? According to the official web site:
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt. The standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit bearing entry courses in two or four year college programs or enter the workforce.
In layman’s terms, the CCSS are designed to create a more uniform national curriculum that make students better prepared for college and the jobs of the future.
The National Governors Association led the development of the CCSS. The actual writers of the curriculum included high school teachers, college professors, school district officials, education experts and parents. States do not have to implement the standards, but there is financial incentive to do so: the states that adopt the CCSS are eligible for $4.35 billion in federal grant money under the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program, an initiative designed to inspire education reform at the K-12 level.
The chance to win money has worked: 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the CCSS.
Catholic schools, of course, do not have to adopt the standards, and whether a school does so is up to each diocese. It actually doesn’t make sense to speak of “adopt,” because Catholic schools are not going to apply these standards whole cloth. They will tweak and refine them in accord with the unique mission of a Catholic school – as in the case of the Diocese of Phoenix (read here about the diocese’s decision to incorporate CCSS into Phoenix Catholic schools). Moreover, as Catholic schools consider adapting the CCSS, they can draw upon the Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative, a project out of the Loyola University Chicago that is working to infuse elements of Catholic identity into the CCSS.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, the National Catholic Educational Association has “not endorsed Common Core but has provided workshops to help Catholic schools if they wish to implement them since they are now part of new textbooks, teacher training and testing, and will be part of the revamped SAT . . .” The Superintendents of Catholic Schools in California recently issued a statement that said, in part: “While [the CCSS] were created primarily for public schools we have concluded after much research, thought and discussion that the rigor and clarity they provide will benefit our Catholic school students and will allow them a better opportunity to excel at a high academic level.”
I am still educating myself on the value of the CCSS and hope to offer a longer reflection in the near future. It is, needless to say, complex. In the meantime, here are a few resources that provide additional information and showcase the contours of the conflicting perspectives:
http://www.corestandards.org/ (Official web site of the Common Core State Standards)
“How to Stop the Drop in American Education.” By Rex Tillerson, Wall Street Journal (Sept. 5, 2013)
“Common Core: Catholic School Community Gives Standards Mixed Grades.”The National Catholic Reporter (Sept. 16, 2013)
“Common Core Commotion: Is New Curriculum Catholic-School Friendly?”National Catholic Register (Sept. 12, 2013)
School Standards’ Debut is Rocky, and Critics Pounce,” by Motoko Rich, New York Times (Aug. 16, 2013)
“Common Core: A Threat to Catholic Education,” by Phyllis Schlafly Crisis Magazine (Aug. 8, 2013)
“Was Adopting Common Core a Mistake?,” Editorial, Los Angeles Times (June 17, 2013).
“Common Core Education is Uncommonly Inadequate,” by Jamie Gass and Charles Chieppo,” The Wall Street Journal (May 27, 2013)
“A point-by-point rebuttal of today’s anti-Common Core op-ed in the Wall Street Journal,” by Michael J. Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (May 28, 2013)