At almost all of the talks I give on common core around our state someone will ask me what is happening with Common Core in private and parochial schools. I can always tell them what I know from having talked to leaders in the St. Louis Archiodese and from what I hear from parents whose kids attend catholic or other Christian schools. Many of these schools are adopting common core. What I can’t explain is the why; explain that is without having to point out an apparent lack of faith.
My own view of public education is that it is like the Titanic, and like that tribute to the latest engineering knowledge and marketing hype, it will most likely not live up to expectations and is probably going down. My goal therefore has been to make sure that there are plenty of lifeboats for those who want to get off. Parochial, Christian and private schools (as well as home school) have been those lifeboats.
In terms of education, many of these schools have offered the kind of quality, classical education that most parents want. Their graduates are desired by colleges and universities because they have been prepared for the (pardon me but I cant help using it here) rigor of college course work. They also tend to be a better class of person, meaning that they recognize a greater power outside themselves and have some ability to recognize their obligation towards their fellow man. All generalizations I will grant you, and I’m sure we can all point to exceptions within the parochial school system. There is usually one person everyone would like to throw out of the lifeboat. However, statistics support the generalization, and such schools have been successfully promoting this effect in their recruitment efforts.
TruthIn American Education reported that the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), the largest private professional education organization in the world is actively promoting and marketing common core, these Nationalized one-size fits all standards by providing teaching materials to Catholic Educators all over the country.
Because the CCSSI standards are not evidence based, meaning they have never been used anywhere and thus have no proven track record of the results promised, there is little reason for private schools to adopt them when they already know what their own standards and curriculum produce. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to understand why Catholic and Christian schools would consciously choose to adopt Common Core. Why not let the public schools pilot them for a few years, knowing your own product is currently superior and several reviewers have declared CCSSI middling at best?
A hint at the rational behind their decision may be found in these comments from the American Christian Schools Institute.
· CCSS are a reality and that school educators will need to be generally aware of the impact they will have on curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
· … as the CCSS become the “national consensus” it is expected that parents and supporters will begin to ask about how the school curriculum and achievement results aligns with the standards.
· The standardized testing vendors are already in the process of alignment of their test items with CCSS and developing reports that indicate the level of mastery by students on the aligned items.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Dr. Lorraine Ozar in a July 2012 presentation, “Catholic schools need to pay attention to the fact that the common core standards are here and it is important to get on board”.
I can’t help but recall my mother’s favorite phrase, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too?”
The sense is that, because everyone else has adopted these as the standard measure of education, ignoring the fact that at the moment they are nothing more than a wish that marketing hype is true, we are afraid of being left behind. Fear is a sign of a weak faith. This position begs the question “Why have you been providing a separate education from the one provided in public schools all these years? Is it just because the public schools have been so poor at educating, or is there something more you provide than just literacy and numeracy?”
It is interesting that religious schools, who initially were the only places of higher learning (think Harvard), have evolved into something that follows after the secular world. Now the Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative (CCCII) “has created a massive amount of materials and detailed teaching guidelines, even showing the controversial philosophies that it is based on (Bloom’s taxonomy, Understanding by Design, Backward Design, outcome based education), weeks of unit content by grade and theme – including book lists for 1st grade that contain books referencing same-sex marriage, website links and books promoting social activism, and secular ideas such as building a Facebook page to make friends.”
Doug Reeves (American School Board Journal, March 2011. P.23.) gave a presentation on the CCSS, in which he recommended that schools:
1. Find the common ground between present curriculum standards and the CCSS
2. Appreciate the push to some best practices such as more informational writing
3. Prioritize the important standards and ensure that they are being met
4. Embrace the idea of formative assessment as critical to effective evaluation
5. Use the standards as a floor, not a ceiling
Since private schools are not obligated to adopt common core, these suggestions are perhaps a reasonable middle ground. Number 5 is key but, as they noted, once everyone else has fully embraced common core, finding text book and test suppliers who will provide you products for all the content you are teaching above the standards will be close to impossible. If everyone else thinks the standards are the top, where does that leave you 5-10 years down the road? Most likely at the bottom like everyone else.
I struggle with writing on this topic because I am not a bible thumper by any means. I have never put my own children in Catholic schools, but I have always appreciated the alternative they offer. I admire those who can speak their faith in public and who struggle each day to live it. Perhaps that is why the position of diocesan schools to adopt common core seems disappointing because it shows a preference for the goals of the secular world (which we should remind them is workers for the global economy) rather than the spiritual goals they have for so long embraced. John Adams said, “There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.” Christian and parochial schools have been providing both for centuries. The public schools have been promising recently to deliver both. Given their track record of political correctness, the part about teaching children “how to live” takes on a more ominous meaning. I can’t help but see a bunch of lifeboats with holes in the bottom, slowly sinking next to the Titanic.