Looking to spark a lively conversation at an upcoming gathering? Mention “Common Core standards” and you’ll almost certainly ignite a debate with people in one of two camps: either passionately opposed to this state-led initiative or heartily in favor of establishing educational standards.

We began hearing concerns about Common Core standards, expectations for students to master in each grade level, from readers several months ago. Some called it a violation of the 10th Amendment, federalizing education and undermining state and local control; another source said it is “encrusted with lies,” and yet another pointed us to stopcommoncore.com for a report indicating Catholic children are in grave danger.

Yet, as we looked into the adoption of these standards, we learned there’s an even larger group in the middle, completely unaware of these standards that are changing the way students are taught nationwide.

According to a poll released in late August by Phi Delta Kappa International and Gallup, 62 percent of Americans have not heard anything about these standards, some of which have already been implemented in our schools.

What exactly are “Common Core standards” and what impact, if any, will they have on Catholic education, particularly in our archdiocese?

Those were the questions we set out to answer this month on Pages 7, 8 and 9.

Much of the opposition to the standards, developed in 2007 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, centers around the perception that they will “dumb down” Catholic schools or require them to use materials in opposition to church teaching.

Interestingly, we found that across the country 100 dioceses have been looking into implementing aspects of Common Core into their curriculum.

In the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Common Core was introduced into the math curriculum in 2013 and the English-language arts component is expected to be introduced in 2014.

In researching the story, reporter Steve Wideman also spoke to archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, Kathleen Cepelka, and three administrators of Catholic schools in our archdiocese. Their take on the standards is not only insightful, but should ease the minds of parents like myself who wonder how they will impact the education our children receive.

Without giving any more of our stories away, I encourage you to read both the national perspective on how the Common Core is affecting Catholic schools on Page 7 and the local look on Pages 8 and 9.

Then, if you do choose to engage in a conversation about “Common Core standards,” you’ll have a good understanding of the topic.

Also this month, don’t miss the story on Page 5 with words of wisdom from our dynamic and engaging Pope Francis.

In his few short months as leader of the Catholic Church, he’s made a lasting impact on Catholics and non-Catholics alike with his actions that often speak louder than words.

In this case, he offers advice to families about the need for prayer in their lives. Simple advice that we’ve often heard, but, as he admits, it’s often difficult to find the time to implement it.

He also offers three essential phrases for peaceful family life. See Page 12 so you can implement them into your daily conversation!

Finally, be sure to enter our Harlem Globetrotter ticket contest detailed on Page 13. We have four- four-packs of tickets to the traditional New Year’s Eve games played at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Entering is simple – either mail in the form or visit us online: catholicherald.org and you’ll have a chance to win this family outing!