There are certain topics which emerge as “hot button” issues. The very mention of these topics trigger all sorts of responses – some measured and some over the top.
Recently, the term “Common Core” has become just such a “hot button” issue. Responses range from intellectual vigilance to emotional anger.
Common Core is a set of educational standards for K-12 that 45 states have adopted to craft their curriculum.
“The standards are an extension of a prior initiative led by CCSSO (Council of Chief School Officers) and NGA (National Governors Association) to develop College and Career Readiness (CCR) standards in reading, writing, speaking, listening and language as well as in mathematics. The CCR Reading, Writing, and Speaking and Listening Standards, released in a draft form in September 2009, serve in revised form, as the backbone for the present document. Grade specific K-12 standards in reading, writing, speaking, listening and language translate the broad (and, for the earliest grades, seemingly distant) arms of the CCR standards into age and attainment appropriate terms.”
As you can read in the definition, every aspect of education is affected K-12. Therefore, parents should be rightfully attentive.
There have always been standards that in some way are measurable. We rely on the expertise of our teachers to grade papers A B C D F or percentages 100 percent or 69 percent or, in the early years, “gold stars.” I remember my gold stars, although there were too few.
Our high school students fret over the ACTs or SATs. Our Catholic grade schools are subjected to national testing. It would be inconceivable, as well as unfair, to not know the standards area or areas of testing or the materials that would be used in the evaluations.
We live in a demanding world where competition is fierce. So, as archbishop, I am concerned that we provide the best Catholic education possible, in an environment that is compatible with learning and that our students are not in any way placed at a disadvantage in their competition with fellow students from the public schools.
Currently, Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee provides a quality education that is not only academically sound – our schools perform at a higher standard on college testing than our public counterparts – but also value laden with the best of the Gospel mandates respecting the dignity of the person fashioned by God.
We have sacrificed much in order to maintain Catholic education through some very lean and challenging decades. Dedicated lay teachers have replaced religious sisters, and committed principals and administrative staffs have produced successful schools in spite of challenges. There is no way that I would ever want to hinder our accomplishments.
In a true sense, public education could learn from our parochial schools. But we have something which public education doesn’t have and that is our faith, which grounds everything that we do. It is the basis for why we educate. It is our standard. “Faith” is our “common core.”
Why the recent uproar over “Common Core”? I believe it stems from a basic mistrust of authority, especially the government.
There is a joke: “Hello, I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”
There is a fear that standards which lead to curriculum will embody a type of social reconstruction envisioned by the “cognoscenti” (those in the know).
We live in a secularist mentality, which fosters value-free neutrality and the suppression of freedom of expression which would not be tolerated in a Catholic school, yet could be promoted in the public-sponsored forum. Many are fearful that a type of social reconstruction could be embedded in the promotion of types of literature, or selected topics or the preparation and constructions of exams.
One might worry that not even in mathematics is one free from potential bias. I am reminded that one of the themes of the famous novel “1984” by George Orwell was the acceptance of 2+2=5, not only in correctness but in an attitude of subjective allegiance. Of course, in this brave new world, the church and its influence must be eliminated. But we are not going away; we have faced ideologies all throughout history.
I am not as concerned that Common Core is adopted or adapted by our Catholic schools. In the Catholic schools, we have our guardians.
We are blessed to have Dr. Kathleen Cepelka, our superintendent. She has devoted her life to promoting and preserving Catholic education and has earned the reputation of being an outstanding Catholic educator. I trust Dr. Ceplka and know that she would never diminish our Catholic identity or limit our standard of excellence.
As Dr. Cepelka has assured me, we surpass the standards of Common Core. We don’t have to adapt or adopt standards that we have surpassed, but as educators we do have to be aware of the standards so that our students or our schools are not placed at a disadvantage in national testing. I know her vigilance will continue to serve the church, families and the students.
I am concerned with Common Core in our public schools. The majority of our Catholic children attend public schools and, as a religious leader, I want to know what influences are shaping the minds and thinking of our young people.
I would ask that our Catholic families who have children in public schools monitor and inform themselves of the curriculum that influences the education of their children. They may not have the same safeguards and guardians that are present in our Catholic schools.
We need to engage our culture and we cannot abdicate our responsibility to challenge the social thinking. It is our obligation to promote the common good. As Catholic schools, we are not required to adopt Common Core.
But we do hold ourselves accountable to provide the best education possible in a Catholic environment to our young students who hopefully will become the leaders of tomorrow imbued with a Catholic vision. Our “common core” is Faith.