We are Louisiana Catholics and parents who are working to preserve the exemplary education and moral development provided by our local Catholic schools.
Please consider signing our open letter to the Catholic Bishops in Louisiana below and be sure to share with your friends.
An Open Letter to the Catholic Bishops of Louisiana
As Catholics in Louisiana, we respectfully ask for your direct intercessions in this matter.
Across our nation, Catholic education is facing challenges. As Catholics, we are particularly opposed to our schools’ participation in the Common Core Catholic Identity (CCCI). We believe the incorporation of the secular Common Core national standards in our schools will change the very nature of Catholic education, to the detriment of our children and our Church.
Despite claims by our school administrators that Common Core will be implemented in our diocesan schools without compromising our Catholic identity and our ability to provide a strong education, we have grave concerns. It is becoming increasingly difficult for educators in our Catholic schools to embrace and teach direct instruction math, English language arts centered on classic literature, and science and history based on facts rather than political agenda.
The philosophy of Common Core is antithetical to that of true Catholic education. In its essence, Common Core is a workforce-development scheme, designed to train students for jobs. Many big businesses are championing Common Core because of the perceived practical benefits of converting the nation’s classrooms into trade schools for their vision of the world’s future workforce. Schools are viewed as factories, our children the product, and teachers the supervisors. The focus is to produce workers who have the “skills” to “compete in the 21st century global economy.”
That is far removed from true Catholic education. In an address to American Catholic educators in New Orleans, Blessed John Paul II emphasized that the goal of Catholic education is “transmitting the full truth concerning the human person, created in God’s image and called to life in Christ through the Holy Spirit.” Archbishop J. Michael Miller, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, drew the contrast between this vision of education and the workforce-development model:
Unfortunately, far too many in government, business, the media, and even the educational establishment perceive education to be merely an instrument for the acquisition of information that will improve the chances of worldly success . . . . Such an impoverished vision of education is not Catholic.
Archbishop Miller specifically rejected the “skills and competencies” philosophy of education that is embodied in Common Core:
A Catholic school . . . cannot be a factory for the learning of various skills and competencies designed to fill the echelons of business and industry. . . . Education is not a commodity, even if Catholic schools equip their graduates with enviable skills. Rather, “the Catholic school sets out to be a school for the human person and of human persons.”
Although our Catholic education officials insist that we are “adapting” and not “adopting” the CCSSI, this simply cannot be true. Common Core is an integrated whole, and each part of that whole promotes a vision of education at odds with the authentic Catholic vision. We fear that the inevitable result of this ill-conceived plan to “adapt” Common Core will be to create schools that are essentially indistinguishable from government schools, except that they also require religion classes. Again from Archbishop Miller:
The Holy See’s documents insist that, in order to be worthy of its name, a Catholic school must be founded on Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. . . . Christ is not an afterthought or an add-on to Catholic educational philosophy; he is the center and fulcrum of the entire enterprise, the light enlightening every boy and girl who comes into a Catholic school (cf. John 1:9).
Jesus Christ cannot be the “center and fulcrum” of a secular workforce-development education model. Such a model does not recognize that man is made in the image and likeness of the Creator. And efforts to square that circle are doomed to fail.
Many parents make tremendous material sacrifices to send their children to private Catholic schools, not only for the excellence in education but for the excellence in developing a child’s moral character. Certainly, such character must include dedication to pursuit of the truth and an ability to empathize with others. This, not job-training, is what Catholic education should be about. The Bradley letter signed by 130 Catholic scholars that you recently received illuminates the deficiencies of these standards.
These standards were initially funded and are now pushed by an organization that advocates for positions completely at odds with the moral values of the Catholic Church. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided the initial $35 million to lay the framework for the Common Core initiative and has subsequently given over $275 million for propagation of the standards. This alone should make Catholic educators wary of signing onto Common Core.
As reported in the Spring 2013 edition of Frontlines, a publication of Human Life International (whose president is local priest Father Shenan Boquet), the Gates Foundation plays a massive role in the Culture of Death. HLI reports that the Gates Foundation has granted over $4.6 billion for its campaign to promote contraception in the developing world, with a goal of spreading contraceptive use to 120 million more women by 2020. The Gates Foundation annually gives millions to Planned Parenthood here in the United States. How can our Catholic leaders put a “stamp of approval” on any plan put forth by Bill Gates, especially one that directly affects our children?
Considering the huge role that the Gates Foundation has played in the development, funding, and promotion of the Common Core standards, it is undeniable that this initiative is a part of Bill Gates’s “global vision” — and over 100 Catholic dioceses are now part of his agenda. Even more disturbing is the revelation that the National Catholic Educational Association has received Gates Foundation grant money to promote Common Core in our schools. As parents and especially as Catholics, we are alarmed when we see the Common Core Initiative boast in news releases that over 100 Catholic dioceses are accepting the national secular standards and that the NCEA is endorsing them. How can we justify conforming to something devised by those whose beliefs are diametrically opposed to our Catholic beliefs?
What upsets and confuses us even more is that our Catholic leaders seemingly are not outraged by this association. Earlier this year in an address to the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Pope Benedict XVI warned that Catholic agencies must sometimes refuse partnerships that would even indirectly support activities opposed to the Christian view of the human person. “We must exercise a critical vigilance and at times refuse funding and collaborations that, directly or indirectly, favor actions or projects that are at odds with Christian anthropology.” If we are to heed this teaching of Pope Benedict, we must dissociate our schools from any initiatives promoted by the Gates Foundation. “Do not harness yourselves in an uneven team with unbelievers…light and darkness have nothing in common. Christ is not the ally of Belial . . . .” ( 2 Corinthians 6: 14-15)
Teaching and curriculum will be driven by the standards. Common Core proponents claim that the standards do not dictate curriculum and teaching styles, but this is simply untrue. As former US Department of Education general counsel Kent Talbert and Robert Eitel have documented, curriculum inevitably follows from standards. In this regard, in his July 2009 speech to the National Conference of State Legislators, Bill Gates lauded the commitment to the Common Core that forty-six governors had made (and we note that the standards themselves were not at that point written), and he then stated, “This is encouraging—but identifying common standards is not enough. We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to these standards.” Furthermore, the two testing consortia funded by the federal government are using the money, explicitly, to “develop curriculum frameworks” and “develop instructional models.” And even in the Catholic schools, what is on the national test will control what is taught in the classroom. Students will be taught in a manner that will ensure good test results.
The claim that the national standards do not dictate how teachers should teach is, in many respects, false. An English teacher who spends 80% of her time teaching great literature will no longer be able to do so, but must substitute a large chunk of nonfiction texts. A math teacher will no longer be able to teach traditional axiomatic Euclidian geometry but must now teach Common Core’s experimental approach instead. Early elementary teachers who teach the standard algorithm for addition and subtraction are forced to teach alternative “fuzzy math” approaches, similar to the “new math” of the 1960s. In these and in many other respects, the standards dictate the methods.
The curriculum required by Common Core is substandard and in conflict with Catholic values. The drafters of the Common Core math standards admit that the standards are not designed to prepare students for authentic university mathematics. The chief drafter of the math standards, Jason Zimba, admitted before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that the standards are not for STEM and are not for selective universities. The definition of “college-readiness” is minimal and means, in Zimba’s words, that a “minimally college-ready student is a student who passed algebra II.” In fact, Common Core fails to even advance beyond an incomplete algebra II course; it contains only minimal amounts of trigonometry, with no pre-calculus or calculus.
Common Core’s delay of algebra I until the ninth grade is a central problem with the standards. The National Mathematics Advisory Panel strongly recommended placing algebra I in eighth grade to allow a comfortable progression to pre-calculus and calculus by twelfth grade. Common Core fails to provide such a progression. This means that children must resort to a compressed progression wherein three years of mathematics is taught in a two-year period in order to reach pre-calculus and calculus by twelfth grade. When algebra I is delayed until high school, the students who are most able to avail themselves of the compressed progression to calculus by twelfth grade are children from well-to-do families who can afford private tutoring and supplemental courses. Historically, Catholic schools have been a beacon of hope to poor families, closing “achievement gaps” long should before the phrase was coined. Now, we have discarded that rich legacy for a scheme that will likely have the opposite effect.
Common Core fares no better in English language arts. Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the architect of the universally praised Massachusetts English standards, describes Common Core as an incubator of “empty skill sets . . . [that] weaken the basis of literary and cultural knowledge needed for authentic college coursework.” In Catholic education, literary study should be the crown jewel. It immerses students in eternal themes of good and evil, triumph and defeat, sin and redemption. It helps the student to vicariously learn prudential decision-making and empathy for others. Through the classics, children learn about humanity. In short, they learn to be persons of substance in their communities and in their church. But under Common Core, literary study will be reduced to half (or less) of the English curriculum, replaced by more emphasis on dry “informational texts” (of the type a student might encounter in his entry-level job). It baffles us why any Catholic educator would choose this sterility over the rich tapestry of English literature.
Moreover, a review of lesson frameworks on the CCCI website, as well as from other Common Core-aligned sources, shows an emphasis on the globalist philosophy that minimizes national cultural identity and patriotism; discourages a preference for one’s own customs, culture, national pride, and religion; redefines words such as “justice” and “equality”; and teaches that our children are children of nature and not children of God. Placing a child in religion class once a day will not cure such insidious content.
In his recent Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis warned against secularization of the type promoted by Common Core. He identified education as a solution to, not an instrument of, secularization. “The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal. Furthermore, by completely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism. . . .” Having no interest in the transcendent, Common Core will make this problem worse.
Common Core imposes developmentally inappropriate standards on young children. Perhaps because no experts on early childhood education participated in the Common Core development, the resulting standards for those grade levels are disturbingly at odds with the brain development of young children. Many of the standards require abstract thinking that a young child’s brain is incapable of performing. The developmental inappropriateness of the K-3 standards is so severe that, in 2010, over 500 early-childhood professionals signed a “Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative” expressing “grave concerns” about the standards. In this regard, Dr. Carla Horowitz of the Yale Child Study Center stated, “The Core Standards will cause suffering, not learning, for many, many young children.”
The manner of the Common Core creation, and the agenda of its creators, are objectionable. The federal government has tried to minimize its role in pushing adoption of Common Core, but it has been intimately involved from the beginning. The U.S. Department of Education (USED) created the Race to the Top grant competition to encourage the states to adopt these common standards, as well as extensive student data systems, common national assessments, and federally dictated teacher evaluations. USED is also funding the two testing consortia, which provide online curriculum frameworks. All of this is in direct violation of three federal statutes. But it is in keeping with Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s declaration, in a 2010 speech to UNESCO, that USED seeks “to fundamentally shift the federal role [in education], so that the Department is doing much more . . . .” In a 2012 speech he elaborated: “We have pursued a cradle-to-career agenda, from early childhood programs through postsecondary graduation . . . .” The imposition of Common Core on all of American education, including the Catholic schools, is a critical part of this sweeping agenda.
But even if there had been no federal involvement, we would be troubled by the fact that this radical transformation of American education is being accomplished at the instigation of private interest groups, such as the Gates Foundation, the National Governors Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers, that are not accountable to the American people. Standards that were created by anonymous people behind closed doors, with definite agenda but no transparency, should not be foisted on the Catholic schools.
Parents have been left out of the process. As the Catechism teaches, “[p]arents have the first responsibility for the education of their children.” (CCC 2223) Canon law further mandates that Catholic educators are “to collaborate very closely with parents, who are to be heard willingly and for whom associations or meetings are to be established and highly esteemed.” Canon Law # 796 §2. But this has not been the case with many dioceses’ decision to adopt Common Core. In most cases, diocesan officials not only failed to consult parents, but did not even notify them of the change. When many of us have questioned our administrators, we have been ignored, had our concerns minimized, or simply told, “Trust us.” In some cases we have even been insulted as people too dim to grasp what’s really best for our children’s education.
We are our children’s first and primary educators, and we are our children’s primary advocates. The very reason we have chosen Catholic education, and have sacrificed to support it and to provide it to our children, is that it offers something different from what is available in government schools – and what it offers is the Truth. We would be heartbroken to have to look elsewhere. We understand that this matter is a great discomfort to the diocesan administrators who imprudently signed onto the Common Core. But we firmly believe that your direct engagement with the faithful is necessary and, ultimately, will be a source of renewal for the Church.
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Please, hear our plea.
Louisiana Catholics for Excellence in Education