Buying Catholic Support for the Common Core

A day after the New York Times reported that a group of more than 100 Catholic scholars had asked the nation’s Catholic bishops to repudiate the Common Core guidelines, the Cardinal Newman Society reported that the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA)—a Washington, DC lobbying group for Catholic education—had accepted more than $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote the Common Core in Catholic schools throughout the country.

The Cardinal Newman Society’s Vice-President for News and Communication, Joe Giganti, posted an article on the Society’s website suggesting that the $100,007 grant from the Gates Foundation “will only fuel division over the NCEA’s public encouragement for Catholic schools to adopt the Common Core standards, despite serious concerns about the standards’ academic quality and impact on schools’ Catholic identity.”

The National Catholic Educational Association has indeed been a strong proponent of adopting the federal takeover of Catholic K-12 education—despite the fact that Catholic school parents and principals oppose the implementation without careful analysis.   Just this week, the Newman Society released a survey of principals from the top-ranked Catholic high schools in the Society’s Catholic High School Honor Roll which revealed strong opposition to the Common Core.   Of the 73 schools surveyed, 60 responded—and only 13 percent of the principals think the Common Core standards would improve the education at their schools.  Nearly half (48 percent) indicated that they think the Common Core would harm their curriculum. Thirty-two percent of the principals polled would decline to participate in the Common Core, and another 40 percent said that they would pause and study the Common Core Standards before committing to the implementation.

More than 100 dioceses have already implemented the Common Core this fall.  It is likely that few of them had time to “pause and study the Standards” before implementing them.  And, since the National Catholic Educational Association had already committed itself to taking the money from the Gates Foundation to support teacher training and materials on implementing the Common Core, the NCEA has a strong interest in encouraging Catholic dioceses to do so also.


The NCEA recently launched a revised website for its Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative (CCCII) which offers resources and advice to Catholic schools planning to adopt the Common Core Standards. There is a powerful financial incentive for the NCEA to promote the Common Core—far beyond the Gates Foundation.  As the Cardinal Newman Society has reported, in addition to the Gates Foundation grant, sponsors of the NCEA’s Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative include William H. Sadlier Inc., a leading Catholic textbook publisher, and Riverside Publishing, a national testing company.  These companies—like the NCEA—will benefit from encouraging Catholic schools to adopt the Common Core.

The Catholic scholars who signed the open letter to the bishops documenting their concerns about the Common Core are hopeful that the bishops will become involved in the discussion on whether the federal government has a role to play in establishing standards for Catholic schools.  The NCEA had taken a strong position in favor of the Common Core—even before receiving the generous grant from the Gates Foundation.  On May 31, 2013 the NCEA posted a statement on their website reassuring parents that “The Common Core standards in no way compromises the Catholic identity or educational program of a Catholic school.”  Concluding that “the Common Core standards are not a curriculum,” NCEA reassured parents that “A curriculum includes what is taught, when it is taught, how it is taught and what materials to use…. None of these items are included in the Common Core standards. For Catholic schools, all of these elements will continue to be determined by diocesan superintendents, principals, and teachers working to meet the needs of their students.”

Echoing these sentiments on their website today,  readers learn that the NCEA believes that “The Common Core Standards are becoming increasingly important in the Catholic school industry and the NCEA is taking it seriously.”  Visitors to the website are asked to click on the video to hear NCEA’s Director of Public Policy, Sister Dale McDonald, discuss “why it’s important for Catholic schools to get on board and how they can do so.”

In the video, Sr. McDonald tries to reassure listeners that the federal government would not be mandating curriculum—only standards.  In this “reassurance” she joins most of those promoting the Common Core who continue to say that they are only standards for assessment and not curriculum.  The truth is that standards drive the curriculum.  Assessments always drive curriculum.  When the federal government is developing the assessments, the curriculum will be created to prepare students to perform well on these assessments—and no matter what the NCEA’s Sr. McDonald says, Catholic schools may lose control of the curriculum in their own schools.

Anne Hendershott


Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. She is the author of Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education; The Politics of Abortion; and The Politics of Deviance (Encounter Books). She is also the co-author of Renewal: How a New Generation of Priests and Bishops are Revitalizing the Catholic Church (2013).

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