Editor’s note: The following letter by Eagle Forum president, Phyllis Schlafly, was mailed this month to key members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States concerning the implementation of the Common Core education standards in public and private schools, including Catholic schools. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.
I write today to share with you our significant concerns about a troubling development in our Catholic schools and to seek your prayerful guidance about this issue.
Under the guise of reforming the nation’s failing public schools, President Obama’s Department of Education offered states $4.35 billion in stimulus funds in a grant competition called Race to the Top in 2010. In order to compete for the funds, let alone receive them, states had to agree to adhere to the only set of national academic standards then under development by a private organization funded largely by Bill Gates.
Governors of cash-strapped states were only too eager for the opportunity to supplement their budgets regardless of the quality of the standards. In fact, the standards were not even completed until after the grant applications were due. As a further inducement to apply for the funds, states were offered waivers of the Bush era No Child Left Behind law and were also warned that failure to adopt the new standards could cost poor districts their Title 1 funds. One must wonder why allegedly superior academic standards necessitated such underhanded tactics.
The new national standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts, called Common Core, were adopted by forty-five states giving an appearance of national unanimity. This facade crumbles once you know the standards were approved not by the people of these 45 states or their elected representatives but by governors and state boards of education officials. Neither the state legislatures nor the voters ever knew about this radical change in their children’s education until this spring (more than two years after they were adopted).
As the standards began to be implemented during the 2012-2013 school year parents noticed disturbing changes in homework, textbooks, and tests. Suddenly, Euclidian geometry was displaced, children were instructed to add in columns from left to right, and “conceptual” math replaced fundamentals. In language arts, “close reading” strategies forced students to read texts “in a vacuum” or without the encumbrance of what was deemed “privileged information.” Furthermore, classical literature was dramatically reduced in favor of reading “informational texts” like computer manuals. The stated goal of the new standards, in both Math and English, is to make students “college and career ready” by focusing on “21st century skills.”
Although Common Core was designed specifically to address public school failings, the standards are impacting Catholic schools as well. Many Catholic schools have decided to adopt the Common Core in a misguided attempt to remain “competitive.” This rationale makes little sense as Catholic schools have long enjoyed a superior academic record to the public schools. This is due not only to a faith-filled learning environment and the dedication of good teachers but because they have had the freedom to employ time-honored teaching methods only sporadically seen in the public schools. With a tradition that includes Cardinal Newman, St. Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas why would we ever consider adopting the latest public school fad in education?
Catholic educators who propose to “adapt” the Common Core to the Catholic model forget the purpose of Catholic education. The mission of the Catholic school is to prepare students for eternal life with God while its secondary goal is to prepare them for temporal work. They accomplish this by pursuing Truth and by seeking to acquire Knowledge for its own sake. In contrast, the goal of Common Core is the narrow training of students to become mere functionaries educated solely for earthly success. Catholic educators should be leery of any standards that create automatons rather than humane individuals.
In the United States, Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular have been under siege over the past five years. In light of the HHS mandate, the IRS targeting of faith organizations, the active promotion of gay marriage, and other federal efforts designed to dismantle moral society we cannot remain complacent as this administration takes aim at our children. Just a few weeks ago the president condemned Catholic education in Ireland calling it “divisive.” Evil is dangerously palatable when hidden in the stew of “good intentions,” and the Church should be particularly cautious about accepting anything at face value from this federal government. Clear Church teaching on the principle of subsidiarity demands that we guard jealously the local control of our children’s education.
Thus far, only math and language arts standards have been introduced. We shudder to think of the challenges to the faith that will be posed when the standards for social studies, history, science, and health are released. Because it is impossible to totally remove personal bias and opinion from the development of any set of standards, and because we understand that standards drive curriculum, we must be especially vigilant in examining new standards before they are implemented by our schools.
In addition to a long list of academic worries with Common Core we have additional privacy concerns related to the onerous data collection requirements that are part of the system. The idea behind the federal data collection mandate is to track students from pre-school through their careers so as to determine whether the standards are succeeding in making students “career ready.” While the initial goal may be laudable, there are serious concerns about maintaining the privacy of minors. The federal government has proposed gathering over 400 personally identifiable data points on each student, and whereas that information could have previously been considered “safe,” the federal government’s changes to FERPA in January, 2012 now make it possible for school officials to share private data without parental consent. Once unscrupulous school officials realize they can sell private data to the highest bidder all privacy will be in jeopardy.
The threat posed by Common Core to the Catholic schools comes as they struggle to compete against public charter schools, home schooling, and other innovative models of education. Sadly, Catholic Schools can no longer count on welcoming the children of the parish as many parishioners no longer feel obligated to send their children to parochial schools. As our Catholic schools search for ways to attract new students, they would do well to reject the servile training model of the public schools rather than seeking to imitate it.
My humble request is that you investigate the dangers of Common Core to Catholic education. Please consider the concerns of a growing number of parents around the country. More than a dozen state legislatures have now taken some action to review, defund, or repeal Common Core now that parents and legislators have learned the details of this program. In April, Indiana became the first state to suspend Common Core led by the efforts of two Catholic school mothers. Your sheep ask for the protection of their shepherd. Your sheep are asking to be fed. The laity needs to hear from the bishops on this very important issue.