High, Consistent Academic Standards Don’t Conflict with Catholic Education

Critics have argued that Common Core State Standards are incompatible with Catholic education because of their focus on workforce preparation. “The basic goal of Common Core is not genuine education, but rather the training and production of workers for an economic machine,” the Pioneer Institute claims. “Common Core is ‘a recipe for standardized workforce preparation’ that dramatically diminishes children’s intellectual and spiritual horizons.”

As we’ve noted before, it is the prerogative of Catholic schools to determine what academic goals are appropriate for their students, and as non-public schools, they were never required to adopt Common Core. However, some church officials acknowledge that Common Core offers faith-based schools a reference to inform high academic expectations.

It is absolutely the prerogative of Catholic leaders to design an education system that aligns with and complements the tenets of the faith. The Common Core is a voluntary set of education standards for public schools – and private and faith-based schools are in no way required by states to adopt them.

The suggestion that Common Core is a tool to mechanically prepare students for the workforce, however, is false. The standards set rigorous, comparable learning goals at each grade level. How educators help their students meet those goals is left to the discretion of state and local educators and administrators.

Overwhelmingly, teachers say that having more control has fostered greater creativity and learning in their classrooms. A high baseline of expectations “is not a federal takeover of our schools, nor does it force teachers into a rigid model for classroom instruction,” more than 20 State Teachers of the Year wrote previously. “Teachers have greater flexibility to design their classroom lessons – and can, for the first time, take advantage of the best practices from great teachers in other states.

Higher academic expectations are “designed to be less prescriptive than many states’ previous standards,” US News & World Report notes. In math, for example, “this gives students the ability to choose flexibly from different calculation and problem-solving strategies in the same way most of us do when we encounter math in real life.”

It is important to note that the Common Core was always meant to set a floor, not a ceiling, for student achievement. Overwhelmingly, states have used that baseline to continue to build up, tailoring the standards to meet their students’ needs. In fact, only one state – Oklahoma – has reverted back to demonstrably inferior learning goals.

By setting the bar high and continuing to make adjustments, states are beginning to see improvements in student performance. This year, a majority of states saw gains in proficiency rates after administering assessments aligned to higher standards for the second consecutive year.

Common Core has largely achieved its purpose: to raise academic expectations and to create a framework in which states can continue to make improvements. Even faith-based schools have benefited from that conversation, even if they choose not to adopt the Common Core brand. But to suggest that the standards are intended solely to prepare students for the workforce is inaccurate, and misses the improvements schools are making by holding all students to levels that prepare them for college, careers or any other path they may choose.

Catholic leaders have full leeway to decide what education models are best for their students. As many acknowledge, the Common Core provided a useful platform to build rigorous expectations tailored to those needs. That’s a big step forward, no matter what it’s called, for students, families and teachers.