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Why Top Catholic Education Organization Says Common Core Could Threaten Religious Liberty


“The government is getting its foot in the door.”

In this photo taken on Tuesday, March 25, 2013, Common Core standards are posted on a bulletin board in a second grade classroom at George Buck Elementary School in Indianapolis. The national math and education standards outlined in the Common Core are everywhere at Buck Elementary. Stapled packets of the standards hang outside classroom doors, and individual guidelines are cut out and displayed in the hallways next to hand-drawn graphs scribbled in crayon. A bill signed last Monday by Gov. Mike Pence makes Indiana the first state to revoke those standards, but what will replace them is unclear in a state where teachers are still reeling from years of change. (AP Photo/AJ Mast) AP Photo/AJ Mast

A leading Catholic education organization is warning that Common Core could pose a threat to religious freedom for Catholic schools that adopt the controversial education standards.


The Cardinal Newman Society's summer newsletter named among the 10 things Catholics should know about Common Core is that it “could lead to religious liberty violations.” That's in part because of the Department of Health and Human Services mandate to cover contraception coverage for employees.

“Catholic schools’ protection from threats like the HHS mandate depends on showing consistent Catholic identity, because First Amendment protections often depend on demonstrating a bona fide religious character,” the newsletter warned. “The Common Core may diminish a school’s Catholic identity by 'crowding out' important elements of authentic Catholic formation, emphasizing skills and practicality over vocation, and failing to teach reasoning from a foundation of truth.”

Further, as more Catholic schools adopt Common Core-certified textbooks and have to comply with Common Core exams, that could in turn lead to schools' accepting more federal and state funding, which often has strings attached, said Denise Donohue, deputy director of the K-12 Catholic Education Program for the Cardinal Newman Society.

“Testing requirements affect instruction and that can be tied to funding,” Donohue told TheBlaze. “Any federal funding puts contraints on a program.”

As a way of combatting what it sees as problems with Common Core, the Cardinal Newman Society launched the “Catholic is Our Core Initiative.”

The Washington Post reported that about 100 of the 176 Catholic dioceses have adopted the Common Core standards because it's getting more and more difficult to buy textbooks and send teachers to professional development programs that are not in some way connected to the program.

Donohue doesn't believe the number is as high as the Post reported, but believes it's a growing concern.

“Not all states read the Common Core texts, but all are required to do an assessment of some kind,” Donohue said.

“There is concern that Catholic schools will be under a different philosophy," she said. "They have rewritten the history and literature standards with a political agenda and selected literature that Catholic school administrators may not want.”

That's the opposite direction of some Catholic schools are going, she said.

“There is a trend among many Catholic schools to move to a more classic curriculum with source materials,” Donohue added. “It's a way to maintain out Catholic identity. I think this has been a real wakeup call for the Catholic schools.”

The Common Core K-12 standards were initially adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia, but many states have been considering dropping or changing their implementation. Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina have repealed Common Core altogether. The standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

A Cardinal Newman Society poll found just 26 percent of Catholic high school principals said they want to adopt the standards exactly as they are, with no alterations.

The Cardinal Newman Society sumer newsletter also declare: “The Common Core is a response to the failings of government schools. ... It can’t be assumed that the standards will improve Catholic schools, which for two decades have outperformed public schools on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.”

The newsletter says that Catholic schools have a 99 percent graduation rate as opposed to a 73 percent rate for public schools. Meanwhile, 85 percent of those graduates go to college, compared to 44 percent of public school students. Thus, the college- and career-ready standards that Common Core purports to support are already covered by Catholic schools, the Newman Society argues.

However, as standardized tests and text books become increasingly more uniform, the National Catholic Educational Association, a professional group representing Catholic schools and teachers, has taken the opposite track of the Cardinal Newman Society, developing the Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative.

NCEA spokeswoman Shannon Andrea did not provide a comment for this story, but referred TheBlaze to the Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative, which she said states the organization's position.

"The Common Core State Standards in no way compromise the Catholic identity or education program of a Catholic school," the Common Core Catholic Identity website states.

The Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative "provides resources to design and direct the implementation of Common Core within the culture and context of a Catholic school curriculum," the page says. "Thus Catholic schools can infuse the standards with the faith, principles, values and social justice themes inherent in the mission of a Catholic school.”

Because of shrinking budgets and the onerous cost of buying non-Common Core compliant text books, private schools are more willing to accept the standards for financial reasons, said Sarah Perry, a senior fellow and Common Core manager for the Family Research Council, a conservative think tank.

“The government is getting its foot in the door,” Perry told TheBlaze. “But it hasn't had to push very hard.”

Perry pointed out that the College Board, which issues the SAT pre-college exams taken by public and private school students alike, are also moving toward Common Core. Further, she worries that states will seek to use funding as a means to push Common Core into private education.

“School choice was a way to get away from failing public schools,” she said.  “The federal government could try to intervene if there is even one federal penny going to a private school.”

“Home schooling has always had to cross the T's and dot the I's,” Perry added. “In a very sneaky, insidious way, they are trying to get involved by making sure the tests align with content.”

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