BCI is getting an increasing number of complaints from Boston Catholics about several important areas lately important to the future of the Boston Archdiocese–pastoral plan execution and Catholic schools. The concerns with changes in the so-called “Catholic” schools under the leadership of Superintendent Mary Grassa O’Neill are so extensive it is difficult to know where to start. For today, we address the tip of the iceberg with the controversial unproven “Common Core” curriculum making its way across the U.S. and in Catholic schools. After you digest what is going on over our next several posts, it will become increasingly clear that there is a big problem.
It is difficult for BCI to even distill all of the problems down to one blog post. You will need to read some of the following articles to get the gist of the problem. That Mary Grassa O’Neill refuses to meet with concerned local parents gives a very clear indication that her leadership must be questioned Consider the following pieces:
Indiana has become the first state to retreat from the Common Core standards, as Governor Mike Pence has just signed a bill suspending their implementation.
A great deal has been written and spoken about Common Core, but it is worth rehearsing the outlines again. Common Core is a set of math and English standards developed largely with Gates Foundation money and pushed by the Obama administration and the National Governors Association. The standards define what every schoolchild should learn each year, from first grade through twelfth, and the package includes teacher evaluations tied to federally funded tests designed to ensure that schools teach to Common Core.
Over 40 states hurriedly adopted Common Core, some before the standards were even written, in response to the Obama administration’s making more than $4 billion in federal grants conditional on their doing so. Only Texas, Alaska, Virginia, and Nebraska declined. (Minnesota adopted the English but not the math standards.)
Here is my prediction: Indiana is the start of something big.
Just a year ago Common Core was untouchable in Indiana, as in most other places. Common Core had been promoted by conservative governor Mitch Daniels, and the state superintendent of public schools, Tony Bennett, was a rising GOP education star.
How did the bipartisan Common Core “consensus” collapse?
It collapsed because some parents saw that Common Core was actually lowering standards in their children’s schools. And because advocates for Common Core could not answer the questions these parents raised.
In Indiana, the story starts with two Indianapolis moms, Heather Crossin and her friend Erin Tuttle.
In September 2011, Heather suddenly noticed a sharp decline in the math homework her eight-year-old daughter was bringing home from Catholic school.
“Instead of many arithmetic problems, the homework would contain only three or four questions, and two of those would be ‘explain your answer,’” Heather told me. “Like, ‘One bridge is 412 feet long and the other bridge is 206 feet long. Which bridge is longer? How do you know?’”
She found she could not help her daughter answer the latter question: The “right” answer involved heavy quotation from Common Core language. A program designed to encourage thought had ended up encouraging rote memorization not of math but of scripts about math.
Heather was noticing on the ground some of the same things that caused Stanford mathematics professor R. James Milgram to withhold his approval from the Common Core math standards.
Professor Milgram was the only math content expert on the Validation Committee reviewing the standards, and he concluded that the Common Core standards are, as he told the Texas state legislature, “in large measure a political document that . . . is written at a very low level and does not adequately reflect our current understanding of why the math programs in the high-achieving countries give dramatically better results.”
The Common Core math standards deemphasize performing procedures (solving many similar problems) in favor of attempting to push a deeper cognitive understanding — e.g., asking questions like “How do you know?”
In fact, according to a scholarly 2011 content analysis published in Education Researcher by Andrew Porter and colleagues, the Common Core math standards bear little resemblance to the national curriculum standards in countries with high-achieving math students: “Top-achieving countries for which we had content standards,” these scholars note, “put a greater emphasis on [the category] ‘perform procedures’ than do the U.S. Common Core standards.”
So why was this new, unvalidated math approach suddenly appearing in Heather’s little corner of the world, and at a Catholic school?
Heather was not alone in questioning the new approach. So many parents at the school complained that the principal convened a meeting. He brought in the saleswoman from the Pearson textbook company to sell the parents. “She told us we were all so very, very lucky, because our children were using one of the very first Common Core–aligned textbooks in the country,” says Heather.
But the parents weren’t buying what the Pearson lady was selling.
“Eventually,” Heather recalled, “our principal just threw his hands up in the air and said, ‘I know parents don’t like this type of math but we have to teach it that way, because the new state assessment tests are going to use these standards.’”
That’s the first time Heather had heard that Indiana had replaced its well-regarded state tests, ISTEP (Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress–Plus) in favor of a brand-new federally funded set of assessments keyed to Common Core. “I thought I was a fairly informed person, and I was shocked that a big shift in control had happened and I hadn’t the slightest idea,” she says.
Erin Tuttle says she noticed the change in the math homework at about the same time as Heather, and she also noticed that her child was bringing home a lot fewer novels and more “Time magazine for kids” — a reflection of the English standards’ emphasis on “informational texts” rather than literature.
These standards are designed not to produce well-educated citizens but to prepare students to enter community colleges and lower-level jobs. All students, not just non-college-material students, are going to be taught to this lower standard.
I want to pause and highlight the significance of Heather and Erin’s testimony. Heather Crossin and Erin Tuttle did not get involved in opposing Common Core because of anything Michelle Malkin or Glenn Beck said to rile them up, but because of what they saw happening in their own children’s Catholic school. When experts or politicians said that Common Core would not lead to a surrender of local control over curriculum, Heather and Erin knew better. (Ironically, the leverage in Indiana was Tony Bennett’s school-choice program, which made state vouchers available to religious schools, but only if they adopted state tests — which were later quietly switched from ISTEP to the untried Common Core assessments.)
A STEALTH CAMPAIGN TO BYPASS PARENTS
At first Heather thought maybe her ignorance of Common Core was her fault. Maybe, with her kids (as she imagined) safely ensconced in good Catholic schools, she hadn’t paid attention.
That’s when she and Erin started contacting people — “and we found out something more shocking: Nobody had any idea,” Heather told me.
The same has happened in Boston. You have to read the rest of the above article here. Then read the following piece:
Saving the Uncommon Core of Catholic Education (Crisis Magazine, May 17, 2013)
As Catholic institutions have come under unprecedented pressure from government to trim their religious and social mission, it seems incredible that Catholic educators would consider voluntarily placing their schools under an onerous federal yoke. But that incongruous prospect may be nearing reality as over one hundred Catholic dioceses have signed onto the Common Core Standards Initiative (CC).
There is no mistaking what the Common Core is all about. Developed by handpicked, federally funded nonprofits and two national associations of state executives, the Common Core is an attempt by a subset of education “experts” to write k-12 standards and, ultimately, dictate curricula that will foster a uniform educational experience in the United States. The justification for this nationalization, according to CCSI advocates, is to create a generation of college- and career-ready students who can compete in a global economy.
The Obama Administration, naturally enough, is deeply enamored of the idea of removing local authority over classroom content and shifting it to centralized bureaucracies, much as it has done with the U.S. economy and health care. Equally naturally, some politically connected big businesses champion the Common Core, eyeing the practical benefits of gearing the nation’s classrooms to be trade schools for their vision of the world’s future workforce.
And at bottom, the Common Core embraces essentially a trade-school mentality. Even in English class—where the heart of humanist education should beat most strongly—the curriculum is to be redesigned to offer less classic literature and more nonfiction “informational texts.” After all, if a student is unlikely to encounter Paradise Lost in his future job, why waste time on it now? Better to focus on the technical manuals or government documents that he might grapple with in the corporate world.
Common Core Validation Committee member Sandra Stotsky, perhaps the nation’s premier expert on English language arts (ELA) standards, refused to sign off on the Common Core standards because they “weaken the basis of literary and cultural knowledge needed for authentic college coursework.” And the math standards are similarly deficient. Stanford mathematics professor James Milgram concluded that it is “almost a joke to think students [who master the Common Core] would be ready for math at a university.”
Why Catholic schools, which have a centuries-old vision of the purpose of education, and a track record only the most elite secular institutions can match, should embrace this olive-drab doctrine of uniformity and utilitarianism is not at all clear…
Now, more than ever, is the time to embrace classical Catholic education and shun secular fads like the Common Core.
In addition to these articles, also read:
The dismissive behavior and attitude of Mary Grassa O’Neill’s regional superintendents at a recent meeting of parents concerned about the rollout of Common Core in the Boston Catholic Schools will be the topic of a future post. BCI has already gotten an earful on this, but any parents familiar with the concerns can post comments below.