In October, 132 Catholic scholars led by Notre Dame law professor Gerard Bradley sent a letter to the American bishops urging them not to adopt the Common Core for their diocesan schools. This is my response. If you are interested in adding your signature to this letter, contact me.
An open letter to the signers of the Catholic Scholars Letter (Professor Bradley et al.)
Dear Professor Bradley and co-signers:
Your letter to the American bishops regarding the use of the Common Core Standards in Catholic schools has been widely reported by the media and has heightened the concerns of many Catholic school parents about the schools’ instructional programs and their children’s futures. We are writing because we believe you have significantly misinterpreted the intent and impact of the Common Core and in doing so have made the work of preparing students for their lives as faithful Catholic citizens considerably more difficult for leaders and instructors in the Catholic schools.
The purpose of the Common Core standards in math and English language arts is to make sure that all students have the basic skills necessary for careers that can provide for a middle class lifestyle in the new globalized economy. It’s that simple. The Common Core is not intended to hold back students who are already achieving at high levels in math, English and literature. In fact, the Common Core may be irrelevant in certain Catholic high schools that are entirely populated by such students.
The nation is enduring a painful economic transition in which a growing portion of the working-age population is unable to maintain a middle class existence. As Catholics who are committed to building the dignity of every person, we have a responsibility to use every one of our God-given gifts to help prepare our students for this difficult new economy. While you have all reached the academic apex of our society, you may have lost track of the way the world has shifted since we were in college. Many of the manufacturing and clerical jobs that sustained our less-educated contemporaries have disappeared, and those that remain demand a much higher level of competence in math, science, technology, reading and writing. The education offered in the K-12 schools of our day – both secular and Catholic – is no longer good enough for the majority of students. All of our schools must do better if the students who make up the bulk of the nation’s school-age population are to have the opportunity to achieve the dignity of a middle class life.
The Common Core offers a framework for doing this.
It is also important to keep in mind what the Common Core does not do. It does not keep a student from studying calculus and science for several years in high school to prepare for a career in physics, engineering or math. It does not prevent a student from reading Ulysses and delighting in it. It does not divert a student from embracing God’s creation and the salvation in Christ that gives us hope. It does not distract our students from reaching out to the less fortunate. In fact, the Common Core may help make the challenge of reaching out to the poor a little more tractable by reversing the decay of the nation’s middle class.
We do not doubt your sincerity. But it is important that you – and the audience you have reached – understand the challenges faced by our children and grandchildren. It is also important that you understand that the Common Core is a floor and not a ceiling for our students. As you say, our schools must maximize the intellectual potential of every student – those who may struggle to enter and stay in the middle class as well as those who are on track to become attorneys, physicians, engineers, scientists and our successors in the professorate. The Common Core will help our schools empower those in the first group – those who will be the bedrock of our society. Achieving the goal of a nation in which every member plays a dignified role depends on our collective success in this endeavor.
Professor of Physics, Florida State University