From the Common Core Task Force Diocese of St. Augustine

Bishop Estévez has tasked a committee to study the Common Core State Standards and develop a position statement for the diocese concerning this issue. The committee would like to hear your comments and your ideas on this topic. You may find the standards at This will be a true listening session and not a discussion or presentation. Due to time constraints and so that everyone has a chance to be heard, comments will be limited to three minutes. You are invited to attend any one of five listening sessions to be held at the following locations:

Monday, March 16 – 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church-Haut Hall, Orange Park
Monday, March 23 – 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Assumption Catholic Church-Kohls Hall, Jacksonville
Monday, April 20 – 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
St. Joseph Catholic Church – upstairs in the Cody Enrichment Center, Jacksonville
Saturday, April 25 – 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.
St. Paul Catholic Church-Family Life Center, Jacksonville Beach
Saturday, May 2 – 2:00 to 3:30 p.m.
St. Francis Catholic High School-Media Center

We look forward to hearing from you.

Please promote the listening sessions to your parishioners by including this announcement in your bulletin. For more details, email Deacon David Yazdiya, chair, at


Here is a 1st grade homework assignment from a Catholic school child in Jacksonville, Florida.  The assignment is Common Core based.  The page contains 2 editorial mistakes that completely undermine any academic value:

1. The homework assignment includes a picture for the 2 + 2 problem which is illustrated by a depiction of 3 objects plus 2 objects.

2. There is a grammatical error at the bottom where the child is asked to draw one pink squares.

This is just one simple example of what Common Core aligned education is doing to our children.  It confuses our children, the entire Common Core plan is not to teach our children and the cost of the guidelines, curriculum and assessments are just robbing our wallets.

Homework assignment



Superior Catholic Schools Already Exceed Common Core Standards

Classroom (Salvatore Laporta : AP)

One of the biggest marketing disasters in modern times was the roll-out of “New Coke” back in 1985. Based on its fears of being overtaken by Pepsi and the misleading research of “the Pepsi challenge” (wherein consumers seemed to prefer the sweeter taste of Pepsi to Coke), Coke changed its classic formula to be more like Pepsi. Coke sales plummeted, and its loyal customers in a raucous revolt demanded a return to the Coke they loved. It turned out that the initial sweet taste of Pepsi that attracted customers on the first sip failed to satisfy over the course of the whole can. Coke, in humility (and some pride), returned to its Classic formula, and its sales experienced significant gains: income and customer loyalty skyrocketed. The 100 some Catholic dioceses around the country who became early adapters of the Common Core might want to emulate Coke’s humility (and pride) and begin to back away from the new and increasingly troubled Common Core Standards that are beginning to be implemented in 45 states.  Like Coke’s fear of losing ground to Pepsi when it seemed everyone was moving in the same direction, many Catholic school leaders may have attempted to get ahead of the Common Core in an effort to stay relevant and increase enrollment. Like Coke fearing the “Pepsi generation,” some Catholic leaders believe that, since “all” the textbooks, teacher training, and standardized testing is going Common Core,  Catholic schools must be ahead of the wave and proactively go Common Core as well.

These are not unreasonable steps, but they may have been premature. Now that the details and suffocating, standardizing and expensive bureaucracy of the Common Core are being unveiled in the government schools, citizens are asking, “What just happened?” States are beginning to take a second look at what they signed on to, in many cases without appropriate stakeholder input from legislatures and citizens. It may be prudent for Catholic school leaders to do the same. While it is encouraging that Catholic school leaders are not afraid to innovate and that they are responsive to the latest trends in education, it may be wise for Catholic schools to hit the pause button on the Common Core and consider what is becoming more evident regarding its potential weaknesses.

After all, as private schools we are not required to follow the government school standards; we can take our time and demand results from the never-tested, never-assessed Common Core. We know that what we are currently doing is successful. We know that our test scores significantly outperform government schools, even those government schools in states with the highest curriculum standards. Catholic school 8th graders have led public school 8th graders by double digit margins for the last 20 years on federal  NAEP reading and math tests. Our college preparation is outstanding with over 99% of our students graduating from high school and 84% going on to four year colleges (almost double the public school rate). So why are we changing? Why are we seeking to follow those whom we lead? Is our track record so bad that we need to seek the “new ways” of teaching math and English that the Standard writers insist upon? The Standards certainly present themselves as the greatest thing to hit education: “These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards based reforms. It is time to recognize that standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep.” Very nice, but quoting that other successful marketing campaign from the 1980’s, we have the right (and the duty) to ask “Where’s the beef?”

At first glance, like that first taste of sweeter Pepsi, the Common Core with its claims to be “real world” oriented and “research based” seems compelling. But do we just take the Standards at their word because they said so? Or do we challenge the assumptions of what is untested and demand results before changing our own proven educational strategies and priorities? Case in point: one of the signature pieces of the Common Core is its insistence that all schools significantly increase informational texts (as opposed to literature) across the curriculum. Rather than basing their position on research and best practice, the Standards writers base their required percentages of each type of text on federal test description. Citing the fact that the main federal reading test (NAEP) on its 8th grade test has 45% of its questions based on literature and 55% of its questions based on informational texts, the Standards demand that all 8th grade classes should reflect the same percentages of those text types across the curriculum.

There are two problems here. First of all, the test results (not the question percentage structure they cite)reveal that students already do better reading informational texts than literary texts. As there is no NAEP test data to suggest the need for more focus on informational texts, this part of their argument fizzles. Second, research shows that even by 6th grade, school curricula is already 75% informational text based. This means that to follow the standards schools would actually need to decrease informational texts by 20%. So a marquee element of the Common Core English foams away into confusing contradiction. This is “the real” world of schools which the Standards writers missed but which they are now seeking to change based on bogus “research.” Critics of the Common Core note that neither of the two main Standards writers for English ever taught English in K-12 or in college, nor has either published significant research on curriculum or instruction.

Significant concerns also exist in the Common Core math curriculum. According to research, younger students (and novices in any subject) learn best by direct instruction, however the Common Core  moves toward constructivism (e.g., exploration based learning, group work, “fuzzy math” etc.) This is not only inefficient in younger grades but can lead to undue stress as little children are asked to accomplish tasks which are not suited for their level of development and limited expertise. Some scholars suggest that by late middle school, Common Core math skills are two years behind their top scoring international peers. Also, according to some experts, since the Common Core Standards do not specifically address upper level high school math, the program does not include specific guidance for classes necessary to get into selective colleges or science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors. For Catholic schools, a significant part of our appeal is the excellent college preparation that we offer for four-year colleges. The Common Core’s high school standards are too vague and weak to be of significant use to our high-octane efforts.

Until the Common Core Standards prove themselves and overcome the doubt and suspicion that currently surround them—even in the government school sector—we should stay the course, hold steady, and keep our focus as tried, tested, and true Catholic schools.  Let the Common Core, if it wants, reduce education to only college and career readiness. Catholic schools have always been about more. We have our proprietary formula in our pursuit of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness; in our focus on human flourishing,  human excellence and on our eternal destinies as loved children of God. This is the equivalent to the beloved “Classic Coke” formula.  We have a loyal fan base and decades of real world data and test scores to back up our efforts. This is the product that our loyal constituents want. This is the product that Catholic schools were built to produce. No bishop or pastor opened a school solely for “college and career readiness,” but that is the sole guide for the Common Core.

Our students were made for so much more than this … and they know it. Orienting intellectual efforts toward a pursuit of the truth and providing young people with the skills to properly interrogate reality, exercising their full human freedom and potentiality, is what parents and students really seek. The careers and intellectual pursuits they also naturally want come predictably and successfully in tow of these other more lofty efforts. In our Catholic schools we have a unique opportunity to address those deeper realities and profound motivations head on—with passion, conviction, and joy. Coke may “add life,” but Catholic schools can add eternal life and pursue those timeless and eternal truths for which the human heart yearns and which our government schools are not equipped or charged to fully pursue. We can and must explore math, science, reading, and all subjects in ways the Common Core Standards could never even dream of. This is our competitive advantage, and it is not restricted to religion class or some scattered prayers. It is who we are. We need to focus on being intellectually alive—being “Catholic to the core.”

Catholic education is more powerful than any of us can realize! We have all heaven, all reality and the Creator of all reality behind us and pulling for us. Ironically, the Common Core may be the best thing that has happened to our school in decades.  It may encourage a new wave of enrollment as students flee its negative effects. Already in their early responses to the presence of the Common Core, diocesan school leaders are doing a better job than ever at articulating our Catholic identity and are seeking new and effective ways to increase that identity in our schools’ curriculums. Now that new and more concerning information regarding the Common Core is coming our way, there is no harm or foul in hitting the pause button or changing course. Early adoption of the Common Core was made in good faith, that same good faith justifies a pause now that we know more than in those early days. This change dynamic need not be a negative and could assist us to be  better Catholic schools: said Coke executives in reversing the adaptation of the New Coke attempt, “We love any retreat which has us running toward our customers with the product they love most” and “It revitalized the brand—and reattached customers to Coke.”  Let’s lean from Coke, and, while we are at it, let’s borrow something else:

“Catholic education, it’s the real thing.”

(Photo credit: Salvatore Laporta / AP)

Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away

students using ipads 2

I teach theory and practice of social media at NYU, and am an advocate and activist for the free culture movement, so I’m a pretty unlikely candidate for internet censor, but I have just asked the students in my fall seminar to refrain from using laptops, tablets, and phones in class.

students using ipads 2I came late and reluctantly to this decision — I have been teaching classes about the internet since 1998, and I’ve generally had a laissez-faire attitude towards technology use in the classroom. This was partly because the subject of my classes made technology use feel organic, and when device use went well, it was great. Then there was the competitive aspect — it’s my job to be more interesting than the possible distractions, so a ban felt like cheating. And finally, there’s not wanting to infantilize my students, who are adults, even if young ones — time management is their job, not mine.

Despite these rationales, the practical effects of my decision to allow technology use in class grew worse over time. The level of distraction in my classes seemed to grow, even though it was the same professor and largely the same set of topics, taught to a group of students selected using roughly the same criteria every year. The change seemed to correlate more with the rising ubiquity and utility of the devices themselves, rather than any change in me, the students, or the rest of the classroom encounter.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that when I do have a specific reason to ask everyone to set aside their devices (‘Lids down’, in the parlance of my department), it’s as if someone has let fresh air into the room. The conversation brightens, and more recently, there is a sense of relief from many of the students. Multi-tasking is cognitively exhausting — when we do it by choice, being asked to stop can come as a welcome change.

So this year, I moved from recommending setting aside laptops and phones to requiring it, adding this to the class rules: “Stay focused. (No devices in class, unless the assignment requires it.)” Here’s why I finally switched from ‘allowed unless by request’ to ‘banned unless required’.

We’ve known for some time that multi-tasking is bad for the quality of cognitive work, and is especially punishing of the kind of cognitive work we ask of college students.

This effect takes place over more than one time frame — even when multi-tasking doesn’t significantly degrade immediate performance, it can have negative long-term effects on “declarative memory”, the kind of focused recall that lets people characterize and use what they learned from earlier studying. (Multi-tasking thus makes the famous “learned it the day before the test, forgot it the day after” effect even more pernicious.)

People often start multi-tasking because they believe it will help them get more done. Those gains never materialize; instead, efficiency is degraded. However, it provides emotional gratification as a side-effect. (Multi-tasking moves the pleasure of procrastination inside the period of work.) This side-effect is enough to keep people committed to multi-tasking despite worsening the very thing they set out to improve.

On top of this, multi-tasking doesn’t even exercise task-switching as a skill. A study from Stanford reports that heavy multi-taskers are worse at choosing which task to focus on. (“They are suckers for irrelevancy”, as Cliff Nass, one of the researchers put it.) Multi-taskers often think they are like gym rats, bulking up their ability to juggle tasks, when in fact they are like alcoholics, degrading their abilities through over-consumption.

This is all just the research on multi-tasking as a stable mental phenomenon. Laptops, tablets and phones — the devices on which the struggle between focus and distraction is played out daily — are making the problem progressively worse. Any designer of software as a service has an incentive to be as ingratiating as they can be, in order to compete with other such services. “Look what a good job I’m doing! Look how much value I’m delivering!”

This problem is especially acute with social media, because on top of the general incentive for any service to be verbose about its value, social information is immediately and emotionally engaging. Both the form and the content of a Facebook update are almost irresistibly distracting, especially compared with the hard slog of coursework. (“Your former lover tagged a photo you are in” vs. “The Crimean War was the first conflict significantly affected by use of the telegraph.” Spot the difference?)

Worse, the designers of operating systems have every incentive to be arms dealers to the social media firms. Beeps and pings and pop-ups and icons, contemporary interfaces provide an extraordinary array of attention-getting devices, emphasis on “getting.” Humans are incapable of ignoring surprising new information in our visual field, an effect that is strongest when the visual cue is slightly above and beside the area we’re focusing on. (Does that sound like the upper-right corner of a screen near you?)

The form and content of a Facebook update may be almost irresistible, but when combined with a visual alert in your immediate peripheral vision, it is—really, actually, biologically—impossible to resist. Our visual and emotional systems are faster and more powerful than our intellect; we are given to automatic responses when either system receives stimulus, much less both. Asking a student to stay focused while she has alerts on is like asking a chess player to concentrate while rapping their knuckles with a ruler at unpredictable intervals.

Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider is useful here. In Haidt’s telling, the mind is like an elephant (the emotions) with a rider (the intellect) on top. The rider can see and plan ahead, but the elephant is far more powerful. Sometimes the rider and the elephant work together (the ideal in classroom settings), but if they conflict, the elephant usually wins.

After reading Haidt, I’ve stopped thinking of students as people who simply make choices about whether to pay attention, and started thinking of them as people trying to pay attention but having to compete with various influences, the largest of which is their own propensity towards involuntary and emotional reaction. (This is even harder for young people, the elephant so strong, the rider still a novice.)

Regarding teaching as a shared struggle changes the nature of the classroom. It’s not me demanding that they focus — its me and them working together to help defend their precious focus against outside distractions. I have a classroom full of riders and elephants, but I’m trying to teach the riders.

And while I do, who is whispering to the elephants? Facebook, Wechat, Twitter, Instagram, Weibo, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest, the list goes on, abetted by the designers of the Mac, iOS, Windows, and Android. In the classroom, it’s me against a brilliant and well-funded army (including, sharper than a serpent’s tooth, many of my former students.) These designers and engineers have every incentive to capture as much of my students’ attention as they possibly can, without regard for any commitment those students may have made to me or to themselves about keeping on task.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. Even a passing familiarity with the literature on programming, a famously arduous cognitive task, will acquaint you with stories of people falling into code-flow so deep they lose track of time, forgetting to eat or sleep. Computers are not inherent sources of distraction — they can in fact be powerful engines of focus — but latter-day versions have been designed to be, because attention is the substance which makes the whole consumer internet go.

The fact that hardware and software is being professionally designed to distract was the first thing that made me willing to require rather than merely suggest that students not use devices in class. There are some counter-moves in the industry right now — software that takes over your screen to hide distractions, software that prevents you from logging into certain sites or using the internet at all, phones with Do Not Disturb options — but at the moment these are rear-guard actions. The industry has committed itself to an arms race for my students’ attention, and if it’s me against Facebook and Apple, I lose.

The final realization — the one that firmly tipped me over into the “No devices in class” camp — was this: screens generate distraction in a manner akin to second-hand smoke. A paper with the blunt title Laptop Multitasking Hinders Classroom Learning for Both Users and Nearby Peers says it all:

We found that participants who multitasked on a laptop during a lecture scored lower on a test compared to those who did not multitask, and participants who were in direct view of a multitasking peer scored lower on a test compared to those who were not. The results demonstrate that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content.

I have known, for years, that the basic research on multi-tasking was adding up, and that for anyone trying to do hard thinking (our spécialité de la maison, here at college), device use in class tends to be a net negative. Even with that consensus, however, it was still possible to imagine that the best way to handle the question was to tell the students about the research, and let them make up their own minds.

The “Nearby Peers” effect, though, shreds that rationale. There is no laissez-faire attitude to take when the degradation of focus is social. Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class — it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.

Groups also have a rider-and-elephant problem, best described by Wilfred Bion in an oddly written but influential book, Experiences in Groups. In it, Bion, who practiced group therapy, observed how his patients would unconsciously coordinate their actions to defeat the purpose of therapy. In discussing the ramifications of this, Bion observed that effective groups often develop elaborate structures, designed to keep their sophisticated goals from being derailed by more primal group activities like gossiping about members and vilifying non-members.

The structure of a classroom, and especially a seminar room, exhibits the same tension. All present have an incentive for the class to be as engaging as possible; even though engagement often means waiting to speak while listening to other people wrestle with half-formed thoughts, that’s the process by which people get good at managing the clash of ideas. Against that long-term value, however, each member has an incentive to opt out, even if only momentarily. The smallest loss of focus can snowball, the impulse to check WeChat quickly and then put the phone away leading to just one message that needs a reply right now, and then, wait, what happened last night??? (To the people who say “Students have always passed notes in class”, I reply that old-model notes didn’t contain video and couldn’t arrive from anywhere in the world at 10 megabits a second.)

I have the good fortune to teach in cities richly provisioned with opportunities for distraction. Were I a 19-year-old planning an ideal day in Shanghai, I would not put “Listen to an old guy talk for an hour” at the top of my list. (Vanity prevents me from guessing where it would go.) And yet I can teach the students things they are interested in knowing, and despite all the literature on joyful learning, from Maria Montessori on down, some parts of making your brain do new things are just hard.

Indeed, college contains daily exercises in delayed gratification. “Discuss early modern European print culture” will never beat “Sing karaoke with friends” in a straight fight, but in the long run, having a passable Rhianna impression will be a less useful than understanding how media revolutions unfold.

Anyone distracted in class doesn’t just lose out on the content of the discussion, they create a sense of permission that opting out is OK, and, worse, a haze of second-hand distraction for their peers. In an environment like this, students need support for the better angels of their nature (or at least the more intellectual angels), and they need defenses against the powerful short-term incentives to put off complex, frustrating tasks. That support and those defenses don’t just happen, and they are not limited to the individual’s choices. They are provided by social structure, and that structure is disproportionately provided by the professor, especially during the first weeks of class.

This is, for me, the biggest change — not a switch in rules, but a switch in how I see my role. Professors are at least as bad at estimating how interesting we are as the students are at estimating their ability to focus. Against oppositional models of teaching and learning, both negative—Concentrate, or lose out!—and positive—Let me attract your attention!—I’m coming to see student focus as a collaborative process. It’s me and them working to create a classroom where the students who want to focus have the best shot at it, in a world increasingly hostile to that goal.

Some of the students will still opt out, of course, which remains their prerogative and rightly so, but if I want to help the ones who do want to pay attention, I’ve decided it’s time to admit that I’ve brought whiteboard markers to a gun fight, and act accordingly.

Pope Francis Calling Out Common Core When Criticizing About “Guinea Pig” Education Programs


Not only has Pope Francis come out strong the past two weeks with his fearless stance against abortion – but, now, the pope has also begun focusing on health & human rights issues, as well as EDUCATION. And, I am talking about education in the United States.

WATCH THE VIDEO: Pope Francis talked about the right of children to a mother and a father, and the right of parents to determine their children’s moral education:

Now, this is the best news that I have heard since I began my personal fight against Common Core almost 10 months ago. Only because way back in October, myself and a group of adamant advocates against the “Curse of Common Core” from all over the country, wrote a powerful letter to each and every single Archbishop & Bishop in the United States, stating to them in a most prayerful & professional manner that “Common Core had no place in our Catholic schools because it was unconstitutional, unethical, unnecessary and unGODLY”… We also included that powerful letter from the “132 Catholic Scholars” who echoed our sentiments and truly laid it on the line. I honestly believe that those two things have made a huge difference in the way the Catholic schools are now questioning Common Core. The Holy Spirit is now working full-time and with Pentecost Sunday (my all-time favorite Feast Day), only “55″ days away – we know that something powerful is bound to happen between now and June 8th…

We know for a fact that many of these Bishops who received our letter were probably caught by surprise at what they learned from us. In all honesty, I believe that the good majority of them had no idea that Common Core was part of the intrinsic evils that attack our society daily in a fierce manner – embracing abortion, same sex marriage and all sorts of liberal, sexual & political views. And, it still behooves me how the most powerful institution in the world decided to implement this corrupt and unproven, government-instituted education standards without even knowing what Common Core is. Across the board, all Catholic schools decided to implement Common Core into their school curriculum without knowing what the future consequences are going to be. They simply put the buggy before the horse – and that horse is bucking something awful right now…

Friends: I went to every single Catholic source in our country to get to the bottom of this – from the top (the USCCB in D.C. to the FCCB in Tallahassee to our local Dioceses in Florida) – and as GOD as my witness on this Holiest of all weeks in the Catholic calendar – way back on August 15th, 2013 – to my recollection, nobody at any of these levels really knew what is truly behind Common Core. They only knew a tiny bit about it. Only the tip of the iceberg, with no idea what lurked below. A Titanic mistake. Not one of them was aware of the face, funding and foundation of it all – as in the “Pro-Abortion” Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the “abortion giant”, Planned Parenthood; the ever-radical United Nations; the sneaky agenda of Agenda 21; and GOD only knows how many crooked politicians and school leaders who were involved in “sneaking this socialist disease” into our beloved schools. A stealth operation, with the patient not ever knowing what the surgeon was doing behind his back.

It all started way back in January of 2002 with President George W. Bush signing on to “No Child Left Behind”. Seven years later, it evolved into “Race to the Top” with the ever-exuberant President Obama and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, signing on the dotted line on July 24th, 2009. And, as of June 1st of this year, all monies from these grants will be depleted – so every state will be on their own. Needless to say, these 45 states are stuck with the “Curse of Common Core”. A magic trick right before our very own eyes by a “magician in the White House who cannot get booed or impeached, no matter how bad or evil his tricks are”. Folks, this was NOT “Voluntary”. Those 45 states that “inherited” Common Core did NOT sign up for Common Core! Let’s get that straight right now. They signed up for these two other now-defunct programs. What they got was this fiasco of Common Core – which is the “sloppy seconds” of these two programs. I would go as far as betting my life today that if each and every one of those 45 states was asked if they would “voluntarily” sign up for Common Core today – that at least “40″ of them would tell Common Core to take a hike…They would want no part of it! The cat is out of the bag and I just pray that it does not have “9 lives”. Let’s finally put this educational fiasco to rest.

Bottom Line: Over the past 10 months, we caring & devout activists have literally educated our own educators. These prominent educators may have the degrees, but we know the water temperature better. And, there is nothing wrong with sharing the Truth. As long as there is education & communication going on – we must put our pride and egos away and do what’s best for our schools, our churches, our communities, our country and our beloved children. We have kept this all in prayer from Day I as I cannot tell you how many rosaries we have prayed at our “America’s Finest Hour” every Tuesday evening since August 1st at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius for our school leaders, superintendents, church leaders and Bishops. Countless prayers for every single Archbishop & Bishop in our country.

So, let’s all finally come to our senses; put our differences away; keep it all in prayer; and see what Pope Francis is going to come up with between now and Pentecost Sunday, since he is now focusing more on “education across the board”. He has made it a point to look into this “experimenting with our beloved children” educational approach much closer that pretty much spells out Common Core, as that is essentially what Common Core is – an unproven experiment. I have a strong feeling that although he may not know exactly what Common Core is and he may not use that term – our Holy Father knows what good education is. And, better yet, he knows what GOD education is. Now, it’s up to our Catholic school leaders to follow his courageous lead and follow the Catholic Church teachings, and focus on the Almighty Father as opposed to the Almighty Dollar – and “reverse the curse” as soon as possible.

As I have said from day one – we are all in this struggle “Twogether” not only for the greater good – but, for the GREATER GOD…And, Father knows best…He’s our best teacher.

e GREATER GOD…And, Father knows best…He’s our best teacher.





Forty-five states and over 100 Catholic dioceses have adopted the national Common Core Standards for K-12 English Language Arts and math.  This happened quickly, without any debate.  Public and Catholic school parents did not have notice as to what was happening.  Very few state legislators, even those on education committees, knew what was happening.

So, what did all these states and dioceses sign up for, and why such a growing, passionate opposition from parents?

If you listen to the promise of the Common Core, there’s a lot that sounds good, albeit much that causes suspicion.  Private entities developed, and own, the Common Core.  In the public roll-out of their project, they issued a slew of slogans about the standards.  The Common Core initiative would be “state-led.”  The standards themselves would be “rigorous” “internationally benchmarked,” and “research- and evidence-based.”  Furthermore, “no state will see a decrease in the level of student expectations.”  One problem with all this is that this roll-out occurred before the standards had been written.  And, in a bid to get points in a massive federal grant competition, states signed onto the standards before the final draft was issued and without time to review the standards.

The developers and owners of the Common Core made these promises from the get-go, well before they had actually put the standards together.  Unfortunately, the reality of the Common Core fell well short of the promise and will result in drastic changes to English language arts and math curriculum.  By then, though, legions of politicians and education administrators had championed the Common Core.  They had painted themselves into a corner.

With respect to math, Common Core takes students only to an incomplete algebra II course.  One of the lead architects of the math standards, Jason Zimba, has admitted that Common Core prepares students for a nonselective community college, not a four-year university.  Likewise, James Milgram, professor emeritus of Stanford University and the Common Core Validation Committee’s only mathematician (as opposed to math-education professor), rejected the standards because he concluded that they would leave American students at least two years behind their counterparts in the highest-achieving nations by 8th grade.  Common Core replaces traditional axiomatic Euclidian geometry with transformational geometry, a method of teaching geometry that has failed everywhere in the world in which it has been implemented in K-12.  And there is much more to be said about Common Core’s math deficiencies.

With respect to English language arts, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, perhaps this country’s most respected authority on English standards, criticizes the Common Core as “empty skill sets . . . [that] weaken the basis of literary and cultural knowledge needed for authentic college coursework.”  Common Core greatly reduces the amount of classic fiction taught in ELA class in favor of informational texts.  In their Publishers’ Criteria memorandum, the chief drafters state that English language arts “programs and materials designed for them will need to increase substantially the amount of literary non-fiction they include…..the standards emphasize non-fiction that is built on informational text structures rather than literary non-fiction such as memoirs or biographies.”  It further sets forth as “Non-Negotiable Criteria for Alignment to CC” that “Grades 3-5 literacy programs shift the balance of texts and instructional time to 50% literature/50% informational.”  And it continues that grades 6-12 programs should “shift the balance of texts and instructional materials towards reading substantially more non-fiction.”

Why should Catholics be concerned about this diminution of classic literature? Not only because study of classic literature has been proven best at developing truly literate students, but also because it is through literature that students learn about good and evil, grief and joy, failure and triumph — about the nature of humanity itself. The Common Core takes no interest in such non-job-related concepts.

Moreover, prominent child psychiatrists and psychologists have heavily criticized the standards as being age-inappropriate for young children.   In that regard, Dr. Carla Horwitz of the Yale Child Study Center argues that “The Core Standards will cause suffering, not learning, for many, many young children.”

The philosophy of Common Core is antithetical to true Catholic education. It is a workforce-development scheme that treats the individual as human capital, to be shepherded where needed in aid of a centralized, corporatist economy.  Schools are factories where children are trained, and the teachers are their supervisors. The focus of this is to produce workers who have the “skills” to “compete in the 21st century global economy.”

That is far removed from the Catholic understanding of education. In an address to American Catholic educators in New Orleans, Blessed John Paul II emphasized that the goal of Catholic education is “transmitting the full truth concerning the human person, created in God’s image and called to life in Christ through the Holy Spirit.” Archbishop J. Michael Miller, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, drew the contrast between this vision of education and the workforce-development model:

Unfortunately, far too many in government, business, the media, and even the educational establishment perceive education to be merely an instrument for the acquisition of information that will improve the chances of worldly success . . . . Such an impoverished vision of education is not Catholic.

Archbishop Miller specifically rejected the “skills and competencies” philosophy of education that is embodied in Common Core:

A Catholic school . . . cannot be a factory for the learning of various skills and competencies designed to fill the echelons of business and industry. . . . Education is not a commodity, even if Catholic schools equip their graduates with enviable skills.

Although Catholic education officials insist that they are “adapting” and not “adopting” the Common Core.  That is not possible.  One cannot teach more informational texts and simultaneously teach more classic literature.  One cannot teach fuzzy math while emphasizing the traditional standard algorithms.

A group of Catholic scholars recently sent a letter to every bishop, asking them to intercede to return to traditional Catholic education.  Parents, too, are rising.  They are forming groups like Catholics for Classical Education (which has a listing of many other networks across the country) and Louisiana Catholics for Excellence in Education, and Florida Catholics Against Common Core which were launched as an on-line petition to their bishops.  Catholics are looking to their bishops to reclaim control of Catholic education and to return to tradition and excellence.

You can learn more about the fight against Common Core at American Principles in Action and Truth in American


{Ed Note: Please welcome this post from Mr. Emmett McGroarty & Ms. Jane Robbins. Mr. McGroarty is the Director of Education at American Principles Project, a 501c(3) organization and Ms. Jane Robbins is an American Principles Project senior fellow.}



Sometime in elementary school, you quit counting your fingers and just know the answer. Now scientists have put youngsters into brain scanners to find out why, and watched how the brain reorganizes itself as kids learn math.

The take-home advice: Drilling your kids on simple addition and multiplication may pay off.

“Experience really does matter,” said Dr. Kathy Mann Koepke of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the research.

Healthy children start making that switch between counting to what’s called fact retrieval when they’re 8 years old to 9 years old, when they’re still working on fundamental addition and subtraction. How well kids make that shift to memory-based problem-solving is known to predict their ultimate math achievement.

Those who fall behind “are impairing or slowing down their math learning later on,” Mann Koepke said.

But why do some kids make the transition easier than others?

To start finding out, Stanford University researchers first peeked into the brains of 28 children as they solved a series of simple addition problems inside a brain-scanning MRI machine.

No scribbling out the answer: The 7- to 9-year-olds saw a calculation – three plus four equals seven, for example – flash on a screen and pushed a button to say if the answer was right or wrong. Scientists recorded how quickly they responded and what regions of their brain became active as they did.

In a separate session, they also tested the kids face to face, watching if they moved their lips or counted on their fingers, for comparison with the brain data.

The children were tested twice, roughly a year apart. As the kids got older, their answers relied more on memory and became faster and more accurate, and it showed in the brain. There was less activity in the prefrontal and parietal regions associated with counting and more in the brain’s memory center, the hippocampus, the researchers reported Sunday in Nature Neuroscience.

The hippocampus is sort of like a relay station where new memories come in – short-term working memory – and then can be sent elsewhere for longer-term storage and retrieval. Those hippocampal connections increased with the kids’ math performance.

“The stronger the connections, the greater each individual’s ability to retrieve facts from memory,” said Dr. Vinod Menon, a psychiatry professor at Stanford and the study’s senior author.

But that’s not the whole story.

Next, Menon’s team put 20 adolescents and 20 adults into the MRI machines and gave them the same simple addition problems. It turns out that adults don’t use their memory-crunching hippocampus in the same way. Instead of using a lot of effort, retrieving six plus four equals 10 from long-term storage was almost automatic, Menon said.

In other words, over time the brain became increasingly efficient at retrieving facts. Think of it like a bumpy, grassy field, NIH’s Mann Koepke explained. Walk over the same spot enough and a smooth, grass-free path forms, making it easier to get from start to end.

If your brain doesn’t have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher’s brand-new lesson on more complex math.

“The study provides new evidence that this experience with math actually changes the hippocampal patterns, or the connections. They become more stable with skill development,” she said. “So learning your addition and multiplication tables and having them in rote memory helps.”

Quiz your child in different orders, she advised – nine times three and then 10 times nine – to make sure they really remember and didn’t have to think it through.

While the study focuses on math, Mann Koepke said cognitive development in general probably works the same way. After all, kids who match sounds to letters earlier learn to read faster.

Stanford’s Menon said the next step is to study what goes wrong with this system in children with math learning disabilities, so that scientists might try new strategies to help them learn.

7 Major Differences between No Child Left Behind and Common Core/Race to the Top

sandra stotsky

sandra stotsky

1. Focus of Accountability: Schools or Teachers

2. Source of State Standards: State Agencies or Private DC-Based OrganizationsUnder NCLB or earlier, standards were developed by state departments of education guided by education schools, national teacher organizations, teachers, and higher education academic experts.  They were approved through a public process applied to multiple drafts.

Under CC/RttT, standards were developed by private organizations with no transparent review and finalization process, and no public discussion of final draft. The March 2010 public comment draft went out for two weeks of comment, but the comments are not available to the public.

3. Control of Test Content: State Agencies or Federal Agency

Under NCLB, state tests were developed/contracted for by state departments of education and reviewed by a state’s teachers, consultants, and public agencies. Test items were also reviewed by independent sources before tests were given and/or after test administration.

Under CC/RttT, tests are developed by private organizations and unknown individuals, with limited public review of test items before tests given and no public release of all or most test items after use.

4. Control of Passing Score: State Agencies or Federal Agency

Under NCLB in each state, the process for determining passing scores was controlled by state departments of education, with parents and state legislators participating in the determination of passing scores by means of an open vote.

For CC-based tests, there seems to be a non-transparent process controlled by both state departments of education and the test consortia, with possible oversight by the USDE. While parents and others may be included, committee membership may be controlled by both state DoEs and the test consortia, with no participation in a vote permitted to parents and state legislators.  It is not clear how the passing score for all states will be determined and if there will be state-specific scores.  An announcement from one test consortium indicates that “recommendations from the Online Panel, the In-Person Panel, and the Vertical Articulation Committee” will be presented to the chief school officers in Smarter Balanced governing states for their consideration and endorsement, in order to establish a common set of achievement levels for mathematics and English language arts/Literacy across grades 3–8 and high school.

No involvement is indicated for the Congressional House of Representatives.

5. Purpose: High school graduation or college-readiness

Under NCLB, the goal of K-12 standards was graduation from high school based on passing tests based on state-developed standards. Under RttT, the goal after passing tests based on CC standards is enrollment in credit-bearing coursework at post-secondary institutions, with the further goal of a college diploma or certificate. Assumption: every student is judged on preparedness for college even though it is not clear that preparedness for that goal is equivalent to preparedness for an occupational career.

6.  Who benefits? Professional Development Providers or Technology and Global Education Companies

Who makes money from the public trough?  Under NCLB, professional development providers.  Under CC/RttT, high-tech companies that need to equip 50 million students for computer-based testing, and global/national professional development providers that can now provide the same kind of program to all teachers.

7.  Subject Expertise of Teachers: Assured by School District or State Licensure Test Only

Under NCLB, states and local school districts were to ensure the subject expertise of all teachers (via an undergraduate major, a teacher license, or HOUSSE plan to ensure “highly qualified” teacher).  Under RttT, teacher subject expertise is subsumed under teacher “effectiveness,” on the basis of which redistribution of teachers may take place if it can be determined that low-income students have a lower percentage of “effective” teachers than do other students.