Study Finds Common Core Incompatible With Catholic Education

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Singular focus on workforce development conflicts with Catholic schools’ academic, spiritual and moral mission

BOSTON – The workforce-preparation focus of the K-12 English and math standards known as Common Core puts them at odds with Catholic education, and the standards should not be adopted by parochial schools, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute and the American Principles Project.

As most states rushed to adopt the standards at the beginning of the current decade, the National Catholic Education Association urged Catholic schools to get on board, and many adopted Common Core.  But the tide began to turn, and in 2013 a group of 132 Catholic scholars sent a letter to American bishops asserting that adopting Common Core would be detrimental to Catholic education.

In “After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core,” authors Anthony Esolen, Dan Guernsey, Jane Robbins, and Kevin Ryan argue that the national standards’ unrelenting focus on skills that transfer directly to the modern work world conflicts with Catholic schools’ academic, spiritual, and moral mission.

Catholic schools have traditionally provided a classical liberal-arts education, using lessons from great literature to reinforce moral lessons and educate and inspire students toward a virtuous life and a fuller understanding of the human experience.

But Common Core cuts literature, drama, and poetry by more than half compared to the previous Massachusetts standards.  When great literature is included, it’s often only in excerpt form, robbing students of critical context.

The result, according to co-author Anthony Esolen, is “a strictly utilitarian view of mankind; man with his soul amputated.”

Common Core’s math standards largely end with a weak Algebra II course and don’t prepare students for college-level coursework in science, engineering, and math.  Even supporters have conceded that the math standards only prepare students for community-college-level work.

The authors argue that Common Core’s shortsighted focus on workforce preparation is incompatible with the larger goals of human excellence, spiritual transformation, and nurturing faith and character that are at the heart of Catholic education.

The study includes a preface from Harvard Law School Professor Mary Ann Glendon and former Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, both of whom served as U.S. Ambassadors to the Holy See.  They focus on Catholic education’s dual purpose of imparting academic knowledge and spiritual education, and argue that Common Core’s recipe for standardized workforce preparation diminishes students’ spiritual horizons.

Anthony Esolen is a professor of English literature at Providence College. He is the editor and translator of three epic poems: Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things; Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered; and, in three volumes, Dante’s Divine Comedy. He has published a volume of his own poetry, Peppers, and seven other books, including two which bear upon the matter at hand: Ironies of Faith: The Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature and Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child.

Dan Guernsey is an associate professor of education at Ave Maria University. He also serves as the Director of K-12 Programs at the Cardinal Newman Society. His work includes Catholic educational policy and a focus on Catholic school identity. He has worked for over 25 years in Catholic education both nationally and internationally at the K-12 level as a teacher, principal, and consultant and in higher education in both instruction and administration.

Jane Robbins is an attorney and Senior Fellow at the American Principles Project. She has written extensively about the deficiencies of progressive education and the Common Core, and about threats to student and family privacy posed by government policies such as training students with technology rather than educating them with teachers. She has testified about these issues before the legislatures of 11 states. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Clemson University.

Kevin Ryan is an emeritus professor of education at Boston University.  He is the founder and director emeritus of the Center for Character and Social Responsibility. He is a former high-school English teacher and taught on the faculties of Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Harvard University, Ohio State University, and the University of Lisbon. He was appointed to the Pontifical Academy for the Social Sciences by Pope John Paul II in 2003. He has authored and edited 22 books, primarily on moral education and the education of teachers, and has written over 100 articles.


Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

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