Last year, my son Henry asked if he could go see “Mama Mary” after Mass. My wife and I were a bit surprised but she walked him up to Mary’s altar and he said a short prayer. Henry was in Kindergarten and the previous year his pre-K teacher had instilled in Henry a love for “Mama Mary” as their mother-protector. Having a personal saint was important to him and provides a window of understanding into the value of Catholic schools.

Religion is the core of our curriculum. Catholic schools have been successful for many years with a program focusing on the development of the whole person—mental, spiritual, physical, character. In fact, we believe that a person cannot become fully human without developing all these aspects. Catholic schools are places where children come alive. The Common Core standards should not change this core.

In most of our schools, the issue of how to adopt the Common Core has arisen. Notice I didn’t say “whether to adopt” the Common Core because parts of the Common Core are here to stay. Textbook developers have adopted the sequence of the Common Core, teacher prep programs are teaching the methods, and college entrance exams are littered with the language and expectations of the Common Core. To turn our back on these realities is like stomping our feet and insisting that the earth is flat.

The Common Core is not Obamacare for schools and it is not an all-encompassing program. It is the result of the work of educators from several different disciplines (math teachers, English teachers) and the acknowledgement that American students are lagging behind their peers in other countries. Parts of the Common Core are really, really good ideas. Sequencing math instruction is a great idea. Now we are consistent with what is taught in each grade so that if a student changes schools (or teachers) parents know what to expect. On the other hand, the math problem-solving methods of the Common Core seem confusing at times.

Catholic schools do not have to follow a standardized curriculum. In many public school districts, for example, they hold teachers to “pacing guides” which give a daily lesson plan. Every day is planned out! Teachers don’t have the freedom to choose the material they want, they don’t have the freedom to use alternative materials, they must try to keep up.

We have the freedom to develop our own curriculum to reflect our own identity. We can choose our own textbooks, we can choose our own novels, we can even choose our own math problem-solving strategies. The Common Core standards provide a clear direction for the skills that should be taught and when. By incorporating them, we are being fair to our students by preparing them for high school and college.

So what does that mean? It means that principals need to make decisions about curricula while taking into account the feedback of their teachers and parents. Usually the objections center around selections of ancillary materials such as novels or methods of teaching math. Adjustments can be made. If parents are worried about student privacy with assessments, they can certainly opt out.

We should never give up our freedom to develop our own curriculum or the freedom to teach religion as we see fit. That is, after all, our uncommon core.

Dr. Tim Uhl

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