Catholic Common Core – Bishop Gainer Responds

Several of us with Harrisburg Catholics Against Common Core requested a meeting with Bishop Gainer to discuss our concerns regarding Common Core. In lieu of a meeting, Bishop Gainer sent the following letter regarding his position on the adoption/adaptation of  Common Core in the Diocese of Harrisburg:

Bishop Gainer Response Regarding Common Core in Hbg Diocese Schools

I  mean no disrespect and I wish to express myself in a spirit of charity and deference to the authority of the Diocese to make these decisions on behalf of Catholic education, but I am disappointed to hear our Bishop tout the same ceremonial CCSS talking points we have heard ad hominem. It brings me great sadness and regret. I take no joy in disagreeing and do not wish to be disagreeable.  I realize I will have to make my own decisions in the best interest of my daughter at the appropriate time, and I am not sure if that includes continuing her education in the Diocese school system that is going along with education trends that are not founded on truth.

The entire Common Core premise is based on half-truths and semantic deception to create exaggerated claims about “evidence” and “international benchmarking” that has been shown to be simply non-existent. Much of this so-called “evidence” is based on policy papers written by those who were directly involved in the development of Common Core, or were paid in some way for their supportive opinions. It’s like the manufacturers of a new car telling us their car is great because those who designed and built it say so. It’s never been test driven and the driver’s manual hasn’t been fully developed, but no worries, just buy it and drive it home today. In the mad rush to push Common Core out the door, it has left our teachers to sort through new teaching strategies as students become little guinea pigs for a pedagogy that is wholly unproven and untested.

Sadly, in the debate over Common Core there is no debate.

Bishop Gainer states that the hallmarks of Catholic education are “creativity, critical and analytical thinking, real-world application, and academic rigor.” These are certainly laudable goals for education, but Gravissimum Educationis published 50 years ago states:

“Since all Christians have become by rebirth of water and the Holy Spirit a new creature so that they should be called and should be children of God, they have a right to a Christian education. A Christian education … has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of Faith they have received, and that they learn in addition how to worship God the Father in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23) especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth (Eph. 4:22-24); also that they develop into perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13) and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; moreover, that aware of their calling, they learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them (cf. Peter 3:15) but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society. Wherefore this sacred synod recalls to pastors of souls their most serious obligation to see to it that all the faithful, but especially the youth who are the hope of the Church, enjoy this Christian education.”

“The mission of the Catholic school is to prepare students for eternal life with God while its secondary goal is to prepare them for temporal work.  They accomplish this by pursuing Truth and by seeking to acquire Knowledge for its own sake.  In contrast, the goal of Common Core is the narrow training of students to become mere functionaries educated solely for earthly success.  Catholic educators should be leery of any standards that create automatons rather than humane individuals.”

We are educating our children to navigate through this world, but they’re ultimate destination is  wholly another. Catholic children today are facing a country and a culture that is at odds with the values, attitudes, and beliefs Catholics/Christians hold to be self-evident and based on natural law — and those who hold on to the time honored Truths and Traditions of the faith will find themselves swimming against the tide, as Pope Francis recently told a gathering of youth in one of his homilies. Cardinal George of the Archdiocese of Chicago recently wrote:

“The inevitable result is a crisis of belief for many Catholics. Throughout history, when Catholics and other believers in revealed religion have been forced to choose between being taught by God or instructed by politicians, professors, editors of major newspapers and entertainers, many have opted to go along with the powers that be. This reduces a great tension in their lives, although it also brings with it the worship of a false god. It takes no moral courage to conform to government and social pressure.”

These are troubled waters and difficult to navigate, but as Catholics we must make our way without losing sight of our destination.

The term “academic rigor” is now infamous in Common Core doublespeak, as if we all have the same understanding of what it means. In Common Core/education “reformer” world, rigor does not mean difficult, challenging, or intellectually stimulating, instead it means, as Peg Luksik noted when she attended a teacher’s seminar on Common Core, that “Rigor meant… that lots of effort would be required.” Making something more rigorous, in this sense, does not necessarily make it a better way for our kids to learn. In fact, it might make many children more frustrated with learning these fundamental concepts and ideas.

Many prominent education advocates have spoken out about the developmentally inappropriate nature of the standards, especially at the elementary, that is grammar, school level. At a time when children are supposed to be developing a lifelong love of learning and getting the fundamentals of arithmetic, reading and writing, parts of speech, sentence structure and spelling we are asking them to have meaningful conversations or write essays about what they are reading and collaborate on projects. It is just too much, too soon.

There are early childhood education experts, including Louise Moats, who was originally part of the development of Common Core, but now say it is a disaster, especially for K-3 education and students with learning difficulties. The Alliance for Childhood issued a Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals  on the Common Core Standards Initiative in 2010. Why do our Catholic leaders not find their concerns legitimate and worthy of consideration?

It is truly unfortunate that Catholic education, which is founded on truth, goodness, and beauty has capitulated to the economic and secular forces in today’s education market, instead of forging its own way and presenting an actual choice for parents who want to escape state-run education and education marketeers who do not promote or acknowledge (and in some cases actually oppose) Christian beliefs.  There is simply no good reason for our Catholic schools to even consider Common Core. Sister Dale McDonald of the NCEA has said, we must “get on board” the Common Core train or our kids will get left behind at the station, but do we even know where it’s taking us?

Much of the texts and workbooks purchased from Big Education publishers for Catholic schools seem superfluous. There is not much in the early elementary grades that cannot be done with paper, pencil, a chalkboard, and some props. Kindergarten has been transformed from the original conception of  a children’s garden where learning is through play and exploration into a rigorous learning environment with homework and a myriad of worksheet assignments. Instead of lessons, including handwriting and vocabulary, that use beautiful Psalms and scripture passages, we get random poems and rhymes from the workbooks developed by education gurus at Houghton Mifflin Harcout, McGraw Hill, or printed off the internet.

The book StoryKillers by Terrence Moore discusses in detail how the “Common Core” way is destroying the art of teaching classical literature and how classical literature, although still given honorable mention, is being used as a springboard to modern authors whose works are often controversial and quite radical.  Furthermore, Common Core and it’s “close reading,” reduces the joy and beauty of reading classical literature into assignments about plot summary, literary devices, and compare and contrast that completely miss the point of reading such works —  that is, for the story and character development that often lead us to, as Moore says, “an endless probing of the complex human psyche and of the English language.”

In Chapter 5, Mr. Moore states:

“…Either the authors of the Common Core are hopelessly naïve or they think that we are hopelessly naïve. It must be one or the other. The Common Core, as it is written, encourages superficiality in reading and bias in thought. Either there exists no coherent philosophy of education governing the arrangement of texts within the document, or there does exist a coherent philosophy: that of obscuring the high, powerful truths about virtue, freedom, suffering, and happiness found in great works of Western literature…”

As Daniel Katz, PhD recently wrote about implementing the standards as an English teacher:

“When you add together the structure of the standards with the heavy testing regimen that have been tied to them and actual career consequences for teachers tied to those exams that were simultaneously put in place with the adoption of the CCSS, I find it hard to believe that very many teachers, on their own, are going to be able to use these standards to promote children’s love of literature from any social or experiential angle.

If children in classrooms using the CCSS English standards learn to love reading on a deeply personal and affective level and develop a life long relationship with reading as a means of self exploration, it will be in spite of those standards, not because of them.”

And although great works of literature are often included on reading lists, they are taught in such a superficial manner, that they end up killing great stories.

Common Core seeks to complicate the simple — all in the name of ‘rigor.” As any parent who has been inundated with worksheets of math homework can attest to – the concrete thinking of basic math has been turned into abstract arts and crafts project where our children make and color-in boxes, dots and other shapes and write “number sentences.” I’m surprised they’re not writing poems, such a Ode to the Number Six, as an assignment.

There is so much that could be, that is not. And not all of it is because of Common Core, but a much deeper, much more serious problem of Catholic identity.

The national debate over Common Core has brought out into the open those forces working behind the scenes to transform education in our country. If enough parents wake up because of Common Core, maybe it will end up being a blessing in disguise.

The fact that these standardized tests will be based on CCSS is no excuse for adapting any of it into our schools. Post-secondary institutions know full well that private education as well as homeschooling produces more well-rounded, well-educated children and are often more than happy to consider these children for their schools. And actually, I believe the adaptation to CCSS will put our students at a disadvantage, not at an advantage. And as Terrence Moore said in his book Story-Killers:

“The man or woman who understands human nature and history, and who has a tolerable work ethic and a sound character, will never have trouble getting into college, nor landing a job, nor gaining a public voice, nor knowing what counts for truth, beauty, and goodness in the world. As such, that man or women will have a much greater chance of obtaining the great end of human life: happiness — the happiness that comes from pursuing truth and living virtuously.”

One one hand, the Bishop, guided by the USCCB, says we need to adapt to CCSS because of the standardized tests, then he claims that Catholic schools are in complete control of the curriculum. One of the major concerns with Common Core is that these tests ultimately drive curriculum. I have been told that my daughter’s school uses and older, paper version of the IOWA test, but for how long? New versions of the IOWA test are aligned with Common Core and will be computer based. Once these tests are computer based and mandated (in a the most non-mandatory seeming way, of course) because of CCSS, they can be changed on the fly and adapted to each student. Will we know the content of the questions they get? The Common Core’s focus on informational texts makes it easy to emphasize particular schools of thought. Students taking the redesigned SAT, ACT, or the Iowa Tests could soon encounter progressive ideologies including social engineering and alternative lifestyles. Those who control the standards and control the assessments—the assessments are the key— control education.

The word problems and reading samples used in the tests provide the opportunity for ushering in controversial content, and the correct answer according to the test makers, may not necessarily be the “right” answer. It is all very concerning. As parents, under state law, we have the opportunity to review these tests and opt our child out if we feel the test violates our religious beliefs. But with computerized testing, we are potentially facing a moving target.

The SAT/ACT are slowly losing their luster as the gold standard of entrance into a college. As a February, 2014 article from USA Today reveals, “A recent Bates College study found that high school GPA is the best indicator of success in college — not standardized test scores.” Additionally, many colleges are jumping on the “SAT not required” bandwagon as they are realizing that these standardized tests are not accurate predictors of academic success nor do they provide any meaningful “picture” of the actual individual behind the test score.

Catholicism has stood as a stalwart against the forces of modern culture and the trends and fads of the day. It has stood for what is right, good, and true instead of what is popular.

If the leaders in Catholic education think that by giving-in to these modern forces of education “reform”, that they will become more marketable, especially in the era of the “school choice” movement, I would caution that although enrollment may increase, school choice is ultimately a false choice for Catholic parents. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

For more information on how Catholic schools,under the guidance of the NCEA, have “infused”and consulted with the Common Core to adapt it into our schools please see the excellent research and resource documents Pittsburgh Catholics Against Common Core has compiled.

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Corbett’s Common Core Conundrum

After being told to “move along, there’s nothing to see here” by the PA Department of Education (PDE), many representatives in our state legislature, and the “business community” heralding the Common Core and negating concerns regarding the “common” data collection system that has been created in tandem with these “common” standards, Governor Corbett now decides to toss the anti-Common Core crowd a bone. We’ve had over two years of discussions, hearings, meetings, and resolutions about Common Core. Where were Governor Corbett’s strong words of concern and opposition before now? The silence from his office regarding Common Core has been deafening.

Pardon my confusion, but I thought PA had already wiped its hands clean of the Common Core and created its own very rigorous, very “college and career ready,” and very “21st Century” PA standards that were definitely NOT Common Core, even though we were originally told Common Core was the greatest thing to come along in education since the mimeograph machine. All these lofty, loosely defined terms about “rigor” and “21st century economic skills” are tossed around as if those of us in the cheap seats understand education ‘reformer’ doublespeak and use of semantic deception to garner support for ideas that if explained truthfully most people would outright reject.

The Corbett administration’s “No Child Left Behind” (ESEA) Waiver request stated that:

 “Pennsylvania educators from across the state convened in 2012 to meld the PA Academic Standards with CCSS standards. … Overall, the PA Common Core Standards reflect a rigorous set of standards that embraces the CCSS Anchor Standards in English Language Arts as well as the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice…”)

Sadly, I fear we’re stuck on “repeat play” with the same old Common Core song – the Name Game — and dance — the Hustle. For the most part, these supposedly unique PA Academic Core Standards were merely an exercise in the use of synonyms and superfluous words and phrases, as well as some clever re-ordering, that do not in any meaningful way alter the original Common Core. So, if I seem cautiously optimistic, if not downright skeptical, about yet another round of the Common Core kerfuffle, I apologize, but it’s been quite a journey on a road paved with duplicitous intentions.

Why would PA need to “meld” and “embrace” something we supposedly moved away from? Why must our standards be anchored to Common Core at all? Furthermore, if the Corbett administration is concerned about a “top down takeover of the education system” then why did it apply for and receive $51 million from the federal department of education for PA’s early learning education program?

It is through this federal grant aid system that the federal government bypasses our state legislature and Constitutional rule of law and pushes policies and programs like CCSS and the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) into our state. Granted, Congress appropriates the money that funds these federal bureaucracies, but beyond that it exercises little, if any, control over how these funds are used. These grants went not only to the PDE, but also to the PA Information Management Systems (PIMS) and the Department of Labor and Industry. And, as we can see, once implemented, these programs and policies are difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate, no matter who gets elected to office.

Common Core is a lesson in the importance of Constitutionally limited government, the rule of law, and states’ rights via the Tenth Amendment as well as the principle of subsidiarity, which focuses on protecting the proper and natural functions of local communities from oppressive control and manipulation by more comprehensive power. It directs the functions of government to the most local level possible.

The crux of the matter is this federal grant aid system, in addition to the collusion of crony capitalists and big government, that ignores the authority of our elected representation and creates a massive bureaucratic administrative state. It is a system that more resembles Fascism than a Constitutional Republic. In order for this “top down takeover” to end, we must stop making deals that further erode our ability to function as a sovereign state and violate the principle of subsidiarity, especially when it comes to education. We can’t have it both ways. We end up groveling for our own taxpayer dollars back from the federal government, and yet only receive cents on the dollar in return. Furthermore, we are abdicating the authority and responsibility of our locally elected school boards to a federal leviathan with an insatiable appetite for centralized power.

The Student Aligned Systems portal (SAS), which includes a “Voluntary Model Curriculum” with lesson plans that align perfectly to the “Core” and to the Keystone Exams, runs contradictory to the claim that the PDE does not meddle into curriculum at the local district level. In fact, this “voluntary” curriculum, available on the SAS portal, was a big selling point for the federal government panel that evaluated PA’s grant application in which representatives from the PDE made it clear that “when we have made mandatory things available, pretty much everybody is using them.”

Act 82 of 2012 put a temporary moratorium on “certain Data Collection Systems and Data Sets” for both the early childhood learning database (called PELICAN) and the PIMS, which manages the “womb to workforce” data system. PA received $24+ million in grant money from the federal government specifically for the creation of this SLDS a/k/a “womb to workforce” data system. Act 82 includes a long list of exceptions to this moratorium including the catch-all phrase: “any data pursuant to other Federal requirements to meet eligibility requirements for Federal Funds” and it lists all the federal laws that apply.

I realize that any mention of data collection and privacy concerns brings on snickers and mockery of the “tin foil hat” brigade, but do any of us really know what data is/was the state required to collect and share to meet eligibility for federal funds? How can the state possibly guarantee privacy of our children’s data, especially when this data is stored in the “cloud” environment – such as with the MMS Student Information System. And even if the Corbett Administration put the brakes on Common Core and “common” data collection, can another administration come along and reinstate it? Would all this work now being done now to eradicate Common Core and fortify data privacy be wiped away in one election and a changing of the guard in our state bureaucracies?

If Governor Corbett has indeed has seen the light, I thank him and welcome his voice in the fight against Common Core, and all it entails. I sincerely hope this bone we’re being tossed has real substance, instead of just being more of the same hollow rhetoric. And I hope Governor Corbett will begin to realize that our rights as citizens of a sovereign state are not up for sale to the highest bidder, nor is the privacy and safety of our children in state-controlled schools. And although this may seem like an election “Hail Mary” pass for Corbett, given the alternatives, I am hoping for a completion.

PA’s Early Learning Challenge

The Corbett administration applied for and was awarded $51 million of federal taxpayer dollars via the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge in FY 2013. So, we, the taxpayers, send our hard earned money to the federal government, then our states grovel for some of it back via this federal grant-aid boondoggle and as long as we do what the feds want us to do, we might get the money. Or, we might not get the money, but we still end up doing what the feds want us to do anyway, as was the case with the first two rounds on Race to the Top.

The Early Learning grant was a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education. In its application, PA submitted early learning standards, which can be found in the Appendix documents.

These early learning standards cover the years that include Pre-K (which apparently begins at “birth”) through 1st Grade and include lessons under categories such as “Environment and Ecology, ” “Markets and the Functions of Government,” “Economic Systems,” and “Scarcity and Choice.” These economic lessons seem to be designed to teach our little ones about “fair share” and redistributing classroom resources to be sure everyone gets the same amount. It also starts them early on the “humans are bad and are destroying the earth and all its creatures” mantra embedded throughout much of the “Environment and Ecology” learning standards.

For example, the Pre-Kindergarten Standard 6.1 – Economic Systems, states:

“The learner will: … Attempt to distribute items equally among a group such as snack, materials or toys.”

And in the supportive practices column for this lesson:

“The adult will:
– Ask open-ended questions about unfair distribution such as one child has more or less.
– Assist with equal distribution.”

In the Kindergarten learning standards, this is concept further reinforced, where the

The learner will: … correct the problem if one child has more or less than another.”

And, under supportive practices,

The adult will: … Discuss why everyone should have a fair share.”

This goes well beyond encouraging children to share/take turns or promoting altruism. There is a world of difference between “sharing” and “fair share.” One is done voluntarily as an act of charity the other is done by forced redistribution. And, good luck “correcting the problem” when it involves taking snacks or toys away from toddlers. Mine! Mine! Mine! Teachable moments become tantrum time.  It reminds me of my experience with a local mom’s club during an Easter egg hunt. My daughter was older than the other children and they went around and collected the eggs and the leader announces that after all the eggs are collected, the kids would empty their baskets and then the eggs would be divided up equally among the children. The little ones were happy with whatever was in their basket, but my daughter was old enough to realize that she was getting ripped off.  Now, I had told her at the beginning that because she was older, she needed to be aware of letting the little ones find eggs too, instead of just grabbing them all up. We didn’t make a stink, but it definitely sent a message.  I’m sure the mommy leader was just trying to be nice, but, if anything had to be done at all, the better thing to do would be to encourage the children to voluntarily give an egg to someone who had not found any, making it an act of the will, and not a lesson in collectivism.

For 1st Grade, the preface to the Social Studies early learning standards states that children will:

further expand their understanding of their role in the community, larger democratic society and as a global citizen.

This is not education; this is indoctrination. These children are too young to understand facts versus opinion, economic theory,  or to question their parents when they are taught about such things in a classroom environment that may contradict or conflict with the values they are taught at home. Much of it is developmentally inappropriate. They have taken the elementary school standards and worked backwards to create these standards for early childhood learning. It defies logic or common sense.

Also, thanks to the ‘Early Learning Challenge’ grant, we now have a  Kindergarten Education Inventory (KEI) managed through the Office of Childhood Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), that assesses not only academic readiness, but things such as: “Emotional Regulation,” “Self Awareness,” “Conflict Resolution,” “Behavior Regulation,” “Collaborative Communication,” “Curiosity and Initiative,” and “Engagement, Attention and Persistence.” These are five and six year olds. I don’t know many who engage in “collaborative communication” or have developed “conflict resolution” skills.  This is all part of a national trend for “social emotional learning.”

PA worked with the CASEL organization and in 2013 adopted a set of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Standards .  CASEL published a report titled “Aligning Preschool through High School Social and Emotional Learning Standards: A Critical and Doable Next Step” published in November 2013, which states:

“Our call for the alignment of SEL standards is in harmony with the growing attention to SEL by state and federal policymakers (e.g. NASBE, 2013) and a rising trend toward more global preschool through early elementary integration and alignment. For example, in 2012 the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors’ Association joined together to host a forum titled Aligning and Implementing Birth‐3rd Grade Learning Standards: A Strong Foundation for College and Career‐Training Readiness.”

These are the same groups involved in the development of Common Core State Standards.

According to the CASEL report:

“The Pennsylvania Standards for Student Interpersonal Skills (SIS) are organized around four grade bands (Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, grades 1-5, 6-8, and 9-12). As with the Illinois standards, Pennsylvania also based its standards on the CASEL framework. The SIS address three sets of skills intended to delineate how students should be prepared to “navigate the social world of family, school, college, and career not only in America but in the world of the 21st century and the global marketplace” (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2012; p. 3). “

Am I the only one who finds it absurd that we are now beginning to consider “college and career readiness” at birth?  On whose authority was it decided that my child needs to learn she is a global, and not a uniquely American, citizen and be prepared for the global marketplace, starting in pre-school? Who defines these social emotional standards and how are they assessed? And where is the data from these assessments on our little ones captured and stored?  House Resolution 338 and the revised Chapter 4 regulations only protects “personal family data.”

The RTTT Early Learning Challenge application states:

“OCDEL contracted with the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) in July of 2012 to develop a web-based data system that allows for an easy collection of student outcomes. On a secure website, teachers log-in and enter both demographic information for each student in their kindergarten class and a skill level for each of the 34 indicators on the KEI. (p. 238)”

and

“OCDEL started the process of including KEI data into the SLDS in the summer of 2013. (p. 246)


Remember, the SLDS is the State Longitudinal Database System (a/ka/a “womb to workplace.“)

According to the No Child Left Behind Waiver Request submitted by the Corbett Administration:

“OCDEL has been piloting its Kindergarten Entry Inventory for the past two school years and will be piloting an electronic database this year.”

For more information on early learning data collection, see my post on  Big Data & Early Learning.

Catholics & Common Core – A letter to the Diocese of Hbg

Please see my page Common Core & Catholic Education for more information and links to great resources.

The following is a letter that I sent via email to Livia Riley, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Harrisburg prior to the May 2014 school board meeting. I received no response as of yet.

———————————————————

Re: School Board Meeting May 8, 2014
 
Dears Ms. Riley, Ms. Barrett, & School Board Members:
 
I have contacted Ms. Riley in the past regarding my concerns about Common Core. I have also written an extensive letter to Administrator Gillelan, in the absence of a Bishop, regarding my concerns. In light the upcoming School Board meeting for the Diocese of Harrisburg, and in the view of the fact that these meetings are not open to the public, nor is the public provided opportunity to comment during the meeting, I am sending this letter to express my grave concern regarding the alignment of Catholic education in the Diocese of Harrisburg to Common Core.
 
Sister Dale McDonald of the NCEA claims Catholic schools need to “get on board” because it will be hard for schools to procure textbooks or for teachers to attend professional development without accepting Common Core. It’s all hearsay and propaganda from both state and federal government bureaucrats, and now the NCEA, who are pushing these standards onto our schools and into our lives. Over and over again we hear the Common Core buzzwords: robust … rigorous … deeper understanding … higher level learning … competing in the global economy … 21st century workplace … college-and-career-ready. Such buzzwords thinly disguise an agenda of replacing the objective measurement of knowledge and skills with subjective appraisals of students’ attitudes and behavior as global citizens.
 
Sadly, over many decades we have witnessed a transition of our schools where time honored Truths and Traditions have been watered down to more closely align with secularized public education. Instead of standing as a stalwart against the dramatic shifts in popular culture, the Catholic schools have morphed into something that may still be considered a parochial education, but more in tune with the secular world. And now Common Core is the culmination of this merger.
 
Why, given the exceptional history of Catholic education in America, would Catholic schools adopt a utilitarian, one size fits all approach to education that view individual children as human capital? This is contradictory to everything that a Catholic is supposed to believe about each individual’s unique essence. The purpose of education is to create thinkers and develop each individual child’s intellect to the best of his abilities, not to create workers for so-called jobs of the future, which are unknown and cannot be known. 
 
The crisis is tied to the fact that the Common Core is ushering in to Catholic schools all over the country a new pedagogy and various unproven teaching and learning theories and methods, not to mention the prospect of a massive data collection system on each and every child.  With this, it is much more then just standards; it is a radical movement and agenda that will destroy Catholic education and our schools. It removes the beauty and wonder and goodness from all that a Catholic school is.  It harms the souls of each individual child so that they can be groomed for a workforce and have “common” behaviors.
 
The clandestine manner in which Common Core was developed and adopted raises red flags and does not inspire trust in the motives and methods of the individuals behind Common Core.  Parents were completely left out of the process and we now find ourselves trying to catch up to a train that has already left the station. Most of our state legislators were also blind-sighted by Common Core and are now facing upset parents who are demanding answers and all they can do is respond with “white papers” from the PA Department of Education lauding the standards.
 
At the heart of Common Core are data, assessments, and transformation of human relationships of teacher/student to facilitator/learner. These assessments (which use to be called tests) will ultimately be the vehicle for ushering in controversial content into our schools. I understand that Catholic schools are not required to participate in the data collection, which is part of a State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) designed to capture data from “Birth to College/Career” (called P-20) or to use PA’s standardized testing (Keystone Exams, PSSA), and I pray that this continues to be the case. As parents we are given no choice to opt our children out of this invasive and unnecessary use of data on our little ones, nor was our consent obtained to have data collected in the first place.
 
These assessments are designed to test not just knowledge and mastery of material, but also, attitudes, values, and beliefs. And the values, attitudes, and beliefs that are considered “correct” according to those who created the assessments, may conflict or contradict with what the child’s parents and/or the Catechism/Magisterium teaches. Are we going to teach our children to capitulate their beliefs in order to give the “right” answer?
 
Phyllis Schafly recently noted in her letter to the Roman Catholic hierarchy:
 
“The mission of the Catholic school is to prepare students for eternal life with God while its secondary goal is to prepare them for temporal work.  They accomplish this by pursuing Truth and by seeking to acquire Knowledge for its own sake.  In contrast, the goal of Common Core is the narrow training of students to become mere functionaries educated solely for earthly success.  Catholic educators should be leery of any standards that create automatons rather than humane individuals.”
 
As Christians, we have watched as God and the Word have been pushed out of our state-run school system. We have watched an agenda that leaves behind time honored traditions, objective truth and understanding of natural law and replaces it with opinions and moral relativism where children are no longer able, nor is it acceptable, to distinguish right and wrong. Truths become opinions and opinions can be changed to meet the consensus. 
 
In fact, the Common Core Next Generation Science Standards intend to do just that – replace scientific method with consensus as the means of establishing scientific truth. Please see the article titled: Public School Science Standards: Political or Pure? By E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D available at www.cornwallalliance.org. The Cornwall Alliance is “a coalition of clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, academics, policy experts, and others, and is committed to bringing a proper and balanced biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development.” This “green” movement is actively promoted and encouraged as many have bought into the lie of human caused climate change, which is not about being good stewards of God’s creation, but about population control and redistribution of resources. It is unfortunate that many of our Catholic leaders, priests, and teachers have also bought into this movement believing they are helping to save the planet and serving the poor, when it is doing neither. It is a dangerous liaison.
 
In a commentary written for the July 15, 2013 issue of The Catholic Witness, Father Quinlan was responding to President Obama’s disparaging statements in Ireland about the divisiveness of Catholic education. Father Quinlan said:
 
“For over two centuries, Catholic schools have served the mission the Church envisioned for them … They have prepared young people to become leaders of the Church and civic community. … I respectfully submit that Catholic schools are in many ways the very glue that helps hold our American community together by helping to prepare well-educated and morally literate citizens.”
 
Furthermore Father Quinlan references the Supreme Court case Pierce vs. the Society of Sisters (1925) where the court recognized the right of parents to raise and educate their children according to their faith, noting that “the child is not a creature of the state.” 
 
Bishop McFadden echoed this sentiment when asked about Common Core during a Penn Live interview conducted on March 19, 2013 during the following Q&A exchange [emphasis mine]:
 
Comment From Guest: Hello! Thank you for taking time to answer our questions. I was wondering if you are aware of / and how you feel about the Common Core education standards that have been adopted by PA and now by the Harrisburg Diocese, and if you are concerned about the impact this will have on parental rights, public intrusion in the Catholic schools, a national standard that seeks a one-size-fits all approach, and privacy, with the vast data requirements that will follow children from pre-k through college and the workplace.
 
Bishop McFadden: The question about schools is very important to me, and would suggest is important to Pope Francis because he is an educator. I believe very much in parental rights. In our country, the educational system has become an educational monopoly of the government. While there have been battles over school choice, I believe the real issue is parental rights. I believe that parents have an inalienable right to choose the education that best meets the needs of their child. Children belong to parents, not to the state.
 
Bishop McFadden: I think that the common standards are a beginning point in helping us to ensure that children have a minimal education. But they should only be the starting point. We need to seek a system that is less concerned about standards and is more concerned about helping each child achieve their educational potential. Standards may make us feel good, but they do not accomplish the task. We will be better off when we get parents back involved in the education of their children. This is especially true for the poor parents who, in many urban areas, are consigned to a failing school system, as though the parents are not able to recognize what is best for their children.
 
I have to question whether Bishop McFadden, may he rest in peace, was properly informed about Common Core and all that it entails because his comments are completely the opposite of what Common Core represents. And I continue to pray that Bishop Gainer will recognize that Common Core does not belong in our Diocese schools.
 
The Classical Education model which served generations of children so well has been replaced with an outcomes based system that involves training, not teaching, our children. We have been battling these influences over our children’s education for decades. It did not start, nor will it end with “Common Core.”
 
And there already exists an education system that is less concerned with standards and more concerned with helping each child achieve his potential! Classical Liberal Education based on the Trivium! The classical education model does not rely on textbooks, which are pre-digested facts analyzed and reduce by someone else, and instead uses actual source documents and literary and artistic works relevant to the topic and time period being studied. With classical education, schools are not at the whim of textbook publishers and their worldview and agenda they wish to promote.
 
My daughter goes to a school in the Diocese. I am under the painstaking decision process as to whether to continue her education there, send her to a local “Christian Academy,” or homeschool. I am truly heartsick over being placed in the position of having to make this decision. I discovered that Catholic schools had adopted Common Core after I had already registered and enrolled her in the school. She is currently finishing up her Kindergarten year. I am astonished at the expectations place on these little ones who are just beginning the long journey in their education. Kindergarten is no longer the “children’s garden” of learning through play, songs, and rhyme that it was intended to be and instead is now focused on high stakes learning standards and curriculum. And the teacher proudly claims how she knows the children will rise to these new expectations. But why do they have to? And, no, this is not about a mom not liking things being “too hard” for her child, as many try to portray those of us with legitimate concerns. It is about frustrating these little ones at an early age and turning them off to learning. It’s a mom’s concern about why Kindergarteners need to have “meaningful, deep conversations” instead of just enjoying story time or why they need to know about “making inferences” from a story about bugs at an age when they cannot grasp this concept. It is a mom’s concern about education being developmentally appropriate and making children jump through hoops to show off how “challenging” it all is, especially when the challenges serve no good purpose.
 
There a few bastions of hope in PA for authentic Catholic education, but sadly these schools that use the classical education model are too far away for me to consider. I encourage you to look at the curriculum and philosophy of the Reginal Luminis Academy in Downington, PA. Catholic parents are hungry for a return to the classical liberal education model, based on the Trivium model, and many of them, realizing that Catholic education has abandoned this philosophy and model have been left with no choice but to homeschool their children. Many of these parents would probably flock back to Catholic schools if classical education were to return. At least each school in the Diocese should have the flexibility to decide.
 
If in order to “get on board,” as Sister Dale McDonald said, Catholic schools must purchase the same textbooks used in public schools and attend the same professional development courses as public teachers, what is the point exactly of sending our children to Catholic schools?
 
Furthermore, Common Core violates the principle of subsidiarity as is it a top down centralized approach to education.
 
It seems Catholic schools are no longer a safe haven from the politically motivated agenda that has permeated our education system. Many of the individuals behind Common Core have the same worldview as Bill Gates, who funded nearly every entity involved in the development of Common Core, in terms of global citizenship, radical egalitarianism, and radical environmentalism that goes beyond authentic Catholic teaching about being good stewards of God’s great creation and social justice founded upon sacred scripture and objective truth. Instead it is based on lies and half-truths. Bill Gates openly advocates for forced sterilization, abortion, and birth control as a means of solving the “problem” of overpopulation. And yet, his deep pockets seem to be attractive to organizations involved in Catholic education, including the NCEA.
 
Under the banner of diversity and multiculturalism, an anti-American and anti-Christian sentiment permeates much of the education materials that are published for today’s education market. Multiculturalism, under the guise of fostering knowledge, understanding, and respect of other cultures, actually serves the purpose of casting America, Western civilization, and especially Christianity, in a negative light. And the contributions and influence of Christianity, specifically Catholicism, are misrepresented or hardly mentioned at all. These are evident in the History/Social Studies standards that are under production as part of Common Core. I want my daughter to understand the world, but I do not want her to be taught that she’s “global citizen.” Furthermore, I do not want her taught under education policy and goals developed by the United Nations, which is the origin of  this 21st Century Learning and globalization efforts.
 
Please reconsider Common Core and halt its implementation in our Catholic schools. However, eradicating Common Core is just the beginning of restoring Catholic education to become the model that will lead the way, not follow in footsteps of failed education policies and a popular culture in decline. I implore the Diocese to disassociate itself from the voluntary alignment to PA Academic Standards and the use of textbooks and materials designed for secular education. With the Classical Education, children learn what is true and beautiful and standards really aren’t even necessary. The breadth of knowledge attained with classical education provides a strong foundation for children to reach their full potential as God intended.
 
Furthermore I ask that the Diocese advise school staff against attending NCEA conferences, conventions, and meetings in various cities. The NCEA is aggressively promoting all things related to this progressive and secular education agenda – 21st Century learning digital learning and Common Core.
 
If you have not yet seen it, I urge you to read the letter written by Gerard Bradley, Professor of Law, and signed by 132 Catholic scholars expressing their grave concern regarding Common Core. It was sent to all US Catholic Bishops and can be found at the following link:
 
 
 
Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg penned and open letter addressed to Dominican Sister John Mary Fleming, executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Click here to read the National Catholic Register‘s Jan. 27, 2014 interview with Sister Fleming, to which Mr. Rummelsburg is responding.
 
 
I continue to pray for hearts and minds to realize this grave error and reverse course. I would appreciate feedback from the School Board addressing my concerns.  Thank you for your time and attention.
 
Yours in Christ,
Frances A. Fulton

Common Core – ‘Benchmarking’ to Finland’s Success

Just to see  what one of the “high-performer” countries to which Common Core was “internationally bench-marked” was doing, I searched Finland’s education system.

I found an article published Smithsonian Magazine titled “Why are Finland’s Schools So Successful?” by LynNell Hancock. Please note that Finland has a population of 5.4 million people, a fraction of the population of PA and even smaller fraction of the entire U.S.

In discussing the reforms that lead to Finland’s success story:

…the final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early ’90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals. “We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work,” said Louhivuori. “Our incentives come from inside.”

On teacher autonomy and authority over curriculum and classroom environment:

Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “We have no hurry,” said Louhivuori. “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

“Children learn better when they’re ready.”  What a novel concept. My, how Kindergarten has changed here in the United States from its original intention of being like a ‘children’s garden’ where children learn naturally through imaginative play, singing songs, rhyming, and interacting with each other. That concept has been replaced with academic rigor and rigidity to standards and curriculum. Play is now the exception, not the rule. It’s serious business now in the Kindergarten classroom. And just imagine adding testing on top of it all, which PA intends to do if it can just get the funding. (And, thanks to the Corbett Administration, PA has implemented Early Childhood Learning standards for Infancy through First grade.  And of course, if you have standards, you’ve got to test them. Yes, infancy learning standards.)

Of the current initiatives in American education, the article notes:

“In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on competition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.””

Furthermore, Finland has no standardized tests until graduation. The first test children are possibly exposed to is in the sixth grade, and this is only at the discretion of the teacher, who do it mostly out of curiosity. The results are not published. Finnish educators have a hard time understanding the United States’ fascination with standardized tests.

“Americans like all these bars and graphs and colored charts,” Louhivuori teased, as he rummaged through his closet looking for past years’ results. “Looks like we did better than average two years ago,” he said after he found the reports. “It’s nonsense. We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us.”

If we are touting Finland as a success story, why are we running in the opposite direction with more top down control and more standardized assessments?  Furthermore, some of these high-performing countries touted by the Common Core propaganda have standards, others do not.

Next: PA’s Sunshine Laws Left Most of Us in the Dark

Common Core – Big Data & Early Learning

Early Learning Data Gets Caught in the Web

PA has been receiving money and mandates from Fed Ed to develop  a “womb to workplace” state longitudinal data system for quite a while. Yes, the word “womb” is right there in the PA Information Management Systems (PIMS) “2009-ARRA Grant Application” (Section 1.1, Page 1), which also came from the “stimulus” stash:

Like I have said, this is not necessarily “Common Core” except that one set of common standards assists in data collection by create standardization to one model across the country. It is part of the big tangled web.

These grants came via agreements between the Pennsylvania Information Management Systems (PIMS) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The PIMS is described as:

“…the consolidated hub of a comprehensive statewide longitudinal data system—comprising individual student, faculty and other relevant data from birth to high school, college, and career – that interfaces with an integrated statewide online portal …“

Using this ‘Birth and Beyond’ database grant money, which includes three separate grant initiatives dating back to 2006 totaling $24+ million, the State Longitudinal Data System (called “PK-20”  aka ‘Birth and Beyond’) was created and 1.8 million unique student and teaching staff ID’s were assigned. These data requirements came, in part, from the federal America Competes Act of 2000.

Early Learning Challenge Grant

In terms of Big Data, the Corbett administration’s ‘Early Learning Challenge’ grant application, application refers to the PELICAN data system that is used by the Office of Childhood Development and Early Learning (OCDEL).

In researching PELICAN, I found a document called “A Look at Pennsylvania’s Early Childhood Data System” published in 2010 by the National Council of State Legislators (NCSL). This document explains that: [emphasis mine]

“The state’s goal is a true P-20 data system with bidirectional information access and data sharing. ELN (Early Learning Network) will be linked to PIMS, the K-12 education data warehouse, which also will be connected to data from the post-secondary and workforce systems in a few years.”

 

All will be linked by a common child identifier and by common teacher identifiers. TIMS will be the teacher data warehouse for all birth to age 5 and K-12 teachers, including all certified and noncertified early childhood educators and early intervention therapists.”

 

Kindergarten is the first point of access to information on all Pennsylvania’s children, including those not served by OCDEL-funded programs. … The system may include data on child development and learning at kindergarten entry; demographic information; kindergarten classroom program quality information; and experience and education information on kindergarten teachers.”

 

“The ELN is designed to enable production of standard reports and use of raw data to produce new “as needed” reports. Reporting will be available to meet the needs of parents, teachers, administrators, researchers, policymakers and other community members.”

Who are these “researchers” or other “community members”?  How exactly will this “womb” or “birth” information on your child, before he or she even steps foot into a public school, be obtained? Do they have access to birth records?  I thought our health information was protected by the federal healthcare privacy law (HIPPA). Well, according to this document:

“HIPAA contains an express provision that, if information is covered by FERPA, it is not covered by HIPAA.

 …

In Pennsylvania, this means information about a child concerning a program administered by the state Department of Education and/or funded by the U.S. Department of Education is covered by FERPA. As long as this data flows upward from ELN into the K-12 PIMS system, HIPAA does not apply.

Furthermore, the document states:

“… when a child enters kindergarten with a unique PA Secure ID already assigned by the Department of Education, the electronic record will indicate only that the child is already known to OCDEL. The ELN data system also collects Social Security numbers for children on a voluntary basis pursuant to the federal Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. §552a).”

But that was way back in 2010. Now we have HR 338 and revised Chapter 4 regulations which “prohibited the expansion of student and family data collection due to the Pennsylvania Core Standards.” That’s because they don’t have to expand anything. The system has already been set up and it’s not “due to the Pennsylvania Core standards” but due to the state’s information management department (PIMS) receipt of grant money from a federal organization (NCES), as noted above. In fact, Act 82 of 2012,  in Section 6, it reads:

“Section 221.1.  Moratorium on Certain Data Collection Systems and Data Sets.-

For the school years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, the Department of Education and the Department of Public Welfare shall suspend the collection of data through Pennsylvania’s Enterprise to Link Information for Children Across Network (PELICAN) and the Pennsylvania Information Management System (PIMS) except as follows:…”

And a long list of exceptions follows that includes “any data pursuant to other Federal requirements to meet eligibility requirements for Federal Funds.”

And in the ‘Early Learning Challenge’ grant application, which was way back in December 2013, the Corbett Administration states:

“Pennsylvania uses the Pennsylvania Information Management System to manage student, teacher, and school level K-12 information. The Pennsylvania Information Management System, PELICAN, and certain data sets related to higher education are linked in the Statewide Pennsylvania’s Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) to collect child service and outcome information for students from birth to 20. Kindergarten child outcomes are linked to the PELICAN Early Learning Network through the SLDS virtual bridge.”

The ‘Early Learning Challenge’ grant application contains the following disclaimer wherever data collection is discussed:

“Pennsylvania will not expand the collection of child data fields and in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act will not collect personal family data due to the implementation of this Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.”

But what data fields already existed as part of the data system? As parents, we were never asked in the first place to have ANY of our child’s data placed into a ‘Birth and Beyond’ statewide database that tracks him/her and makes this information available to the government, “researchers” or anyone else for that matter.

A parent who signs up for any type of state or federal aid provides a whole host of “personal family data” in  exchange for the assistance, this includes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for college financial aid, grants, loans, etc. that parents are required to complete. There is a lot of information we voluntarily give to the government without even really thinking about it. Where is this data stored and who has access to it?

Next: Big Data & Privacy