I Haven’t Really Followed the Common Core Kerfuffle

…since it’s not really addressed to my condition or that of my kids. However, a reader writes:

As Catholic high school theology teachers, my wife and I are very concerned about this. We actually think our product is better than the public school product. I hope you can help us get some more awareness out there about it.

Gentle Reader: consider yourself awarified.

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  • What is school for? That’s the question that your community (however you define it) has to come to a consensus on. We don’t have that consensus and so schools drift, at best. Without that consensus, you can’t measure whether a particular school is fit for purpose. If you can’t do that, then there is no true ability to do merit pay, judge school board members on performance, or any other standard, traditional american method of judgment and improvement.

    It’s all a great mess.

    The question’s also an interesting web site.


    It doesn’t matter if you have kids in the system or not. Your understanding and input is needed to create a working, sustainable community.

    • Well said. Back when I was homeschooling my children, I used to say our purpose was to learn to recognize truth and beauty and to appreciate and choose truth and beauty in all things. That sounds kind of lofty, but it helped me make decisions about the books we read and how we spent our days. Now that I teach public school, I try to keep the same idea in mind, in the way I approach the required material – even the stupid stuff.

    • TomD

      “It doesn’t matter if you have kids in the system or not. Your understanding and input is needed to create a working, sustainable community.”

      Very true. If anyone doubts this, simply look at any of the studies done in recent years on what our children know and look at the culture around you. This is the product of 50+ years of misguided and harmful educational approaches. Sadly, we shall be living with the repercussions of this educational incompetence and bad intent, on the part of many leaders in the modern educational movement, for years to come.

  • Gail Finke

    Gail Deibler Finke Mark Shea: As someone following this, I was hoping to finally read an article in favor of the Common Core (because there are hardly any that actually give specifics of what they’re in favor OF). But again, my hope is in vain. That piece is pretty much content-free, and does not address the concerns (some real, some IMHO blown out of proportion) people have about the Common Core. It really doesn’t matter if the small number of state officials who commissioned the CC were “bipartisan,” for instance. What matters is why they commissioned it, who they commissioned to do it, and whether or not those people based their work on successful school standards or on a dreamed-up version of what school standards ought to be without any indication that they would actually work (which seems to be the case).

    Furthermore, as the piece says, the standards were based on “critical thinking” rather than “memorization” — which is the same old “know HOW to get the answer, rather than the answer.” This is sheer silliness when it comes to math, where the answer is all that counts, and potentially quite dangerous when it comes to other disciplines. It does no good, for instance, to know how to “extract information from a text” if you don’t have any idea how to tell which information is important and which texts are valid.

    If nearly every school in the United States is going to switch over to this thing, shouldn’t we be assured that it will actually result in a better education? There is nothing hysterical or “Catholic” about this underlying question.

    • Anders

      “This is sheer silliness when it comes to math, where the answer is all that counts.”

      I’m a professional mathematician, and this comment is an appalling and erroneous oversimplification of my art. Would you make similar comments about other disciplines? Would you say, “in history, all that counts is knowing names and dates,” or “in music class, all that matters is playing the right notes at the right times,” or “in Shakespeare class, all that matters is being able to remember the characters and plots of the plays”? Of course not! A thorough understanding of history requires understanding influences and interactions; a good piano performance require more musicality than merely the right notes at the right times; Shakespeare is more than his Cliff’s notes.

      In mathematics, I’d say “all that counts” is a rigorous, logical understanding and articulate presentation of why this answer MUST be right–and even that statement of mine leaves out the creative activity and insight of trial and error, analogy and intuition, that is how real mathematicians actually work.

      As a college math professor, I have to fight tooth and nail students who think that the answer is all that counts. Students who devote themselves to memorizing “the answers” and “the formulas” are precisely the students to fail in advanced mathematics.

      The trouble here is that most people talking about this (a) aren’t defining their terms and (b) never really understood math in the first place. Moreover, the Common Core standards may well be erring in one direction, leading overzealous opponents to err in the other.

      Think back to your own school days doing long, complicated math problems. Was it not easy to have a thorough understanding of the algebra, but make one tiny little mistake in the middle that gave you the wrong answer? Of course your teacher gave you–or should have given you–“partial credit” for doing the work mostly right, with just a small mistake. We don’t stop there, of course: we encourage our students to strive for perfection. But if you object to this idea, if you believe that I should award zero points to the whole problem because of one small mistake, would you hold other disciplines to the same standard? Would you give an English essay an F for one spelling error, or a history paper an F for getting one date wrong?

      The context is everything. Some of elementary school mathematics certainly is much more dependent on memorization; for example, of course I will eventually insist that my own (homeschooled) children memorize their addition and multiplication tables. For now, though, when my 4-year-old adds 3+5=9 by counting on his fingers and losing track, I still praise him for understanding what he should be counting and why, before I gently steer him in the right direction. He is far better off than a child who can memorize the words “Three plus five equals eight” without understanding what it means.

      Let me state for the record that I have deep reservations about Common Core, including its mathematics portions. The trouble with much pro- or anti-Common Core rhetoric is it presents a false dichotomy between memorization and “critical thinking.” Without learning and memorizing facts, how will you have the background and context to think critically about anything? And if you have memorized facts but you can’t distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy sources, between different modes of discourse, seeking patterns–well, you may have information, but you will never proceed to knowledge, let alone wisdom.

  • I’m a Catholic mom has has homeschooled, put my children in private school, and who now has them all in public school. I’m also a public school teacher. As you can imagine, I have more than a few opinions about education. Not that I’m an expert, but I’ve shared the views of a lot of people much smarter than I am and written about the pros and cons of the CCS. There are several links here reader might find helpful.


    • Rosemarie


      I plan to read this as soon as I have a moment. I’ve been hearing a lot about the Common Core, much of it negative but some conflicting things as well. I homeschool one of my children so this matter concerns me.

      The negative stuff often has a whiff of Chicken Littleism, and after five years in Evangelicalism I developed an allergy to that mentality. So part of me wants to roll my eyes and say, “Oh c’mon, It can’t be *that* bad.” OTOH, there are definite red flags that concern me. Maybe reading more balanced material will help me sort it all out and figure out what it means for my son and me.

      • Margaret

        I haven’t had a lot of time to sink into researching CC. The one thing I *have* noticed, however, is that the conservative Usual Suspects are latching onto objectionable curricular materials (worksheets, reading lists, etc.) put out by various companies and going berserk about those. These materials, while they align with the Common Core, are not themselves the Common Core. There’s a huge difference, and the Usual Suspects come off looking like Chicken Little for running around shrieking. I’m afraid they may distract us from fruitful, critical discussions about the CC itself.

        • Rosemarie


          Yeah, I noticed that, too. You mean those worksheets where children have to correct the grammar of sentences which make controversial statements about the president and the government, right? Yeah, they’re CC-aligned but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are advancing a political agenda behind CC.

          Another thing is the footage of a teacher explaining that she would give partial credit to a student who wrote that 3×4=11, if he could explain to her how he came to that conclusion. This is being touted as proof that CC is “dumbing down” Mathematics, but it seems to be just an individual teacher explaining how she would apply the new math standards in her classroom. So it may not necessarily reflect the essence of CC. (I would *not* do the same thing with Arithmetic instruction, btw.)

          One online article I read was written by a teacher. He said that he and his fellow educators were looking at the CC materials and trying to figure out how to translate them into classroom teaching and activities. It’s apparently no easy task. They’re being sent these new standards but not being told exactly how to implement them. So CC seems to be open for interpretation, and different teachers may interpret it different ways.

          So now we are left to try to tease out what is the, well, “core” of Common Core, and what is mere interpretation by teachers struggling to implement it. I think that’s part of the difficulty here. And no, the “Usual Suspects” aren’t helping. It’s all heat and little light from that side.

      • I know what you mean. I love the term “Chicken Littleism.” I am trying not to be too hasty to jump on the anti-CCS bandwagon. But as a teacher, I am suspicious of these kind of cookie cutter mandates. Also, I worry CCS embraces modern ideas about what it is to be educated/trained, more than true education. Most of all, I think in our race to teach critical thinking, we are ignoring some of the fundamental needs and inclinations of young learners.

  • Sam Schmitt

    Excellent letter on the Common Core to American bishops from 130 Catholic scholars:

    “Common Core adopts a bottom-line, pragmatic approach to education. . . . The sad facts about Common Core are most visible in its reduction in the study of classic, narrative fiction in favor of ‘informational texts.’ This is a dramatic change. It is contrary to tradition and academic studies on reading and human formation.”


  • I just came across this. It is a letter from 132 Catholic scholars urging Catholic schools not to adopt or or discontinue the Common Core.