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Catholic schools within the Diocese of Santa Rosa, which includes Napa, will be adopting the new Common Core education standards — despite opposition from a group of Catholic scholars.

The Common Core aims to unify the standards for English and math so that all students graduate career- and college-ready. While supporters, including those in local Catholic schools, say the Common Core will raise academic standards, opponents — including more than 130 Catholic scholars — believe the standards are a step backward. Common Core-educated children, the scholars wrote in a letter, “will not be prepared to do authentic college work.”

The letter, signed by 132 Catholic scholars, was recently sent to each Catholic bishop in the country. The letter stated that the Common Core would negatively impact the character and curriculum of schools and implementing the new standards would be a “grave disservice” to Catholic education.

“In fact, we are convinced that Common Core is so deeply flawed that it should not be adopted by Catholic schools which have yet to approve it, and that those schools which have already endorsed it should seek an orderly withdrawal now,” they wrote.

In California, the Common Core will reduce the number of standards teachers teach, but the lessons will integrate multiple subjects and be more in-depth. The decision to adopt the standards for local Catholic elementary and middle schools was determined by the Superintendent’s Office in the Diocese of Santa Rosa's Department of Catholic Schools.

“Diocesan Catholic schools have a (church law) mandate to offer an academic program that equals or exceeds the quality of public education,” said principal Nancy Jordan of St. John the Baptist Catholic School. “We respect and adhere to best practices in education, including the standards-based movement which began several years ago.”

There is nothing in the Common Core, Jordan said, that will interfere or prevent Catholic schools from teaching religion or faith formation.

“In my professional opinion, there is no conflict between the Common Core and Catholic education. One does not reduce or eliminate the other,” Jordan said. “The Common Core, in fact, stands to strengthen our already solid academic program. We will continue to provide spiritual development that is threaded through all aspects of our operation. We are dedicated to growing hearts and minds.”

For the scholars, one of the most dramatic changes brought on by the Common Core is the increased use of nonfiction texts and the reduction of classic, narrative fiction. The Catholic scholars see this as part of a “recipe for standardized workforce preparation.”

In the letter, they provided hypothetical examples of truck drivers not needing to know “Huck Finn” and physicians having no need for the humanities.

“Perhaps a truck driver needs no acquaintance with ‘Paradise Lost’ to do his or her day’s work. But everyone is better off knowing Shakespeare and Euclidean geometry, and everyone is capable of it,” according to the letter.

Officials from Justin-Siena, Napa’s private Catholic high school, said the Common Core will not change academic content, but it will set a higher academic standard.

“The CCSS (Common Core State Standards) does not dictate content or topics to be studied. Instead, it contains clear, measurable goals for students that assist teachers in making decisions about content, assessment and instruction,” said Heidi Harrison, Justin-Siena’s vice principal for curriculum and instruction.

By aligning with the Common Core, Justin-Siena teachers will be able to design units and lessons that “facilitate student creativity,” as well as critical thinking and analysis of complex texts, Harrison said.

“This curricular shift toward greater academic rigor and relevance is consistent with our Catholic commitment to intellectual growth integrated with faith,” she said.

Harrison said adopting the Common Core will help Justin-Siena fulfill its mission “to prepare students to serve and to lead in an ever-changing world.” It will not change the heart of the high school’s education program, she said.

“Justin-Siena education remains centered on Catholic values and personal relationships, emphasizing academic excellence, faith formation, inclusion, respect for the individual, service, and social justice,” she said.

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