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The latest studies show that an increasing number of students are being homeschooled by their parents in order to avoid Common Core, which is found even in many Catholic schools. There is no question that the link is there and that parents are extremely concerned about how Common Core will affect their children's Catholic education, said Florida Catholics Against Common Core's Rolando Perez.
The Florida Department of Education recently released a report detailing a 9.6 percent increase in children being homeschooled, the largest increase in five years, according to the Herald Tribune. Since 2010, nearly 25,000 additional students in Florida have opted for homeschooling in lieu of public and Catholic school options.
"There is great concern about the indoctrination, data mining and constant testing that Common Core has brought to schools, including Catholic schools," said Perez, who along with other concerned parents formed Florida Catholics Against Common Core. The priority for Common Core State Standards seems to be preparing students for future jobs, Perez affirmed. The standards then become utilitarian and distract from students’ moral and spiritual formation by placing too much emphasis on testing and performance.
"Definitely, that's why you see people leaving the Catholic schools and going to homeschooling," Perez stated, noting the loss of Catholic identity that some schools are or may soon be experiencing.
Denise Donohue, deputy director of K–12 Programs for the Newman Society, commented on the situation, noting how families are also turning to Catholic schools that do not embrace the Common Core:
It seems so surprising to me that all of these families are finding curricular materials that are non-Common Core and a majority of our diocesan schools cannot. There are 33 diocesan school systems in the country whose teachers daily navigate through textbooks and other resource material in order to teach their own traditional standards– standards that encompass the fullness of the human person.
Many private independent Catholic schools are also enjoying success without using Common Core Standards. The increase in membership for the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools is up 18% from 2013. This is telling us something. Perhaps it indicates dissatisfaction with current school availability and not so much a desire to homeschool. Either way, parents are exercising their primary God-given right to choose a particular type of education for their children, something that has eroded over the past decade.
Laura Berquist, founder and director of the Catholic distance homeschooling program Mother of Divine Grace School based in Ojai, California, told the Newman Society:
These parents also know that Common Core advocates, by their own admission, want a utilitarian education that prepares children for a job, not an education that is about goodness, truth and beauty. As believers, our parents know that an education centered solely on this life and getting a job is not going to prepare their children for the most important (and longest) part of their lives: eternity.
Berquist and Dr. Mary Kay Clark, director of Seton Home Study School, both spoke to the Newman Society in November and confirmed that statistics show a strong link between increased homeschooling and Common Core implementation.
As two of the largest Catholic homeschooling programs in the country, serving more than 15,000 students, the two schools provide information, resources, curriculum, textbooks, workbooks, lesson plans, consultants and support to families across the country. And it is all infused with authentic Catholic teaching.
"Parents are concerned, rightly, that the quality and content of their children's education will suffer as a result of Common Core," Berquist said, adding that parents are understandably cautious regarding government involvement in setting education standards.
“This is not a role that should belong to the federal government,” Berquist continued. “Education has always been better handled at a more local level, and best handled by parents, who actually know and love their individual students.”
"There is no question that the implementation of Common Core into the classrooms of America has been a strong reason for more parents to choose home schooling," Clark explained. "More educated parents are realizing that Common Core is intended to limit parental influence and to separate students from parental values."
"The public school system is dedicated to teaching certain social values," Clark stated. "Over the past decades, we have seen these values change from the Judeo-Christian values, upon which our nation was founded, to something quite different."
Clark encouraged parents to embrace their vocation as the primary educators of their children by ensuring that they receive proper academic and spiritual formation. "One of the best ways to do this is to teach children at home," she said.
Parents are not alone in their concerns regarding Common Core. Last year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed its own concern over the standards, noting in particular that Catholic schools are in no way obligated to adopt the standards "which were not developed specifically for Catholic schools."
The FAQ document released by the U.S. bishops reaffirmed families as the primary educators of their children and the need for Catholic schools to form students morally and spiritually, not just academically.
The statement continued:
Catholic schools must consider standards that support the mission and purpose of the school as a Catholic institution. Attempts to compartmentalize the religious and the secular in Catholic schools reflect a relativistic perspective by suggesting that faith is merely a private matter and does not have a significant bearing on how reality as a whole should be understood. Such attempts are at odds with the integral approach to education that is a hallmark of Catholic schools. Standards that support an appropriate integration should be encouraged.
As a result of parental concerns in Florida, Bp. Felipe Estevez of the Diocese of St. Augustine formed a Common Core Task Force which held five listening sessions throughout northeast Florida from March to May.
"Attendance was between 40 and 60 people, and 99 to 100 percent of the attendance was against Common Core," Perez said. The panels heard parents' concerns and wrote down all the information. Perez applauded Bishop Estevez for hearing parents out. "I hope they act on the results of the listening sessions," he said.
Deacon David Yazdiya, who was in charge of organizing the listening sessions, told the Newman Society that the diocese hoped to gain an "insight to the thoughts and feelings of parents and educators on this issue so that an informed statement and approach can be carried out."
"Bishop [Estevez] felt that it would be wise to study the issue since it was an issue that has drawn a lot of attention and one that directly involves the education of our students," he said.
"I don't want to comment yet on my interpretation of reactions until the process has been completed, but there are a broad range of opinions," Yazdiya said. "Bishop [Estevez] would like to have something in place by November or sooner. That is our goal."
"The only problem that I see is that they are going to be waiting until the end of the year to come up with a result from the listening session. That would take us to another year of schooling [with Common Core]," a likelihood that he is not looking forward to, Perez noted.
"I am Catholic and I share the concerns of the Catholic parents," Perez added. "Parents are taking children out of school and if nothing gets changed before the next schooling session then they’re not going to go back."
The Cardinal Newman Society has continued to urge caution regarding the Common Core State Standards, while also launching the Catholic Is Our Core initiative to explore the potential impact of the standards on Catholic schools and students.
To ensure that Catholic identity is not reduced to an add-on attached to state-imposed standards, the Newman Society asks all parents to educate themselves on the Common Core and encourages schools to keep their Catholic identity and mission as the central focus. The Society published "10 Facts Every Catholic Should Know About the Common Core" in order to provide further information regarding Common Core.
Originally published by Catholic Education Daily, an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society.