Selling the Common Core to Catholic Dioceses

Just as Sister Carol Keehan and her Catholic Health Association helped to shepherd the passage of the Affordable Care Act—replete with federal funding for abortion—in the early days of the Obama administration, Sr. Dale McDonald and her “Gold and Platinum textbook partners” affiliated with the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), are now helping President Obama continue his “long march” through education.

Helping to guide the Common Core standards through the more than 100 dioceses that have already adopted them, Sr. McDonald has learned much from Sister Carol Keehan.  While the NCEA will not be receiving one of the silver tipped signing pens from the healthcare legislation signing ceremony that Sr. Keehan received, the Association has indeed stepped up to sell the Common Core.  Like Sr. Keehan’s propaganda videos assuring Catholics that “We Can’t Wait” for the Affordable Care Act, Sr. McDonald has created her own video to reassure parents that the federal government is here to help deliver a federally funded Common Core to Catholic school children—and that we all should “get on board.”

While Sr. Keehan enlisted progressive priests, nuns, and healthcare workers to co-star in her video to reassure Catholics that the Affordable Care Act was part of Catholic teachings on social justice, Sr. McDonald provides a similarly sincere message of how important it is that we all “get on board” with the Common Core in order to help children in our struggling Catholic schools—all while claiming a “neutral” stance from the NCEA on the Common Core.

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This should not surprise anyone.  Both the Catholic Health Association and the National Catholic Educational Association are lobbying organizations.  Both are designed to lobby Congress and the President for federal assistance to the institutions they represent.  Just as Sr. Keehan has her own “partners” in health care delivery, including those who stood to benefit from federal largesse, the website of the Arlington, VA-based National Catholic Educational Association lists the “Platinum” and “Gold” corporate partners involved in promoting the Common Core for Catholic schools—many of whom stand to gain financially from Catholic school compliance with the Common Core.

Included among the Platinum partners are William H. Sadlier, Inc, the textbook company whose website promises to provide teachers with course materials that will “prepare students for the 2014/2015 Common Core Assessments.”  On its website, Sadlier also excitedly hypes the fact that a number of new programs were “coming soon” to “prepare students for the online assessments” including: Vocabulary for Success, Common Core Enriched Edition for Grades 6-10; Grammar for Writing, Common Core Enriched Edition, Grades 6-12; and Vocabulary Workshop, Common Core Enriched Edition Grade 2. 

Touting their  “secure web-based online student assessment” that will “track students through a comprehensive reporting system that provides detailed reports on class and individual student results,” Sadlier advises teachers that they can choose from “preformatted formative and summative Progress in Mathematics tests that are interactive, aligned to Common Core and automatically scored.”

Despite the fact that the NCEA continues to reassure Catholic school parents that the Common Core is not a curriculum, it is clear that Sadlier makes it clear that their company is designing its new teaching materials to “prepare students for the 2014/2015 Common Core Assessments.”

Likewise, Rowland Reading Foundation—another one of NCEA’s Platinum Partners—has created a 25-page online booklet to “explain the (Common Core) Standards for K-2, why they are important, and how Superkids meets them.  The Superkids reading program teaches children how to read and provides the tools teachers need to successfully implement the English Language Arts Standards in K-2.”  While Rowland reminds teachers that “the standards are intended to provide teachers with year-end goals” and “are not intended to prescribe what happens in classrooms day to day,” they provide materials to help children “meet” the standards.

And, Riverside Publishing—one of NCEA’s Gold Partners—offers webinars to help teachers “understand what the common core standards mean,” and offers their Assess2Know item test bank which will allow educators the ability to build quality assessments to measure student progress for grades two through high school. Teachers are invited to call Riverside (a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing) to “receive additional information on how these tools help students achieve mastery of the Common Core Mathematics Standards.”

Implicit in the marketing materials on the Common Core at the websites of the NCEA Platinum and Gold partners is that the curriculum will indeed have to be revised to accommodate the new demands of the assessments—just as critics of the Common Core Standards have always said.

And, although the NCEA continues to deny that the Common Core is a curriculum, Karen Ristau, formerly the President of the NCEA, told an interviewer for Our Sunday Visitor on January 27, 2013 that a religious dimension will be “infused” in the state standards.  Ristau described the NCEA’s “road map leading to a revitalized Catholic educational network for this century;” and she referred to the NCEA conference held in June, 2012 called the Common Core Catholic Infusion Initiative.

The debate over the Common Core has only just begun as Catholic school parents are coming to realize the revolution in their children’s curriculum.  It is difficult to know what to believe.  Perhaps we can learn from the lead-up to the legislation on health care. Throughout the debate over the Affordable Care Act, President Obama and his faithful helpers like Sr. Keehan—told us that “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor…if you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance.”  We know now that this was not true.  It was not true then, and it is not true now but the lobbyists continued that mantra and many were convinced at the time.

In some ways, the NCEA has offered similar reassurances—claiming that the Common Core is “not a curriculum”—implying that if Catholic schools “liked their curriculum, they can keep their curriculum,” (as one Crisis commenter playfully wrote recently in response to a Crisis article on the Common Core).  As Crisis readers likely recall, the NCEA published a statement on the Common Core on May 31, 2013 advising that “the Common Core standards are not a curriculum … a curriculum includes what is taught, when it is taught, how it is taught, and what materials to use.”

And, although standards are indeed not curriculum, Sadlier, Riverside and Rowland certainly know that standards drive curriculum—and they are preparing to profit from those standards. Catholic school parents and teachers know this also. And, some of them are beginning to become concerned about the direction that the NCEA and its Platinum and Gold corporate partners seem to be driving them.


  • Anne Hendershott

    Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Crisis Publications, 2020).

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