By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — They are just that — standards.
The Common Core State Standards that are being rolled out in schools across the United States, including schools in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, isn’t a plot for government to take over Catholic education, Diocesan School Superintendent Dr. Dan Peters reassured teachers.
“We have always had and will continue to have total control over how we teach and what we teach our children,” Peters said at the conclusion of Mass that opened a day of professional development for hundreds of diocesan school teachers and administrators.
“Our primary mission is to form our children in our faith, and that will never change,” Peters said.
But the Common Core State Standards does set uniform expectations from Maine to California of what skills and knowledge students should master from grade level to grade level as they prepare to enter college and the work force, educational consultant Alisa Braddy told the Catholic school teachers.
In separate presentations before elementary and high school teachers and principals, Braddy, founder of the South Carolina-based Inspire & Engage Consulting Services, told the Catholic educators that the world of the 21st Century will be looking for people who can communicate, collaborate, and think critically to analyze and solve the real world problems of the 21st Century.
“If we are going to prepare students for that from California to Virginia, then we must have the same standards,” Braddy said.
Those standards will involve the ability “to apply information and knowledge to real world problems, not just memorization of facts,” she said.
That will be a revolution in teaching methods, but with uniform standards, teachers across the nation will be able to learn from each other, she said.
“What is California doing that can help students and teachers in Virginia?” Braddy asked. “It gets us on the same page nationally. That will transform our thinking from a teacher mindset to a facilitator of learning.”
Though Virginia isn’t one of them, 45 of 50 states, including Missouri, will be using the Common Core State Standards by the 2014-15 school year.
Braddy said that 100 of the nation’s 195 Catholic diocesan school systems will also be using the Common Core State Standards in evaluating student progress, though most like the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan system will be adapting those standards to fit its special Gospel values-based mission and curricula.
The Common Core State Standards were proposed by the National Governors’ Association and the national Council of Chief State School Officers in the wake of national No Child Left Behind federal legislation in 2001, which required assessment but left that assessment up to the states.
Most states use the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to measure student progress at various grade levels in various disciplines, but states could also set whatever score on that test to determine proficiency.
For example, Braddy said, Tennessee set the standard for proficiency in reading at a NAEP score of 170. Massachusetts set their standard at 234.
“No wonder 90 percent of students in Tennessee were proficient and 54 percent in Massachusetts were proficient,” Braddy said.
The Common Core State Standards focus on two areas, English Language Arts and Mathematics, she said. But those skills should be taught and reinforced across every subject.
“We are going to have to go deeper with that knowledge” as students are challenged with researching real world problems and producing evidence to back up their conclusions, she said.
That will necessarily involved higher degrees of literacy and high degrees of mathematical analysis, Braddy said.
But the Common Core State Standards will not dictate to any school, public or private, what it should teach or how to teach it.
“The standards are not a curriculum,” Braddy said. “They are a list of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help a student succeed in a global world.
“Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how those standards will be met,” she said.
“Teachers will continue to write curricular units of study, devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms,” Braddy said.
In his homily at the Mass that opened the day, Bishop Robert W. Finn, himself a former classroom teacher, reminded the teachers that their jobs were ones of “delayed gratification.”
“We don’t often see the finished product,” Bishop Finn said. “Maybe some of the kids come around and we see the men and women they have become, but not often.”
This was unlike his assignment as editor of the St. Louis Review, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
“Every week, I had a finished product. Maybe I said, ‘We could have done this better,’ but the next week, we got a new start,” Bishop Finn said.
Bishop Finn told the teachers to continue to have faith that they are doing God’s work when they help pass along faith to their students, even though they may never know how well.
“Faith is walking in determination and conviction, and not necessarily seeing all that we believe in so dearly,” he said.
“How our work touches hearts, how it changes lives, God, that is your department,” Bishop Finn said. “How faith takes root in the hearts of young people, we know that is God’s work.”