In an effort to address uneasiness about the Common Core, a developer of the curriculum says that a traditional Catholic education should prepare students regardless of new changes to the SAT and other standardized tests. “As president of The College Board it is my conviction that a child excellently trained in traditional liberal arts will do superbly on relevant sections of the SAT and other aspects of Advanced Placement work,” David Coleman told the Cardinal Newman Society in an interview published Dec. 14. The College Board is the non-profit that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement tests. Coleman, the organization’s president, was also a lead developer of the Common Core curriculum at Student Achievement Partners. Coleman emphasized that the intention of the curriculum standards is not “a stultifying sameness.” He also focused on the need for a wise implementation of the standards. “The vulgar implementation of anything can have a reductive and destructive effect,” Coleman said. He said he wanted to celebrate the “beauties and distinctive values of a religious education” in order to avoid a “leveling quality.” According to the official site of the Common Core State Standards, the curriculum aims for high-quality academic standards in math and English language arts and literacy. The goals intend to outline student achievement by the end of each grade. The Cardinal Newman Society is dedicated to a strong religious identity for Catholic schools. It is among the critics of Common Core education. Those concerned have questioned the quality of its recommended curriculum and its rapid implementation by many U.S. state legislatures. Common Core also has strong backing from education policy influencers such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Obama administration, the National Governors’ Association and the school superintendent leadership organization the Council of Chief State School Officers. Dozens of Catholic dioceses have decided to implement the curriculum, as have most U.S. states. Some state laws also have an impact on religious schools’ curriculum standards, such as rules for schools that receive tax vouchers. The Cardinal Newman Society and like-minded parents and education experts have voiced concern that the Common Core curriculum could undermine the Catholic identity and liberal arts emphasis of many Catholic schools. They also worry the curriculum has a utilitarian emphasis on career preparation and college skills The new SAT revision, to be launched in March 2016, is aligned with the Common Core. Coleman said the SAT revision aims for a deeper educational value and is not geared exclusively towards a careerist education mindset. He said the new revision includes a section that will focus on one of five “founding documents in the great conversation of human dignity and liberty that it inspires.” These include the speeches of President Abraham Lincoln and civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Besides the Bible, these documents are a common reference point for “the conversation of human liberty and dignity,” Coleman said. These texts help inspire a conversation that opens up “so many domains of learning that might be closed to you.” Coleman also had advice for Catholic education. “Don’t be in a defensive crouch. I say that to every group I talk to of religious educators,” he said. “I say, share what you do that is beautiful and distinctive. Don’t just defend your right to exist. Be proud of what you have to offer, which is different.” Coleman has previously defended the religious freedom of Christian colleges. He told the Cardinal Newman society he is “trying to get people involved in secular education to take a much more serious look at the depth and beauty offered by religious education.” He told the Cardinal Newman Society that there are strengths in religious schools not shared by other schools. Coleman has addressed educators at the National Catholic Educational Association, and he will speak again to their annual convention next March in San Diego. The NCEA received a $100,000 grant in 2013 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support teacher training and materials on common core implementation. The foundation has dedicated at least $160 million to the curriculum’s development and promotion. Coleman said his remarks to the Catholic educators’ upcoming convention will not be about Common Core. They will be about “the distinctive and potentially widely valuable benefits of religious training and religious education.” He told the Cardinal Newman Society he believes non-religious schools have “much to learn” from the best of religious schools.
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