The Diocese of Green Bay is blessed to have strong Catholic schools. It is because of the great work of so many that our students perform at the highest levels on state and national tests and our graduation rates are between 97 and 100 percent. I am so very proud of our Catholic school teachers, students and parents for their commitment and hard work in making this possible; after all, it is about the children.
As of late, the “common core standards” initiative in the public school system is fueling a fire storm of debate and heated discussion in the Diocese of Green Bay, the state of Wisconsin and the nation. The “common core,” as it is referred to, is a relatively new set of math and English/language arts standards designed to help children in public schools “race to the top.” It is an initiative, backed by government grants, intended to raise academic achievement and improve graduation rates in public schools. This initiative was developed in response to long-standing concerns by business, industry and leaders of higher learning indicating that young people are not sufficiently prepared for the work force or higher education.
Is it necessary for us to “adopt or adapt” the “common core standards?” No, it is not necessary. Some Catholic schools across the country are “adopting” these standards, while others are “adapting” them, in the hopes that the standards will improve their academic performance. Private schools are not required to adopt or adapt the “common core standards.” Several years ago, in the Diocese of Green Bay, we developed comprehensive standards of our own and these have served us very well.
I have instructed our diocesan Department of Education staff, school principals and school system administrators that they not “adopt or adapt” the “common core standards,” but may use them only as a reference to improve the curriculum we already have. It is my directive that the schools of the diocese utilize the diocesan standards previously in place and not substitute for them with “common core standards.”
The verdict is still very much out on the “common core standards.” All of the subject area standards have not yet been developed, let alone proved to be successful over time. There is no track record or existing data to help us determine if these standards will actually improve our students’ performance. My position and my direction for the diocese is to first see how the standards actually work in public schools and, if their performance exceeds ours, we will then take another look.
Our diocesan Department of Education worked diligently several years ago to create comprehensive academic standards. Their hard work, coupled with our faith integration model, provides our students with an exceptional academic education and formation in their faith. We must support what we have created and constantly strive to incorporate the very best ideas available to us.
The challenge for Catholic schools in the diocese is not only academic excellence, but increasing enrollment, helping our parishes and parents to really embrace the great treasure in their own backyard. We also need to help to raise scholarship funds for those who may not be able to attend because of costs.
My hope is that the public school systems here in this area continue to improve. Both my brother and sister have spent much of their careers serving in the public school sphere. The service of school staffs, including teachers and administrators, is often unsung and underappreciated. I have great admiration for all those who teach our children, whether in private or public schools.
This brings us back to the real reason we are all so invested in this topic. It is about the children. For the sake of the children, we ought to be mutually supportive of one another in both public and private arenas. We also need to recognize that our approaches differ and that is not a bad thing. That is a gift.