A Washington, D.C., organization funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—which has invested millions of dollars to develop and promote the controversial Common Core school standards—is contacting Catholic school leaders in an effort to reverse declining support for the Common Core and to oppose The Cardinal Newman Society’s “Catholic Is our Core” initiative.
Sara Pruzin, a state operations associate for the Council for a Strong America (CSA) and former communications intern for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, unwittingly contacted a Cardinal Newman Society leader to rally Catholic support for the Common Core. She sent an email on August 28 to Dr. Daniel Guernsey, director of the Newman Society’s K-12 Education Programs, at his office at Ave Maria University in Florida, asking him to consider writing op-eds and letters to the editor in support of the Common Core.
“We are concerned about the strident attacks coming from parts of the Catholic community, which we believe are inaccurate and meant more to divide than to inform,” Pruzin wrote. “We feel that it is important to respond to the negative statements about the Common Core, rather than let them go unanswered.”
Pruzin later confirmed that her criticisms were aimed at The Cardinal Newman Society, and her email was part of a major effort to build support among Catholic educators. She said the Gates Foundation grantee has reached out to about 50 Catholic educators and leaders, including superintendents in a dozen states and officials at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA)—which is also a recipient of Gates funding to promote the Common Core.
CSA received $1.7 million from the Gates Foundation in July 2013 “to educate and engage stakeholders about the Common Core and teacher development through a range of communications activities”. These have included rallying retired military officers, police officers, business leaders and others to advocate Common Core in many states.
But the Council’s new initiative moves from the realm of public policy to the Catholic Church, which has sponsored or inspired education that significantly outperforms public schools. Catholic schools have none of the pressures for reform and are ineligible for the federal funding that motivated many state superintendents to embrace the Common Core.
The Cardinal Newman Society, which manages the Catholic Education Honor Roll and promotes faithful Catholic education, has raised concerns about the Common Core’s potential impact on Catholic schools. At CatholicIsOurCore.org, the Newman Society has published and linked to numerous studies and commentaries to help Catholic parents, educators and clergy navigate the issues surrounding Common Core and ensure, above all, that Catholic schools maintain their distinctive mission. These include the recent article, “10 Facts Every Catholic Should Know About the Common Core.”
The Society has co-hosted meetings of bishops and diocesan superintendents, urging them not to rush into the Common Core, but to pause and exercise caution as they consider the standards’ long-term impact on faithful education. Some bishops have since publicly rejected the Common Core, and in a statement released in April, the education department of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops endorsed a careful approach of “review, study, consultation, discussion and caution.” The statement acknowledged:
The CCSS [Common Core State Standards] was developed for a public school audience. But the CCSS is of its nature incomplete as it pertains to the Catholic school. Our schools have resisted the need to adopt educational trends while addressing the ever changing needs of children in education. We have tried to integrate the best in education while leaving behind what is not appropriate to the Church’s educational mission. As our world becomes increasingly secularized, it will be a task of the Church through an appropriate education to help parents and families sift through the realities and difficulties of the culture and provide a solid foundation and basis for living as disciples of Jesus Christ.
This sober approach to the Common Core, promoted by The Cardinal Newman Society, is what Pruzin’s email seemed to deride as “strident” and “meant to divide more than inform.”
CSA has no apparent expertise in Catholic education. Its only education-related program is ReadyNation, which was established by the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2006 but recently merged with CSA’s program America’s Edge. Both ReadyNation and America’s Edge have focused on mobilizing business leaders in support of increased taxpayer funding for early childhood education.
CSA’s ties to the Gates Foundation were established long before last year’s $1.7 million grant to promote the Common Core. The Foundation’s website identifies grants to CSA totaling more than $2.7 million from 2006 to 2012, mostly focused on influencing public policy on education. America’s Edge has joined with at least 15 other Gates Foundation grantees to push for the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, which would expand federal funding for early childhood programs.
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