Is Common Core Right for Christian Schools?

As parents, educators, and legislators learn more about the Common Core Standards (CCS) and doubts continue to rise, the fact that the CCS have become a national standard presents real challenges to a group that is already providing excellent education-private, faith-based schools.

These schools are successful because of their ability to maintain autonomy, and, in the case of religious schools, their faith-based mission. They are not funded by tax dollars, and their accountability is to the parents-the strongest accountability a school can have. Although these schools are not required to follow government direction regarding standards and curriculum, the CCS as a national standard will negatively affect the autonomy of these schools, chipping away at the religious freedom enjoyed by faith-based schools.

Proponents of the CCS claim that the standards are a state-led, voluntary effort and not a national standard endorsed by the federal government. However, while the CCS may have started out as a state-led effort between the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the federal government poured significant funds into a quick establishment of the CCS. The Race to the Top funds ($4.35 billion) and the No Child Left Behind waivers were contingent on a state's adoption of the CCS, making a strong argument that states adopted the standards not because of the standards' academic quality but because of the incentive of millions of dollars. An additional $350 million was awarded to two consortia of states to develop an assessment that was aligned with the CCS, and in the spring of 2013 the U.S. Department of Education established a technical review panel whose sole purpose is to evaluate the CCS assessment.

With billions of federal dollars poured into the CCS adoption, the assessments, and the review of the assessments, the CCS can no longer be called a "voluntary, state-led" effort. Rather, they are indeed a national standard with strong financial ties to the federal government, driving accountability to the federal level and decreasing local control.

This is not the first time a national standard has been considered by the federal government. In 1995, a national standard for social studies was voted down 99-1 by the U.S. Senate because the standards had become too politicized. This is one of the problems of a national standard: It easily becomes politicized and influenced by controversial societal norms. uch politicization will undoubtedly influence traditional values and beliefs undergirding the teaching-learning process. In 1995, political correctness rose up against historical fact, weakening the educational value and demonstrating the danger of politicization when government decides standards.

Another major problem lies in the fact that a national standard by default will bring a national curriculum and a national test. (What good is the standard without a curriculum to meet the standard and a test to ensure the standard has been met?) Not only did the Department of Education incentivize the creation of a national test for the CCS, it also established a review board to assess the assessment! Additionally, recent announcements reveal that the ACT, SAT, and GED tests will be aligned to the CCS. Students in private, faith-based schools take these tests for college acceptance. As teachers in these schools prepare their students for these tests, they will need to include the information that is necessary to succeed on these tests. This will potentially affect the freedom to teach from a religious worldview or in a way that best reflects their core educational beliefs.

Furthermore, a national standard creates issues for credit transfers and college admission requirements, placing a burden on the private, faith-based school to follow the national standards or lose credibility. Students could face discrimination by a higher education entity if they graduated from a school that did not adhere to the CCS. For example, the University of California already refuses to accept some high school credits that follow certain Christian-based textbooks, so it is not a far-fetched idea that colleges will accept only those course credits that follow texts and content aligned with the CCS.

Indeed, the CCS presents real concerns for the autonomy and mission of private, faith-based schools. Education in America has always thrived because of its diversity and freedom. Improved educational quality will not result from federally coerced uniformity. Rather, a better path to raising standards would be to establish educational options that would not only improve education in all schools but would also protect the autonomy and religious liberty that allow private, faith-based schools great success.

Maureen Van Den Berg is a policy analyst for the American Association of Christian Schools.

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