Published November 21, 2013
The Abundant Life Christian School in Madison, Wis., says it approaches education from a holistic standpoint by incorporating religious and other components into its curriculum, but there’s one element the private school won’t be integrating into its classrooms: Common Core.
Common Core standards, which were introduced by an association of governors nationwide in 2009 and subsequently backed by the Obama Administration, aim to set a uniform educational standard for students in kindergarten through high school. Students are tested from third through eighth grades and once again in high school. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted these standards in public schools, but private schools haven’t been as quick to add this curriculum.
“When Common Core first hit the news, we had a number of families asking us if we were going to implement it and they expressed great and grave concern about it,” says Barbara Wiers, director of school relations at ALCS, which has 218 students. “We have had families call us to move from the public school system because they are unhappy with Common Core.”
In Wisconsin, private schools are not required to adopt Common Core curriculum because they are not state accredited, explains Weirs, meaning the state cannot impose the standards. The school and its teachers are accredited from the Association of Christian Schools International. Teachers hold a state accreditation as well, she says.
“Many of our families don’t believe in [Common Core] and don’t value it,” she says. “There are a lot of questions regarding the validity of how the program came into being and imposing something onto others—there are questions of personal liberties here.”
She adds that the school’s ACT and AP test scores often rank higher than their public counterparts and that implementing Common Core would be a “step back” for students. Tuition at the school ranges from $4,950 per year for students in kindergarten through eighth grades, and $6,290 a year for high school students.
But some private school have applied Common Core and say it has been beneficial for both the faculty and students.
Calais School in Whippany, N.J. has been using Common Core standards since 2009 to receive state accreditation, according to assistant principal Steve Sokolewicz. The school is a private nonprofit institution for students with special needs. It has 80 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, and tuition rates are set by the state.
“There is a choice with private schools,” Sokolewicz says. “But if you are going to be state approved, you pretty much adhere to the guidelines set by the state.”
He adds the adjustments have been ongoing to the school’s curriculum over the last four years, and much of the changes have been improvements to old curriculum. Calais Principal Diane Manno says there has been no pushback from parents or faculty about the changes.
“The parents that we have want their children to be challenged academically and they are pleased that we are following the state rules and requirements,” she says.
Will Common Core Hurt or Help the Private School Model?
Common Core implementation in public schools nationwide could mean big business for private schools if parents leave the public system, says Grover Whitehurst, director of The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution.
“It depends a lot on the parents being served and what they are concerned about,” Whitehurst says. “One group of parents that is angry about Common Core is those who are interested in mathematics. Some of the regulations are a return to the kind of mathematics we saw in the 1990s where children were to discover their own solutions rather than being taught algorithms and solutions.” For affluent parents, private school is an escape for what is available in public schools, he says.
On the flip side, it could hurt private schools that implement the curriculum to the disapproval of parents with deep pockets.
“The situation is very much in flux,” he says. “It looked like it was on a smooth path to acceptance in 48 states, but now there is a rocky road ahead with parents pulling out and questions being raised. We won’t know for several years what the impact will be.”
He adds that states like Indiana and Louisiana, which provide vouchers for public school children to attend private schools, could complicate matters for private schools in terms of their curriculum.
“There is a requirement there that any student receiving a voucher would still have to be [Common Core] assessed,” Whitehurst says. “So the private schools there would have to think about their curriculums.”
Schools Remain Divided
Manno of the Calais school says implementing Common Core upgraded its curriculum and helps it stay current on the latest trends in education.
“It has reinvigorated teaching professionals,” she says. “Their own catalog of offerings makes the classroom come alive and this lets them go above and beyond the things they have already done. “
Weirs says that Common Core curriculum is not an issue of right or wrong, but rather there are just too many unanswered questions about it for both the school and its families for her to feel comfortable using it.
“We are a private Christian school, so we do things from a Christian moral view—we understand and learn about other world views,” she says. “There is a concern that Common Core is moving farther and farther away from the values our families hold dear.”