What Our Catholic Schools Teach

The Catholic schools of the Diocese of Sioux Falls have a longstanding and well-deserved reputation for traditional, academic rigor. More importantly, our schools are committed to providing a Catholic education to those we serve by forming and awakening faith within our students. Our schools will continue to be places of learning where our primary mission is to ensure our children have an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ.

The Office of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Sioux Falls supports the work of our local Catholic schools. We encourage our constituents to trust that we will remain true to the mission of Catholic education.  It has long been the tradition and commitment of Catholic schools to give the children that God has entrusted to our care, both formation in our Catholic faith and the tools of college and career readiness.


So how are Catholic schools defined in light of educational reforms and state educational standards?

We enjoy academic freedom as nonpublic schools, where we are in control of the learning process within our schools. We are at liberty to use the Common Core as we see fit. We will determine what to adapt and only utilize that which best fits our unique mission. Our focus is to be vigilant as we adhere to the Truth that the Catholic Church teaches and to insure that the faith and education of our children is not compromised.


What is the involvement of our Catholic schools with Common Core?

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Sioux Falls have been encouraged to be versed in SD Department of Education implementation of Common Core Standards and in preparation of the change from Dakota STEP (South Dakota State Test of Educational Progress) to SMARTER Balanced Assessment. Our schools welcome the research and attention to clear, measurable goals and outcomes for what our students should know and understand. It is in this educational environment that Catholic school educators have the responsibility to prepare Catholic school students for the next level of their education.

We are mindful that in 7 of our 23 diocesan schools, our students do not have the opportunity to attend a Catholic junior high or high school and must be prepared to transition into public school. Our Catholic school educators have been directed to maintain the integrity of our educational mission and work to meet the needs of our students.


Will our Catholic schools use the Common Core Standards?

The Catholic schools will work within the framework of the Common Core State Standards, but the standards our schools will adopt will be reflective of our Catholic heritage and emphasize our values and traditions. To this end our schools have been directed to approach this shift in teaching and learning as the opportunity to intentionally infuse the instructional content with Catholic Identity rather than having Catholic Identity as an add-on.


Are there Catholic core standards?

Yes, Catholic schools in the Diocese of Sioux Falls are expected to be Catholic at the core, not common at the core. Our schools  actively review the state standards and align them with our Catholic worldview. We fully intend to use this opportunity of educational reform to renew our commitment to the traditional purposes of schooling – teaching children, perpetuating our cultural heritage, producing intelligent and participatory citizens, and encouraging innovation and creativity. As Catholic schools we will embrace with renewed vigor our work of encouraging the development of a moral conscience, creating a community of faith based on Gospel values and producing intelligent, participatory members of the future Catholic Church. Our schools are to be different by design.

Of interest in support of Catholic schools is the Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative (CCCII). This is a national group involving educators who are invested in supporting Catholic education in our nation. This is a resource our schools can use in making local decisions.


Why have Common Core or shared educational Standards?

Instructional standards are not new to our work as educators. All teachers, in both public and private schools are asked to teach students according to defined standards. These standards are designed to show what students are supposed to know and be able to do by the time they leave a particular grade.

Past practice has presented teachers with a long list of instructional standards that were supposed to be covered by the end of the school year. Over time this developed into offering instruction that is “a mile wide and an inch deep”. Colleges and employers complained and research data showed that students are emerging from U.S. schools lacking in key knowledge and skills. These findings led to a coalition between the Council of Chief State School Officer and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the establishment of a shared set of clear educational standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. In 2010, the South Dakota Board of Education moved to join the majority of states and adopt the Common Core Standards. The SD Department of Education continues to review and up-date curriculum standards.

The Common Core standards approach fundamentally shifted the teaching and learning process. They focused intensely on a smaller number of standards that have been directly linked to success in college and career. The emphasis is on mastery in targeted areas, on creativity, critical thinking and real-world application. With an in-depth study of the actual standards, you may discover that much of this approach looks familiar to us. The truth is that this “sweeping change” looks a lot like the traditional approach found in most Catholic schools.


Will our Catholic students be required to read inappropriate material?

No, the educators in our local schools will decide what materials are suitable for our students to read. Many secular sources provide recommended reading lists for each grade level. You will discover many tried and true favorites included on those lists, however, there is no requirement forcing us to use any of those selections. We are free to substitute whatever grade appropriate written material we would like to use, including the Bible, writings by the Saints and Church leaders and wonderful morality, values-based stories like those that were printed in Catholic textbooks in the past.


Do State Standards require the use of pre-selected content?

No, in fact, looking at what was published when the  Common Core Standards  were adopted we see:

  • The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach
  • While the Standards focus on what is most essential, they do not describe all that can or should be taught. A great deal is left to the discretion of teachers and curriculum developers. The aim of the Standards is to articulate the fundamentals, not to set out an exhaustive list or a set of restrictions that limits what can be taught beyond what is specified.


Why are there alarming reports of required content that is contrary to Catholic teaching?

Everywhere we turn we see special interest groups propagating teaching objectives and recommended reading that seems very official. The statement about being aligned to Common Core or state standards is being espoused by the salesman selling globes and maps, special interest organizations and any number of activist groups pushing their own agenda. In fact, the very freedom built into the structure of the standards that enables individual schools and educators to select content which they find meaningful, can either build up or tear down. In schools with the expressed purpose of building up our children in the faith and hope of the Magisterium, Catholic parents can confidently partner with the school in educating their child. However, in schools adrift in modern culture, there is great potential for Catholic values to be torn down, putting our children at risk.


What are Catholic educational leaders saying about Common Core?

The Common Core Standards in themselves are not a curriculum. They do not dictate our curriculum or the sequence of the topics we teach. They do not dictate instructional methodologies or the materials we use. The National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) states:

The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum. A curriculum includes what is taught, when it is taught, how it is taught and what materials to use. None of these items are included in the Common Core State Standards. For Catholic schools, all of these elements will continue to be determined by diocesan superintendents, principals and teachers working to meet the needs of their students.

NCEA is the largest private professional education organization in the world, which provides leadership, direction and service to its members through the professional development that supports the teaching and learning activities of Catholic schools.




The Office of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Sioux Falls supports the work of our local Catholic schools. We encourage our constituents to trust that we will remain true to the mission of Catholic education. It has long been the tradition and commitment of Catholic schools to give the children that God has entrusted to our care, both formation in our Catholic faith and the tools of college and career readiness.