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What Goldilocks Can Tell Us About The Cost Of Implementing The Common Core

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A new study from The Fordham Institute has been dubbed 'the Goldilocks report' for its focus on a middle-of-the-road implementation of the Common Core. Critics say the cost analysis is just that — a fairy tale.

It could cost as much as $278 million for Indiana to adopt new academic standards known as the Common Core. Or it could cost as little as $68 million.

That’s the conclusion of a new study from The Fordham Institute that offers three different price tags for the cost of training teachers and purchasing classroom materials to teach to the new standards.The actual cost would depend on how much schools and districts lean on technology in implementing the standards.

Some are calling the study the Goldilocks report for its endorsement of a middle-road approach that would cost Indiana about $117 million.

Indiana is one of 45 states that have adopted the Common Core, which proponents say will create rigorous national academic standards and align curricula across the states. Indeed, the Fordham report predicts cost savings stemming from the “commonness” of the standards themselves. That’s because companies who prepare classroom materials will no longer have to take varying state standards into account.

Study Predicts Savings With ‘Smart’ Implementation

Authors of the Fordham report suggest three ways states and districts could chose to implement the Common Core:

  • “Business as Usual” — Schools would buy hard-copy textbooks, administer student exams on paper and pay for in-person professional development for teachers. Nationally, states could spend as much as $12 billion implementing the Common Core in this way, the report predicts.
  • “Bare Bones” — Schools would use open-source materials, administer assessments on computers and limit professional development to webinars and modules. States would spend a little less than $3 billion to implement the Common Core if they go the bare bones route, Fordham predicts, and possibly net some savings over what they would be spending anyway.
  • “Balanced Implementation” — Schools would pick between the methods, combining a mix of online and hard-copy teaching materials, both interim and summative assessments and a hybrid professional development system. That would cost about $5 billion.

It’s worth noting that Fordham advocates for common curriculum standards and prepared the report in response to a competing study by the Pioneer Institute that put the cost of implementation much, much higher. The difference? Pioneer’s national estimate of $16 billion includes nearly $7 billion for technology infrastructure  costs that authors of the Fordham study say most districts have already incurred.

“We see the establishment and investment of technology structure going well beyond the Common Core,” Patrick Murphy, one of the Fordham study’s authors, said in a May 30 panel discussion. “We see that as part of education in the 21st century. To attach that cost on Common Core implementation just didn’t make sense to us.”

“They’re saying, ‘I know no one’s going to drop a big bag of money in my lap. I’m going to have to do this with what I have,’”
—Patrick Murphy, author

Murphy acknowledges that it’s unlikely the new standards are going to come with a windfall of education funding. He says a lot of districts will have no choice but to take the bare bones approach to implementing the Common Core.

“They’re saying, ‘I know no one’s going to drop a big bag of money in my lap. I’m going to have to do this with what I have,’” Murphy said.

Is Indiana’s use of technology ‘just right?’

Indiana schools may be in a better position than most to implement the new standards because a number of districts have taken advantage of a rule change in 2009 that allowed them to purchase digital technology and devices with money from the state’s textbook fund.

“Adopting new materials isn’t really a cost of the Common Core,”  says Zach Foughty, director of college and career readiness for the Indiana Department of Education. ”It’s a cost in education of providing relevant materials to students that’s there anyway.”

“It’s great to be able to test online, but we wouldn’t be asking schools to spend so much on technology just for the purpose of assessing. We know that’s how students learn.”
—Zach Foughty, Indiana Department of Education

In the best position to make a technology-based push to implement the Common Core are districts that haven’t purchased a textbook in three or four years, Foughty says. Expanding classroom technology in recent years has made it possible for Indiana to test more students online than all states but two, though he says that’s not the main reason why the state has been funneling grant money into districts’ technology initiatives.

“It’s great to be able to test online, but we wouldn’t be asking schools to spend so much on technology just for the purpose of assessing,” he said. “We know that’s how students learn.”

For districts that take the “business as usual” approach, Foughty says the state has made changes to how it handles textbook adoption cycles. The new approach means there are more financial incentives for districts to use the latest materials and a longer time during which schools can receive a discount. Whatever strategy school districts use, Foughty says, they would be making investments with or without the Common Core because Indiana would have needed to revise its own academic standards in the coming years to remain competitive with students outside the U.S.

“A lot of the teacher training or costs that were there were things we had simply neglected for years that got us into the position we were in,” Foughty says. “It was going to take huge changes in a few areas that really were costs that were there before.”

‘On the cheap’ benefits no one

The differences between the Fordham report and an earlier Pioneer Institute study encapsulate the tension between Common Core advocates and its detractors.

Reasons for opposing the standards vary. Some parents and teachers fear a loss of local control. Others say the standards aren’t rigorous enough and will edge all students toward mediocrity. Then there’s the fear that the Common Core will become an unfunded mandate in states that haven’t thought a lot about the cost of implementing it.

That’s precisely what Theodor Rebarber and his colleagues at AccountabilityWorks cautioned against when they authored the Pioneer Institute study:

States and communities should avoid trying to implement the Common Core, or any set of new standards, ‘on the cheap.’ Inadequate training, instructional materials, or necessary infrastructure can lead to teachers and administrators disclaiming responsibility for failure because they did not receive adequate support.

For his part, Rebarber says he’s sticking by his estimate. He criticized the Fordham report for being too hopeful, adding that it makes sense to include the cost of technology because it’s the biggest expense most districts will incur. The Pioneer Institute put the cost of new technology in Indiana at $347 million over a seven year implementation period  well more than Fordham’s most expensive scenario for Indiana.

“Our basic approach was to look at evidence,” Rebarber tells Education Week. “We think that’s the right way to do a conservative, prudent cost analysis. Theirs is more of an attempt to imagine ways to do things less expensively without any guarantee they will actually be able to pull it off.”

Where ‘bare bones’ might not be enough

Ze’ev Wurman, a Common Core critic asked to participate in Fordham’s panel discussion, has another concern: That textbooks in use today will be outdated when standards are adopted in 2015. That’s not just a concern for districts that rely on paper books, but also for more technologically advanced schools that lease computers for student use.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Evansville chemistry teacher Brian Bennett assists a student in class. Students access their assignments on their laptops using Google Docs. State officials say Indiana is ahead of the curve when it comes to using technology in the classroom, which could lower the cost of implementing the Common Core.

“If there is a budget crunch or economic recession, you stop buying new textbooks,” Wurman said. “Well, here you cannot stop buying new textbooks because you are paying the lease. If you don’t keep paying the royalty or license fee, your kids don’t have old books to use. They have no books.”

Sound far-fetched? Not in Evansville, which has one of the largest initiatives in the state aimed at putting a computer in each student’s hands. When the district began leasing its 13,000 netbooks two years ago, the textbook fund covered 86 percent of the cost. As we reported last month, new rules mean the state will only pay about 40 percent next year. Evansville still has two more years of lease payments to make.

Critics also question whether online resources offered up to teachers as part of their professional development will actually make them more effective educators and prepare them to teach the Common Core. An Indiana educator who blogs as The Huntington Teacher says he’s skipping any voluntary training his district offers this summer.

“I seriously doubt I will get out the pages upon pages of new ‘common core’ standards and seek to align them with a new curriculum map,” he writes. “And I know I will not be racking up ‘in service points’ by watching some professional development on how to successfully implement ‘Common Core’ through webinars on the PD360 network.”

Instead, he says he’ll be meeting with like-minded teachers, parents and community members that disagree with the Common Core, teacher evaluations and standardized testing.

Comments

  • Horace Mann

    Ms. Moxley,

    I appreciate the citation of one of my blogs in your post. The blog to which you link is mostly in regards to implementing a digital 1:1 curriculum in our district, which I would support, if our administration had a plan of implementation and provide adequate training.

    In much the same manner, teachers now feel pressured and rushed to embed Common Core standards without adequate training. However, the real discussion we need to have about Common Core is not simply about how much it will cost, but why would we want Common Core in the first place?

    You report proponents of common core tout its “rigorous” standards. They are correct, etymologically speaking (rigor: late 14c old French, from Latin, “numbness, stiffness”). As in “rigor mortis”, Common Core will kill the spirit of learning. Teachers who have witnessed the overzealous use of standardization and commonness mostly refer to it as a return to skill and drill – and kill.

    In the same paragraph you report that this “commonness” means big corporations can actually save money by producing mass material more cheaply. This is also true, much in the same way McDonald’s can mass produce hamburgers with rigorous standards quite cheaply. Will the material these big corporations mass produce for educators be innovative and excite curiosity, (let alone be accurate)? If you believe a Big Mac is nutritious, then, sure it will.

    Finally, I’d like to ask Hoosiers this: Do you really want a federal government controlled, federal government directed knowledge and skill base for our children? Understand Common Core for what it really is: a device that will allow the federal government to create a national database on every thing our children do at school and a means to provide big corporations to “commodify” our children’s education.

    Two good places to find out the real purpose of common core: http://ahuntingtonteacher.blogspot.com/2012/05/meet-common-problem-in-public-education.html and http://susanohanian.org/core.php

    Sincerely,

    Horace Mann

    • Elle Moxley

      Hi Horace,

      While I tried to focus on the debate surrounding the cost of the Common Core, critic Ze’ev Wurman does say during the panel he agreed to participate on the condition that the Fordham Institute host a discussion on the merits of implementing national academic standards at a later date. It will be interesting to see when/if that conversation occurs.

      As a teacher, what kind of resources have you been offered in regards to implementing Common Core standards? I know you said you felt your district was not providing adequate support for a separate technology initiative, and we’re always curious to know what teachers are seeing on the ground.

      Thanks for reading!

      Best,
      Elle

    • http://twitter.com/StateImpactIN StateImpact Indiana

      Hi Horace,

      While I tried to focus on the debate surrounding the cost of the Common Core, critic Ze’ev Wurman does say during the panel he agreed to participate on the condition that the Fordham Institute host a discussion on the merits of implementing national academic standards at a later date. It will be interesting to see when/if that conversation occurs.

      As a teacher, what kind of resources have you been offered in regards to implementing Common Core standards? I know you said you felt your district was not providing adequate support for a separate technology initiative, and we’re always curious to know what teachers are seeing on the ground.

      Thanks for reading!

      Elle

      • Horace Mann

        Ms. Moxley,

        If you want to have a conversation about how huge corporations like Pearson or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are pushing common core so they can make billions of dollars “commodifying our children”, then we can talk.

        If you want to discuss the constitutionality of a longitudinal data base on every child in the nation our federal government will launch, using common core as justification, that would be a worthy conversation.

        I’d also discuss how common core is deskilling the profession of teaching and usurping the autonomy of the locally elected school board.

        However, discussing how prepared I am to implement a Common Core curriculum that will systematically destroy public education is futile.

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