Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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


    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.


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