Getting Common Core implementation right: the $16 billion question

The
Pioneer Institute—no friends of the Common Core to begin with—released a report
this week claiming that it will cost the nation $16 billion to implement the
new standards. (If you read the full text, the authors frequently note that
this is, in their opinion, a wild underestimate.)

The
astronomical estimate is not entirely surprising. If you want to scare
cash-strapped states away from moving forward with their Common Core plans,
it’s not hard to attach a frighteningly large price tag to implementation.
After all, the purpose of standards is to create the foundation upon which the
entire education system is built. So, obviously, changing standards must mean
knocking down the house, re-pouring the foundation, and starting again.

Concrete Housing Construction in Chile
Implementing Common Core doesn't necessarily mean knocking down the house and starting from scratch.
Photo by Concrete Forms.

Right?

Well,
not quite.

Yes,
implementing the Common Core will be costly. No one disputes that. Aligning
materials, instruction, and assessment around new standards cannot be done on
the cheap if it’s going to be done well.

On
the other hand, let’s pretend neither that implementation of the new standards
needs to look exactly like implementation of a state’s previous standards, nor
that every dollar spent on CCSS needs to be “new money.”

Unfortunately,
the Pioneer authors seemed uninterested in reimagining standards implementation
or in looking for—or even acknowledging—the potential for cost savings.

The Pioneer authors seemed uninterested in reimagining standards implementation
or in looking for the potential for cost savings.

Take,
as just one example, the section on professional development. Pioneer estimates
that there will be a one-time professional development cost of $5.26 billion
across all states—a third of Pioneer’s total CCSS implementation estimate.

Unfortunately,
this overblown estimate rests on two fairly dubious assumptions. First, the
authors explain that it

was determined by first identifying a typical cost for
professional development based on previous state experiences implementing
academic standards, weighed by the relative size of this states.

In
other words: we assume that it is impossible to rethink professional
development delivery or to imagine savings in this area.

Second,
while the authors “considered whether to only assume professional development
costs at the middle and upper grades for teachers responsible for English and
mathematics (e.g., not for science or history teachers),” because of the Common
Core’s “increased emphasis in English language arts on more challenging
comprehension tasks,” they

…find it reasonable that the responsibility for preparing
students to meet the standards would be shared among all teachers. As a result,
we assume that all teachers will require training on the Common Core standards.

In
other words: We assume that, no matter the cost, every teacher in the building
needs exactly the same level of training at the same cost to the state.

Both
of these assumptions are, of course, absurd.

For
starters, professional development consultants are typically exorbitantly
expensive. And their quality
is varied, at best
. As educators, given the amount of business professional
development consultants are likely to get peddling similar materials and
sessions to broad audiences, we ought to demand both cost savings and
better quality. It’s high time we do that anyway.

More
than that, though, what kind of one-time PD for every teacher in every state is
Pioneer envisioning that would be worth $5.26 billion? Are they thinking that
all teachers—regardless of their knowledge, experience, or effectiveness—need
to sit through some kind of arbitrary “Welcome to the Common Core!” PD? (And if
so, then I’m willing to save states $5 billion dollars right now by saying,
don’t bother.)

That
said, the authors do raise some very legitimate concerns about CCSS
implementation to which supporters should pay attention. (In particular, they
raise some important questions about CCSS-aligned assessment costs and the
plans outlined by both consortia.) So let’s hope that Common Core states do not
take this as an opportunity to walk away from the standards, but that they
instead see it as a useful shot across the bow and that it spurs them to create
implementation plans with innovation and cost savings in mind.

More By Author

Related Articles