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.
Implementing Common Core doesn't necessarily mean knocking down the house and starting from scratch.
Photo by Concrete Forms.
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.
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About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
May 16, 2013
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