|NUMBER 312||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||JANUARY 2012|
|Common Core Standards Aren't Cheap|
Numerous states currently struggling in the midst of steep education budget cuts may have more fiscal problems than they realize. Though 45 states rushed to adopt Common Core standards in the past two years, many have not taken the time to evaluate what the adoption of these standards will cost them. States that jumped on the Common Core bandwagon in hopes of securing Obama administration grant money may find themselves increasingly strapped for cash in the next few years as implementation costs begin to accumulate. Most Common Core changes are expected to be in place by 2014, leaving states little time to back out of commitments they cannot afford.
Every new initiative, no matter how big or small, comes with unforeseen costs . . . For example, will school districts need to adopt new textbooks that are aligned to the Common Core? Does that mean that the thousands of dollars school districts have spent on textbooks in the last few years are no longer relevant to what teachers are teaching? . . . the Common Core is radically different enough that schools will be forced to buy new textbooks, which should be concerning to educators. Was this a way for textbook publishers to get more money from schools?
DeWitt went on to point out several expensive results of the Common Core that have not often been considered:
Substitute Teachers — Schools have to send teachers to be a part of the curriculum mapping process for Common Core Standards. These trainings will be over multiple days which will take teachers out of the classroom . . . There is a cost to have a substitute teacher in the classroom for multiple days.
New Textbooks — Textbooks are outrageously expensive . . . even if we do find internet options, the publishers who created those options are certainly not offering them for free.
The Cost of Time — Teachers spend a great deal of time trying to educate themselves on the changes from their old standards to those of the Common Core . . . The cost of time is a big reality for schools.
Training Teachers — Bringing in outside experts or consultants is very expensive. In order to properly train teachers, school districts must offer professional development in order to ensure that educators can master the Common Core Standards. These trainings are not a one-shot deal and will cost school districts money . . .
. . . Schools will have students who see more substitute teachers in their classrooms and districts will have less money for other supplies . . . Our only hope is that school districts are given a proper opportunity to prepare for these new standards or the whole situation will be just another mandate that school districts cannot afford.
Implementation costs will be even more problematic in larger states like California. The California Department of Education estimates that Common Core will cost the state about $760 million. Outside estimates place California's fiscal commitment at up to $1.6 billion. California already expects a $3 billion deficit at the end of fiscal year 2011, and a $10 billion deficit in 2012-13. In addition, General Fund revenues for 2011-12 are lower than expected, triggering a $2 billion cut to state programs beginning in January. "Adding up to a billion-and-a-half-dollar expenditure to implement national standards under these circumstances is fiscal madness," said Lance Izumi, senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute.
Liv Finne, director of the Washington Policy Center's education center, estimates the total nationwide cost of Common Core implementation at $30 billion, and the American Enterprise Institute has pointed out that education spending made up a very large portion of the nation's $103 billion in state budget deficits in the 2011-12 fiscal year.
None of these estimates take into account the hidden costs of federal encroachment on state authority. Texas and South Carolina legislators have refused to adopt Common Core for that reason. Lance Izumi believes that the federal involvement invited by Common Core implementation
. . . eviscerates what remains of state and local authority over education policymaking . . . National tests will be aligned to the national standards. A national curriculum will be aligned to the national tests and the national standards. Instead of locally elected school board members and state legislators making decisions, power will be transferred to faceless, unelected federal education bureaucrats.
Matthew Piccolo, a policy analyst at the Sutherland Institute, agrees:
Utah has already spent millions of dollars on training teachers and updating assessments and curriculum to align with the Common Core. Worse, though, it is getting on a bandwagon that could lead to a federal mandated national curriculum . . . Students need an individualized education, not one dictated by educrats 2,000 miles away in Washington. When it comes to education, state and local autonomy are vital for student success.
In addition to the high costs and the risks brought on by increased federal involvement, some experts argue that the standards are simply too low to justify implementation. Liv Finne wrote in a December 3 posting at washingtonpolicy.org,
Experts on standards are warning that the quality of these standards is mediocre and not internationally benchmarked, as advertised. Nor will they prepare Washington students for college or the workplace, as advertised. They mandate a teaching of geometry that has never been used. They will not purge from Washington classrooms the failing Discovery Math series responsible for confusing and discouraging math study in an entire generation of students. They will require that half the reading texts assigned by English teachers must be non-fiction. In Massachusetts, this means that teachers have been forced to drop literary masterpieces of the American tradition, including Moby Dick, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Huckleberry Finn.
Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas' Department of Education Reform sat on a Common Core review panel. The Common Core Language Arts standards, she said, "will lead to a lower level of literacy for all high school students . . . [the Common Core's] grade-level standards are mostly language skill sets, with little substantive content."
As states look for ways to relieve the pressure brought on by ever-shrinking education budgets, it is to be hoped that they will reconsider the monumental financial cost of their hasty commitment to Common Core standards. On December 1, the Education Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) took the first step toward passing model legislation to provide states with a Common Core exit strategy. A number of states may soon introduce the legislation, which relies on Closing the Door on Innovation, a document endorsed by 350 prominent teachers, parents, education policymakers, and researchers. Closing the Door on Innovation argues that
The Heritage Foundation's Lindsay Burke has also suggested an exit strategy: first, states ought to find out which body agreed to adopt the Common Core standards. Usually the state board of education is at fault — a fact that ought to concern citizens, since Common Core represents an abdication of the school board's constitutionally-mandated responsibilities. Next, states ought to outlaw new spending for standards implementation until independent cost analyses are performed and taxpayers notified about the new expenditures. Third, state leaders ought to work to determine how each individual state can best restore standards and curriculum control to its own local governing bodies. Many current state officials were elected after the standards were adopted in 2010. These newly elected leaders need to be aware of the changes the Common Core standards would entail, and they need to strengthen existing state standards and tests.