Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have committed to adopting common core standards in English language arts and mathematics, but recent studies have emphasized that the most important step to ensuring that this major reform is successful may be the availability of funds to properly implement it. Recent court decisions in Colorado and Washington indicate that thus far many states have not taken cost factors related to implementing the common core into account in their school funding decisions. The Pioneer Institute of Massachusetts and the Thomas E. Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C. each recently conducted studies on implementation plans, and while they suggest different conclusions as to the benefits of the common core, they both show that properly implementing the initiative will cost a lot of money.
The common core initiative is part of an effort to align state curricula with the principles of standards-based education reform by establishing a clear set of expectations for the skills and knowledge students need to acquire in school. Beginning in the 2014-15 academic year, schools expect to use newly created online assessments to measure student progress, some of which contain open response questions that require teacher evaluation rather than machine-grading. Proponents of the new tests hope to reverse the effects of earlier standardized tests, which have forced educators to “teach to the test” and focus on fact-recall rather than concept-mastery and critical thinking skills. But according to Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, “superior assessments,” tests with writing and analysis components, cost up to three times more than standard multiple-choice tests.
There is a general consensus among educators and policymakers that the following components are essential to successfully transition state education to align with national standards: updating instructional materials, providing professional development for teachers and staff, and administering, scoring, reporting, and acquiring the proper technology for new online assessments. Education experts have shown that whatever model education officials decide to use, enacting these changes will require at the very least a modest increase in school funding, and potentially a substantial one.
Released this past February, the Pioneer study estimates that including one-time costs, year one operational costs, and ongoing costs for years 2 to 7, the total amount needed to implement Common Core nationwide will be $15.8 billion. “National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards”. The breakdown of costs indicates that schools will need $1.2 billion for the new assessments, $5.3 billion for professional development, $2.5 billion for instructional material, and $6.9 billion for technology and support.
Fordham’s May 2012 study suggests lower estimates than Pioneer does because the Fordham researchers focus on innovative ways to contain costs and to repurpose current education expenses, and also because they exclude technology costs, which they argue most districts have already incurred. “Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core”. Based on three hypothetical approaches, the report presents the costs of using a “Business as Usual” model ($12.1 billion), a “Bare Bones” model that assumes that instructional materials, assessment and professional development will all be done on line ($3 billion), and “Balanced Implementation” ($5.1 billion). On a per pupil basis, the estimated the costs range from $109 to $396.
As authors of the Fordham Institute report note, “adoption was the easy part. Implementation is where things get real—and really challenging.”