From the Editor
The Cost of Implementing the Common Core
Anne Wujcik — Friday, June 01, 2012
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a report this week that argues that there is no need for districts to go broke as they move forward with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. "Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost?" estimates that Common Core implementation will cost from $3 billion (bare bones) to $12 billion (business as usual), depending on the approach the states take. This range represents transitional costs, those initial or one-time expenses that are required to make the shift to the new standards, and they encompass three key expenses- instructional materials, student assessments, and professional development. The report's authors outline three potential implementation approaches: Bare Bones, Business as Usual and Balanced Implementation and estimate costs associated with each approach. Everyone will find a lot to argue about here, both in the ways the implementation models are defined and the costs estimates themselves. But there's enough information included for readers to adjust the numbers up or down depending on their views of the accuracy of Fordham's estimates. What I find most valuable is something that has not been emphasized enough and that's the fact that the states are all already supporting some form of standards-based education, related assessment and professional development.
We can argue about the actual dollars spent right now, but the schools have instructional materials in place that they have used to support state standards related instruction. While much of that material will need to be replaced, it doesn't have to happen overnight and with guidance, teachers will be able to repurpose a significant amount of what they now have in their classrooms. And even without the Common Core, states and districts would have spent dollars over the next three years to replace at least some portion of the instructional materials in use. Fordham posits that states will find cost savings in shifting away from hard-copy textbooks. That depends, of course, on what they choose to use in place of the traditional textbook, but it does mark a significant shift in practice and has significant market implications as well.
In the area of assessment it's even clearer that the states are currently spending money to deliver the existing set of high stakes tests that are used to measure student progress and calculate AYP. It seems logical that the dollars currently spent on reading/language Arts and math testing will shift to support the new Common Core tests. What's not included in this cost calculation is the very significant cost of building out the infrastructure and purchasing computing devices to support the online administration of the Common Core tests. And that's a very big omission.
None of this is to say that it won't require considerable investment to successfully transition to full implementation of the Common Core. It does remind us, however, that, depending on approach, some (or much) of that investment could come from redirecting existing budget allocations. The Fordham report points out an important caveat. To really realize the promise of the Common Core will require "entirely new types of learning tools, performance assessments unlike any heretofore used at scale, and embedded, ongoing professional development that leads to continuous improvement in teachers' and schools' capacity to deliver instruction effectively to all their pupils." Basing calculations on past experiences and costs doesn't capture that requirement; states will need to understand that realizing the full potential of the CCSS limits the relevance of past experience.
The Fordham report concludes with some reflections on the opportunity that moving to the Common Core represents to rethink traditional ways of operating. If most states really do continue in a "business as usual" mode, a real opportunity to realize real change in the way we organize schools and classrooms; create and evaluate instructional materials; assess progress; train, support and deploy teachers and education leaders; and ultimately customize and personalize education. And it's not just schools that need to engage in the rethinking process. Organizations that sell products and services to the school market have to develop a model that both preserves their bottom line and allows them to become real partners in the evolution of schooling in the 21st century.