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What will adoption of national standards cost Massachusetts schools?

Posted by Jim Stergios  November 10, 2011 06:47 AM

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It’s always struck me as odd that with all the talk about federal money coming from the federal Race to the Top effort to support state implementation of national standards (the so-called Common Core), no one has done a solid cost estimate for what it will cost. Let me say that again: We have at the state and federal level changed policies that are far-reaching for our states, districts and schools, and yet we have had no idea what it will cost to do so.

McGraw-Hill’s February 2011 Education Brief notes that

States and districts are unsure what the true cost of implementing Common Core will be and worry that the money needed will not be available in state or federal budgets. The recession and widespread budget cuts can adversely affect efforts to implement. States adopting these standards must be prepared to implement strategies and support as these will soon become the basis on which students are judged.

As the McGraw-Hill brief notes, each state will be working within the next three years to implement the standards, so that by 2014, the major changes will have taken place. But “ as states create implementation schedules, budget arises as the most mitigating factor.”

Yup. So who has done work on the costs of implementation the national standards and assessments? Not Washington, DC, and not Massachusetts. California has started that process. Taking from California's draft implementation plan, again, the McGraw-Hill brief notes:

The California Department of Education (CDE) internally estimates that the average cost of developing and publishing a curriculum framework is approximately $1.2 million. The average cost of a major instructional materials adoption in mathematics or reading/language arts–English language development is approximately $2.1 million.

That’s $3.3 million per district. California had very strong state academic standards before it adopted the national standards, so it may be a good comparison on the materials and curricular planning side of the equation. There are of course other considerations, such as the IT and other needs associated with the development and implementation of new assessments, in our case, to replace the MCAS.

If the California numbers hold for Massachusetts (which is not known), the curricular and materials work associated with the adoption of the national standards will cost about $1 billion (over 300 districts multiplied by $3.3. million).

Massachusetts got $250 million over four years (works out to about $62.5 million a year over the period) to start the process, and few people actually believe there is any more federal money to support the implementation process. So in great part this is a matter that will be left for states and districts to pay for.

A new estimate from California’s Department of Education suggests that the costs will be far lower. On Monday, in a piece entitled “CDE estimates common core costs close to $800 million ,” Tom Chorneau reports that

New analysis from the California Department of Education sets the cost of providing instructional materials aligned to the common core at $487 million.

There is an additional $237 million related to professional development – getting teachers and administrators prepared – and at least $35 million more tied to the cost of the state’s participation in the national common core assessment consortium, which calls for implementation by the 2014-15 school year.

The new numbers come as the California State Board of Education is set this week to once again consider the next steps in implementing the common core standards in math and English language arts. The board and state school chief Tom Torlakson are required to provide a plan and a schedule to the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown for how to bring the new standards into the classroom – something that has been under development more than a year.

Although steps have been taken, the big issue clearly is money, as a memo from Torlakson to the board points out.

The big hurdle, however, will be finding the truly big dollars needed to bring the entire program into focus.

In recent months, many states hoped that the offer from US Secretary of Educaton Arne Duncan to waive provisions of the No Child Left Behind law to states that make reforms that he wants would save states money. That is not the case in California:

But one big parallel program – the Obama administration’s No Child Left Behind waiver offer – would appear to add costs rather than reduce them.

The CDE says overall the waiver will cost the state as much as $3.1 billion. Many of those costs would be incurred anyway, as a result of implementing common core – such as the updated instructional materials, added professional development and new testing.

But the CDE has also identified numerous other costs tied to the waiver such as the development of new support systems for low performing schools and the creation of an evaluation system for teachers and principals.

So what is Massachusetts' estimate of the cost of implementation? We ought to know.

Crossposted at Pioneer's blog. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer's website.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Jim Stergios is executive director of the Pioneer Institute. Before joining Pioneer, he was Chief of Staff and Undersecretary for Policy in the Commonwealth's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, where More »

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