Curriculum & Instruction

The Price of the Common Core

The Price of the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards will soon be driving instruction in forty-five states and the District of Columbia.

While the standards are high quality, getting their implementation right is a real challenge—and it won't be free, a serious concern given the tight budgets of many districts and states.
But while critics have warned of a hefty price tag, the reality is more complicated.

Yes, some states may end up spending a lot of money. But there are also opportunities for significant savings if states, districts and schools use this occasion to rethink their approach to test administration, instructional materials and training for teachers. The key is that states have options, and implementation doesn't need to look (or cost) the same everywhere.

States could approach implementation in myriad ways. Here are three:

• One, stick to "Business as usual" and use traditional tools like textbooks, paper tests, and in-person training. These tools are very familiar in today's education system, but they can come with reasonably high price tags.
• Two, go with only the "bare bones" of what's necessary: Experiment with open-source materials, computerized assessments, and online professional development in ways that provide the bare bones of more traditional, in-person approaches. This could save major coin, but could require more technology investment and capacity for some states.
• Or, three, find a middle ground through "balanced implementation" of both strategies, which offers some of the benefits—and downsides—of each model.

But how much money are we talking? Take Florida: 

If Florida sticks to business as usual, it could spend $780 million implementing the Common Core. Under the bare bones approach, the tab could be only $183 million. A blend of the two? $318 million.

But that's the total cost; don't forget states are already spending billions of dollars each year on textbooks, tests, curricula, and other expenses. Look at it that way and the sticker shock wears off: The estimated net cost of putting the Common Core in place in the Sunshine State, for example, ranges from $530 million to roughly $67 million less than what we estimate that they are spending now. 

Each implementation approach has its merits—and drawbacks—but states and districts do have options for smartly adopting the Common Core without breaking the bank. Further, they could use this opportunity to create efficiencies via cross-state collaborations and other innovations.

To learn more, download "Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost?"

Amercia the Beautiful

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Recently I received an email from a student unlike any message I have received in forty years as a college professor. It is worth quoting for what it says not so much about this student as about the culture we have now created within K-16 education in America. Commenting on the failing grade I gave her in a course, the student wrote: “I have never received an F for as long as I have been in college, I complied with the paper and the two tests, and you mean to tell me I did not get anything from the class. I will appeal this because who is the failure? You are the teacher whom I relied upon to teach me about a subject matter that I had no familiarity with, so in all actuality I have been disserviced, and I do expect my money back from the course, you did not give me any warning that I was failing! You should be embarrassed to give a student an F.”

Fake diploma
It is no longer sufficient to

Education reform critics often compare the practices of elite private schools to those of traditional public schools serving our nation’s most disadvantaged students and are appalled by the differences they see. Just this morning, I saw a tweet from science teacher Aaron Reedy, retweeted to Diane Ravitch’s 30,000 followers, which said:

We need to look at what works for the wealthy and emulate that in all of our public schools.
Too many of us draw exactly the wrong lessons about what should be replicated from elite private (and public) schools.

It’s a familiar theme, and one that I—and many reformers—are sympathetic to. Unfortunately, when observing teaching and learning at elite private (and public) schools, too many of us draw exactly the wrong lessons about what should be replicated. And by doing so, we unintentionally promote strategies that end up widening the knowledge gap between children born to privilege and those born to poverty.

I wrote about this a year ago, responding to an article written by Alfie Kohn that accused urban schools in engaging in what he called “a pedagogy of poverty.” At the time, I argued:

A lot of education activists, like Alfie Kohn and Diane Ravitch,...

Digital Learning: The Future of Schooling? Session 1

Digital Learning: The Future of Schooling? Session 1

Join us for this important, nonpartisan event about digital learning and where it will take education in Ohio -- and the nation -- in the years to come. National and state-based education experts and policymakers will debate and discuss digital learning in the context of the Common Core academic standards initiatives, teacher evaluations and school accountability, governance challenges and opportunities, and school funding and spending.

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Fordham’s latest publication "Future Shock: Early Common Core Implementation Lessons from Ohio" reports Ohio’s progress in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Fordham selected award-winning journalist Ellen Belcher to interview fifteen educators to elicit on-the-ground responses about how well the Common Core is being implemented. We encourage you to read the entire report, which can be downloaded here. But to whet your appetite, we provide here a short summary and a few quotes that illustrate the unifying themes of this report.

Adopted by the Buckeye State in 2010 and to be implemented starting in 2014-15, CCSS establishes a framework for what K-12 students across the country are expected to learn. For many students, CCSS will raise their standard of learning, and our interviewees universally champion these higher standards. The transition to the more demanding standards also concerns educators, who worry about anything from training teachers to online assessments to purchasing textbooks. Kimbre Lange, an Oakwood City Schools teacher, sums up educators’ optimism for the Core but peppered with caution: "We all get the big picture, but the devil is in the details."

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Today marks the fifty-eighth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, so it’s fitting that the lead article in this morning’s New York Times is about America’s growing diversity. “Whites Account for Under Half of Births in U.S.,” the headline reads. The story immediately focuses on the issue of schools. “The United States has a spotty record educating minority youth; will older Americans balk at paying to educate a younger generation that looks less like themselves? And while the increasingly diverse young population is a potential engine of growth, will it become a burden if it is not properly educated?” Good questions.

our school
What's the point of an integrated school with segregated classrooms?
Photo by woodleywonderworks.

Yet, despite our student population’s diversity, the number of diverse schools, as imagined by Brown, remains limited. Upwards of 40 percent of black and Latino students still attend racially isolated schools (where white pupils represent less than 10 percent of the enrollment). And the average black or Latino student attends a school...

Last Friday, Achieve released the first draft (of three) of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), an attempt to create “common,” multi-state standards for that critical subject. Using a framework developed by the National Research Council (and reviewed fairly favorably by Fordham last fall), experts from twenty-six states worked with Achieve to draft the new standards, said to be “rich in content and practice, arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally-benchmarked science education.” It remains to be seen whether these common standards will avoid the pitfalls that plague too many state standards (Fordham will offer its own feedback to the drafters in a few weeks). "Commonness" alone doesn't guarantee they will be better than the status quo. Still, this is an important step in a multi-year process that, done properly, may significantly alter U.S. science education. The timing is right because, regardless of how the NGSS drafts stack up, something needs to change. Our recent study of state science standards revealed a dismal situation: A majority of states received a D or F grade in the review, with the national average a low C. By this...