Standards, Testing & Accountability

Pricing the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost States and Districts?

Pricing the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost States and Districts?

The Common Core is coming, with forty-five states and the District of Columbia challenged to implement these new standards. Yet mystery surrounds how much this will cost states (and districts)—and whether the payoff will justify the price.

On May 30, the Fordham Institute will peek behind that curtain with a lively panel discussion of "Pricing the Common Core." Taking part will be former Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith, Achieve President Mike Cohen, former Department of Education official Ze'ev Wurman, and University of San Francisco professor Patrick J. Murphy, who will present the findings of a new Fordham study that he co-authored. It estimates the dollar cost of the implementation process for each participating state—and shows how the pricetag varies depending on the approach a state selects.

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?"

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As states and districts strain their budgets, the cost of the impending transition to Common Core State Standards has generated a disconcerting lack of attention from state policymakers. At a time when money is a key element in education-policy discussions, the dearth of such cost projections is not only alarming, it has left the entire standards effort vulnerable to opponents eager to spread fears about—inter alia—its fiscal viability. Those who are still pushing states to repudiate the Common Core would have us believe that its price tag is huge—and that all those costs are new. Wrong. Most states have been implementing their own academic standards (good, bad, or mediocre) for years and money that they’re already spending for that objective can (and should) be repurposed for Common Core implementation. Nor do all implementation strategies carry the same costs. Which, especially in an era of tight budgets, is why the nuanced findings of Fordham’s latest study, Putting A Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost?, come at a crucial time.

CCSS costs video
Pricing the Common Core
Download Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core to learn more.

It's a key question, but one without a simple answer. Fordham's latest report, Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost States and Districts?, explains how costs to states could range from $3 billion to $12 billion, depending on how states approach that challenge over the next several years, and describes different models for implementation available to states. For a primer on the report's findings check out posts on Education Week and Common Core Watch, or watch Fordham's VP for Research Amber Winkler's analysis. Or simply download the report.

Most importantly, don't forget to watch the 4p.m. EDT webcast of "Pricing the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost States and Districts?" This panel discussion feature's the report's co-author, Patrick J. Murphy, as well as Achieve President Michael Cohen, former Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith, and former Education Department official—and noted...

Today, Fordham is releasing a new report on the costs of putting the Common Core State Standards into place around the country. Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost? estimates the implementation cost for each of the forty-five states (and the District of Columbia) that have adopted the Common Core State Standards and shows that costs naturally depend on how states approach implementation. Authors Patrick J. Murphy of the University of San Francisco and Elliot Regenstein of EducationCounsel LLC illustrate this with three models:

Pricing the Common Core
Download Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core to learn more.
  • Business as Usual. This “traditional” (and priciest) approach to standards-implementation involves buying hard-copy textbooks, administering annual student assessments on paper, and delivering in-person professional development to all teachers.
  • Bare Bones. This lowest-cost alternative employs open-source instructional materials, annual computer-administered assessments, and online professional development via webinars and modules.
  • Balanced Implementation. This is a blend of approaches, some of them
  • ...

Nearly two years ago, as states weighed the decision of whether to adopt the Common Core ELA and math standards, they were told that they were allowed—encouraged, even—“to add an additional 15 percent on top of the core.”

The reality is that the CCSS were never meant to represent the totality of what states expected students to know and be able to do, particularly in ELA, where the introduction specifically warns:

The CCSS were never meant to represent the totality of what states expected students to know and be able to do,
Furthermore, while the Standards make references to some particular forms of content, including mythology, foundational U.S. documents, and Shakespeare, they do not—indeed, cannot—enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn.

Yet, despite the freedom that states have to take ownership over the standards and add the critical content teachers and leaders need to guide curriculum and instruction, only eleven states added even a single new word to the core. And in many cases, what was added was barely more than window dressing. Some of the eleven states focused on changing the format, with minimal changes to the content. Others added minor statements, phrases...

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It is the aim of the Common Core (see above) that all students will be college- or career-ready by the time they graduate from high school. One organization working to make this goal a reality in Fordham’s hometown of Dayton is Learn to Earn Dayton. Last week the Fordham Institute teamed up with Learn to Earn Dayton to host a community conversation, “What does the Common Core Mean for Dayton and its Human Capital Development Strategies?”

The event brought together leaders from the business and education community to discuss the future of Dayton and the potential impact the Common Core can have on the city. The event featured Stan Heffner, state superintendent of public instruction; Mike Cohen, president of Achieve; Ellen Belcher, author of our recent report on Common Core implementation; and David Ponitz, president emeritus of Sinclair Community College and chairman of the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.


Stan Heffner, state superintendent of public instruction and Mike Cohen, president of Achieve

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Good news and bad news for the Buckeye State. The bad news first: in the recently-released “The Nation’s Report Card” for eighth grade science scores, Ohio fell eight spots in the state rankings. The good news: despite the drop, Ohio continued to outperform the national average in science scores.

Issued by the U.S. Department of Education, the Report Card publishes National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results and provides inter-state and year-to-year comparisons of student performance. Nationally, the results were encouraging as scores trended upwards and achievement gaps narrowed. (My colleague Daniela Fairchild reviews the national data here.)

Ohio’s 2011 average science test score remained flat compared to 2009, causing the Buckeye State to fall behind states whose test scores improved. However, Ohio still bests the national test average by seven points, and its average test scores also remain near the top among the states—fifteenth out of fifty. Additionally, Ohio continues to outperform the national percentage of students scoring “above proficient” and “above basic.”

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