Adding up the costs of the Common Core

2FinanceSmallLove them or loathe them, the Common Core State Standards are a clear game changer for states, districts, and schools—and, of course, teachers and students. Much attention has focused on the impact of the standards on these populations, with a heavy focus on gaps between current state standards and the new standards and how that’s likely to play out in the classroom. As educators have gotten a more solid handle on the figurative costs of the Common Core, however, attention is turning to the literal costs of implementation.

A recently released report from the Fordham Foundation, Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost? (Murphy & Regenstein with McNamara, 2012) contends that while most states have implementation plans in place, few have really considered how to address the cost of those plans. The report examines only transitional costs (i.e., instructional materials, assessment, and professional development related to implementation) and considers three potential scenarios: Business as Usual, Bare Bones, and Balanced Implementation.

Business as Usual, as you might guess, doesn’t differ much from current approaches to implementing standards, using textbooks, pencil-and-paper assessments, and in-person professional development. The Bare Bones approach employs typical cost-cutting measures, such as open-source materials over textbooks, computerized assessments over hard copy, and online over in-person professional development. And then there’s the Balanced Implementation approach, which uses a mix of materials, different types of assessments, and hybrid professional development.

So what does this mean for states’ bottom lines? The Bare Bones approach, according to the authors, could cost as little as $3 billion nationally, versus just over $12 billion nationally for Business as Usual. Balanced Implementation is estimated to cost approximately $5 billion, cutting some costs through the use of more online resources but ramping up others through the use of interim assessments. The Fordham report also provides estimates by state, which vary widely according to population and other factors (for example, $1.6 billion for Business as Usual in California, vs. $32 million for the same approach in Wyoming).

A separate report from the Pioneer Institute (AccountabilityWorks, 2012) focused not only on transitional costs of the Common Core, but the costs for implementation over a seven-year period. This report estimated a national “mid-range” implementation cost (most similar to Fordham’s Business as Usual Approach) of $15.8 billion, $10.5 billion of which is estimated for one-time costs, such as instructional materials and technology infrastructure.
According to McNamara et al. (2012), new costs average out to a total between $249 to $396 per student—which doesn’t seem like much, if the Common Core standards ratchet up student achievement as hoped. But the bulk of these costs are likely to come early in implementation, as states develop and purchase new instructional materials, provide professional development to their teachers, and ensure that their existing technology frameworks are equipped to administer the new online assessments aligned to the Common Core. Since many states are already cash-strapped, these new costs are likely to be a bit burdensome, at least at first.

How is your state handling the budgetary implications of the Common Core?

Written by Kirsten Miller, lead consultant at McREL.

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