Part 4 of 4
By Ben Velderman
FAIRBORN, Ohio – Last Thursday, the Fairborn City school board voted down a resolution that would have urged Ohio officials to postpone the implementation of the new Common Core learning standards that are set to take full effect in the 2014-15 school year.
Fairborn Superintendent Dave Scarberry indicated that he is more concerned about finding money to pay for all of Common Core’s new technology requirements than in fighting the seemingly inevitable measure.
“The ship has sailed, if you will,” Scarberry said, according to the Fairborn Daily Herald.
Scarberry has reason to worry about Common Core’s financial impact on the 4,300-pupil district.
The Fairborn City School District has had serious financial problems for the past decade, and the future doesn’t appear much brighter. The district is facing a $4.1 million deficit for the next school year, and recently issued layoff notices to 45 employees, including 22 teachers.
Fairborn schools’ financial prospects will take another major hit as the district begins purchasing extra computers so students can take the new web-based, Common Core-aligned tests beginning in the fall of 2014.
The district will also have to spend money and precious class time teaching its elementary-aged students – including first-graders – how to type “because all the new writing tests are going to require the use of a keyboard,” reports the Fairborn Daily Herald.
One school board member described the combination of insufficient K-12 revenue and new Common Core-related expenses as “devastating for our kids and our schools.”
Similar scenarios are playing out in school districts across the nation as Common Core’s bill comes due for the 45 states (and Washington D.C.) that signed on to the new standards.
Until recently, the costs associated with moving to a set of national math and English standards have been shouldered by the federal government and several private foundations.
Two private groups – the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers – and most notably the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation paid the multi-million dollar costs associated with writing the actual standards.
The federal government used a portion of the 2009 stimulus bill to subsidize the process of creating Common Core-aligned state standardized tests and the corresponding state databases that will be used to track students’ academic and personal information from pre-school through college.
But as the new learning standards are taking effect in most of the nation’s classrooms, some state lawmakers, school leaders and local taxpayers are realizing that Common Core is going to consume a significant part of their school district’s budget – at a time when many districts are barely scraping by.
Estimates range from $3 billion to $16 billion
Education policy experts can’t agree about what Common Core’s final tab will be.
Analysts for the pro-Common Core Thomas B. Fordham Institute say a “bare bones” approach to implementation could cost as little as $3.1 billion nationally, while a more thorough approach could reach $12.1 billion.
The anti-Common Core Pioneer Institute offers a mid-range estimate – “neither overly optimistic nor unduly pessimistic” – of $15.8 billion.
While the experts can’t agree on the overall costs, they do agree on the types of expenses states and local school districts will face: professional development, assessments, and textbooks/instructional materials.
Professional development for teachers is essential to Common Core’s mission.
The L.A. Times reports that Common Core standards are designed “to push students to deeper levels of understanding and analysis. They call on teachers to cover fewer topics but to delve into each more thoroughly, and they discourage rote learning in favor of fuller understanding of the material.”
As a result, school districts are sending their educators to training seminars to master these new approaches to teaching and learning. The Pioneer Institute calculated the average costs of professional development to be approximately $1,931 per teacher.
The Fordham Institute notes those costs could be held down if districts use online webinars for teacher training, according to Governing.com. But that would only work if teacher unions take the unlikely step of agreeing to training “on the cheap.”
Common Core will also force school districts to purchase new textbooks and instructional materials that are in synch with the new math and English expectations. Wealthier districts that provide students with electronic tablets may be able to keep these costs at a minimum by using digital resources. But districts that rely on traditional textbooks won’t get off so easily.
The Common Core-aligned state tests will be another major expense for states.
The federal government spent $362 million to subsidize the creation of new Common Core-aligned standardized tests, but it will be up to states’ taxpayers to pay the annual costs of administering them to students – about $177 million each year, according to the Pioneer Institute.
While previous standardized tests relied on students filling in bubbles with No. 2 pencils, Common Core tests will be taken online. That means many school districts will have to spend big on computers and technology upgrades so students can take the new assessments. The Pioneer Institute estimates those costs will reach $6.9 billion for states.
‘The costs are so up in the air’
Angela Weinzinger serves as the school board president for California’s Travis Unified School District. She is also a Common Core critic.
Weinzinger says her 5,000-pupil district is still getting a handle on how much the new learning standards will cost to fully implement.
“Nobody (from the state) came to the school district and explained what was involved with Common Core,” Weinzinger tells EAGnews, adding that she only speaks for herself – not the district.
So far, the costs have been coming in bits and pieces.
Weinzinger says teachers started receiving professional development for the new standards last year, while district officials have just started talking about making technology upgrades in the schools.
The district will likely have to purchase additional computers to accommodate the new tests, and may have to hire a fulltime employee to set up and maintain the system.
“The costs are so up in the air,” says Weinzinger. “I don’t think anybody in California knows what Common Core is going to cost them.”
Weinzinger doesn’t expect California lawmakers will offer extra K-12 aid to help the district make the transition to Common Core.
“Our district already struggles to stay above water,” says Weinzinger. “This is money we really can’t afford to spend.”
Unless state lawmakers take action to stop Common Core learning standards from taking effect, or come up with a lot of money to help school districts shoulder the costs, a majority of the nation’s districts may be facing a similar financial crisis.
That’s a high price to pay for standards that have never been piloted and were adopted by states before they were written.
The nation is taking a huge gamble with the Common Core experiment.
And the stakes couldn’t be higher.