Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core

On May 30, the Fordham Institute released a new report evaluating the potential cost of implementing the Common Core, the first in a wave of such evaluations.  This report addresses three key questions:

  1. What are the short-term costs of moving to the Common Core?  In other words, what will be the initial expenses (instructional materials, assessment tools, professional development, etc.)?
  2. To what extent do costs vary based on the approaches that states take to implement the standards?
  3. How much of what states currently spend on standards implementation could be repurposed for Common Core implementation?

The authors created three hypothetical approaches to implementing the Common Core in order to examine these questions.  The models are only for the transitional phase of implementation, which they estimate to span 1 – 3 years prior to full implementation in 2014-15.  The model approaches are:

  • Business as Usual:  A “traditional” approach to implementation, which includes buying hard-copy textbooks, administering annual student assessments on paper, and delivering in-person PD to all teachers.
  • Bare Bones:  The lowest-cost alternative, employing open-source materials, annual computer-administered assessments, and online PD via webinars and modules.
  • Balanced Implementation:  A blend of approaches, some more effective than others, but also reducing costs.  Uses a mix of instructional materials, both interim and summative assessments, and a hybrid system of PD (i.e., train-the-trainers).

The cost projections vary with the approaches that states use.  By their calculations, the authors find that Balanced Implementation costs less than half as much as the traditional Business as Usual.  For example, it would cost California $1.6B under Business as Usual, and only $380 million under Bare Bones.

Cumulative national estimates range from $12.1B for Business as Usual to $3B and $5.1B respectively for Bare Bones and Balanced Implementation models, respectively.  The most significant source of cost reduction can come from shifting away from hard-copy textbooks and delivering more PD online.  However, these estimates represent the total cost of implementing the Common Core, not the net new costs to states.

The authors also point out that, since states already invest billions annually in professional development, assessments, textbooks, and other expenses in connection with existing standards, proper forecasting of Common Core costs should “net out” the sums that states would spend anyway for activities that this implementation process will replace.

The report also takes time to discuss how the Common Core may also give states the chance to rethink not only how to implement the standards, but also their approaches to education delivery as a whole.  Things for states to consider are how to make the most of multi-state collaborations that take advantage of the “common-ness” of the CCSS; capitalizing on and learning from the rise of innovative school delivery models; and implementing new instructional tools that help teachers teach the new standards.  In all, the authors conclude that successful implementation of the Common Core does not have to be wildly expensive.  Moreover, it could also support changes that have a permanent and positive impact on the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning.

To read the full report, please visit http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/putting-a-price-tag-on-the-common-core.html