The Pioneer Institute is no friend of the Common Core—which needs to be remembered when reading its latest missive. Released last week, this report claims that it will cost the nation $15.8 billion to implement the new standards over a seven-year period, with the lion’s share of those costs incurred during the first year. (Worse, the authors further remind readers that this is, at best, a “midrange” estimate.) The Institute projects a $10 million-plus invoice per school for professional development, technology, and textbooks and instructional materials in the first year alone—a number that strikes us as radically inflated, to put it kindly. To be sure, implementing the Common Core well will bring costs: Aligning materials, instruction, and assessments with new standards cannot be done on the cheap if it’s going to be done well. But Pioneer’s estimates are misleading. Not every dollar spent on CCSS will be “new money.” (It’s not as if we’re spending zip on professional development, textbooks, and the rest currently.) Nor do states need to follow the tired blueprint we’ve been modeling implementation off of to date—and that has too often failed to move the achievement needle. Examine Pioneer’s take on professional development, for instance. The authors project a one-time professional development cost of $5.26 billion across all states—a third of Pioneer’s total CCSS implementation estimate. Unfortunately, this fantastical number rests on two goofy assumptions. First, that the CCSS adopters should (and will) use our current and dramatically flawed PD-delivery model to prep teachers. Second, that all teachers—regardless of their strengths, subjects, or years of experience—need exactly the same level of (expensive and outmoded) training. That said, Pioneer does raise some legitimate concerns about CCSS implementation. (In particular, the authors question the assessment plans outlined by each assessment consortium and question whether they can deliver given the proposed budget.) Let’s hope these red flags spur innovation and cost-saving implementation—rather than serve as an excuse to walk away from what are stand-up standards. As for a saner, real-world estimate of Common Core implementation costs, stand by for others, Fordham included, to weigh in.
Pioneer Institute and American Principles Project, National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards (Boston, MA: Pioneer Institute and American Principles Project, February 2012).