This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to exploring the Common Core Standards in both English and Mathematics, from multiple perspectives: historical, pedagogical, financial, philosophical and political.
Let's start with a very broad cost/benefit analysis of sorts.
Not very widely reported: the estimated costs of full implementation of these new standards. From National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards, a February 2012 white paper from the non-profit Pioneer Institute:
"Over a typical standards time horizon of seven (7) years, we project Common Core implementation costs will total approximately $15.8 billion across participating states. This constitutes a "mid-range" estimate that only addresses the basic expenditures required for implementation of the new standards. It does not include the cost of additional expensive or controversial reforms that are sometimes recommended to help students meet high standards, such as performance-based compensation or reduced class sizes."
About $16 billion in costs as a "mid-range" estimate, directed toward testing, professional development and training, textbooks and instructional materials, tech infrastructure and support, etc. Also from the white paper:
"Implementation of the Common Core standards is likely to represent substantial additional expense for most states. While a handful of states have begun to analyze these costs, most states have signed on to the initiative without a thorough, public vetting of the costs and benefits. In particular, there has been very little attention to the potential technology infrastructure costs that currently cash-strapped districts may face in order to implement the Common Core assessments within a reasonable testing window."
Upcoming posts will outline the history of the standards-based reform movement and its reliance on high stakes testing, the people and politicians behind the Common Core movement, the relationship between existing state standards and the Common Core as well as existing instructional materials (including several specific examples of a "cross-walk" between standards and materials) and an exploration of the contextual position of standards-based reform in general and the Common Core in particular in the history of public school reform in the United States.
For now though, here's a brief introduction from the Common Core website to the goals and purposes of the Common Core standards:
"Building on the excellent foundation of standards states have laid, the Common Core State Standards are the first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education. It should be clear to every student, parent, and teacher what the standards of success are in every school.
Teachers, parents and community leaders have all weighed in to help create the Common Core State Standards. The standards clearly communicate what is expected of students at each grade level. This will allow our teachers to be better equipped to know exactly what they need to help students learn and establish individualized benchmarks for them. The Common Core State Standards focus on core conceptual understandings and procedures starting in the early grades, thus enabling teachers to take the time needed to teach core concepts and procedures well—and to give students the opportunity to master them.
With students, parents and teachers all on the same page and working together for shared goals, we can ensure that students make progress each year and graduate from school prepared to succeed in college and in a modern workforce."
Leaving aside any and all pedagogical or philosophical questions for now (for example, should it be clear to every student, parent and teacher what the standards of success are in every school?), let's take a closer look at some of the typical boilerplate language of this brief intro.
The dependent clause that blandly launches paragraph one of this $16 billion experiment simultaneously flatters the standards-based reform wonks who have bravely labored in the state trenches since the 1980s while lowering expectations for everyone. The state standards are an "excellent foundation." The Common Core State Standards, however, are only "the first step in providing young people with a high-quality education." The excellence of the existing state standards were not a first step. Or perhaps they were a first step in providing an education of medium quality? The Common Core State Standards will significantly improve public education for all students, but listen folks: they are only a "first step." $16 billion for a first step. One that builds on an already excellent foundation.
Note also the very early emphasis on "better equipping teachers." "This will allow our teachers to be better equipped to know exactly what they need to help students learn and establish individualized benchmarks for them." I challenge anyone with even half a command of the English language to explicate as thoroughly as possible precisely what this sentence is saying. Implicitly, it is definitely saying that teachers have not been as well equipped as possible "to know exactly what they need." The historical trend of shooting the fish in the barrel, namely, the classroom teacher, continues.
Note in particular the wondrous jargon, heart-warming perhaps to most parents: "establish individualized benchmarks for them." Teachers help students learn. For this, they need equipment. And each student is, clearly, an unique individual. So let's not just refer to "benchmarks," which is a term worthy of at least one entire blog post for itself (stay tuned), but let's courageously hurl the promising word "individualized" into the mix. Give them their money's worth. We will leave for another time the nagging question of how a single set of standards in 45 states coupled with an unproven metric that is the same for all students has anything to do with "individualizing" anything.
The great promise of the Common Core lies in this kind of language: "The Common Core State Standards focus on core conceptual understandings and procedures starting in the early grades, thus enabling teachers to take the time needed to teach core concepts and procedures well—and to give students the opportunity to master them."
Some wonderful education wonk jargon in there, very familiar indeed to anyone who has been exposed even a little bit to the reform initiatives of the past 30 years or so. "Core conceptual understandings," (sic). Perhaps the narrative report cards of the future will say things like "Jane has met her individualized benchmarks by displaying core conceptual understandings. Also, her procedures are impeccable." Teachers are "enabled to teach core concepts and procedures well," always a plus. Finally, capping off the eduspeak boilerplate with a nice little lagniappe, the impressive word: "master." The Common Core will create better equipped teachers who are enabled to make their students masters of conceptual understandings (sic) and procedures. That sounds like it's worth $16 billion, easy.
But that's not all! The clincher: "With students, parents and teachers all on the same page and working together for shared goals, we can ensure that students make progress each year and graduate from school prepared to succeed in college and in a modern workforce."
All of those precious individuals, with their individualized benchmarks, on the same page and working together for shared goals, at long last. After centuries of horrifying inconsistency from state to state (in spite of decades of development of instructional materials across the country with the untiring support of The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, similar organizations in other curricular areas, etc.), after years and years of everyone clamoring to share different goals, mucking up all of the potential clarity. After all those years of never knowing if students made any progress from year to year, never having any way at all to measure student progress other than, perhaps, voodoo or astrology. After decades of students bombing right out of college every three weeks and being utterly unemployable in that unendingly inscrutable "modern workforce." At long last, the Common Core is here, to remedy once and for all these pernicious and heretofore completely ignored deficiencies.
That, says a nation unwilling to leave even a single individualized and benchmarked child behind, is worth at least $16 billion.