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Administrators must rise above Common Core controversy

Figuring out the costs, the time, and the technology of implementation
School district leaders must ignore the politics of Common Core and focus on the practical realities of implementation.
School district leaders must ignore the politics of Common Core and focus on the practical realities of implementation.

As widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards moves ever closer, the initiative is coming under attack from both the left and right. But school district leaders must ignore the politics and focus on the practical realities of implementation: costs, technology, and training, K12 leaders say.

“The best thing administrators can be doing is to make sure that students are prepared and are experiencing a course of study that’s consistent with these new expectations,” says Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts’ education commissioner and board chair of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the two Common Core consortiums.

Most of the 20 states in PARCC and 26 states in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium are gearing up to begin Common Core testing in the 2014-2015 school year. But participation has fallen off somewhat since the 2010 rollout of the standards.

Indiana is pausing for a year to assess costs and quality, says Lindsey Burke, educational policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation. According to the Detroit News, the Michigan state House passed a bill on Sept. 26 to revive funding for the standards after reexamining them, although the state’s Senate had no timetable for action.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Pennsylvania has been reexamining the standards after initially approving them in 2010. The Pennsylvania state board of education has signed off, but legislative action awaited as of late September.

Georgia and Oklahoma have adopted the Common Core standards but will not test for it, says Mel Riddile, associate director of high school services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Chester says most other states are far along in implementing Common Core. “This is about preparing our students well for the expectations of today’s world, whether they go into college or the workforce,” he says.

Align curriculum, train teachers, allocate resources

Riddile urges administrators to figure out how they would need to allocate resources for hardware and bandwidth, while they begin training teachers and administrators in the new standards.

The bandwidth issue presents little problem for districts in metropolitan areas, Riddile says, but given the still-spotty coverage of broadband internet in rural counties, “it might be a concern.” He adds that in “districts that have been integrating technology for years, this shouldn’t be a problem at all.”

Riddile warns administrators to be cautious in purchasing new textbooks, whether in print or electronic media, to ensure they’re truly Common Core-ready and don’t just have a stamp saying so. Many states’ academic expectations have risen by one or two grades with the implementation of Common Core.

Textbook and testing

Online assessments associated with both consortia cost about $15 per student per subject—that’s similar to what states have been paying on average for standardized testing, Chester says.

States typically have at least some expenses associated with typical professional development and instructional resources in any given year anyway, Chester says. “That is work most states would be taking on [for other purposes], with or without the Common Core State Standards,” he says.

Burke, of the Heritage Foundation, encourages superintendents to press their state departments of education with questions about the standards and assessments. Questions could include everything from how much the cost of testing might go up to whether students will progress as quickly and comprehensively in math and language arts as they had pre-Common Core.

“There are a lot of questions right now about the content, and what it all means for a state and school district moving forward,” she says.

“Hidden costs”

The American Association of School Administrators, while supportive of the standards and testing, is concerned about the costs and the timeline, Executive Director Dan Domenech says.

The assessments will cost some states two or three times what they’ve been paying, “at the worst time—when nobody’s budget can support that kind of increase,” he says. He adds that professional development, hardware, and bandwidth amount to “hidden costs,” and asks, “How is that going to be paid for?”

One of the biggest challenges will be a drop in test scores that could give ammunition to those critical of the teaching profession, Domenech says.

“All of a sudden, you’re going to go from districts showing a high percentage of kids at the proficient level on these tests to perhaps a very small percentage,” he says. “Add to that the requirements from the feds that these standardized tests be used to evaluate principals and teachers—what problem is that going to create?

“Does that mean that your teachers are now worse? Obviously not, but that’s what the tests are going to reflect.”

For now, though, district administrators are moving forward—preparing teachers, buying instructional materials, and installing or upgrading technology. Bottom line, AASA members in general feel rushed and unprepared to get testing online by 2014-2015, Domenech says. He thinks the 2016-2017 school year is a more realistic target.

“Our members … are saying, ‘My god, we’re not ready for this. We need more time. We need to do this right,’” he says. “We’re not against accountability. We’re not against assessment. We’re just against this timeline. It’s not going to accomplish anything positive, and it runs the risk of derailing the whole process.”

Ed Finkel is a freelance writer in Illinois.