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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Common Core Standards will be Uncommonly Expensive for School Districts

By Peter DeWitt — November 19, 2011 5 min read
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“Textbooks should be used like a dictionary, not a novel.” Unknown

For the first time in our educational history a majority of the states across the U.S. will have the same teaching standards, which many educators have wanted for decades. Many of those states are doing a great job building curriculum maps for teachers. Some states are doing something really unique; they’re actually getting teacher and administrator input in the process.

School districts, and the teachers and administrators within those districts, like what the common core offers to students. It focuses more on depth than breadth. Over the years as our society changes the Common Core Standards are supposed to be fluid enough that they will change in order to help educators best meet the needs of their students.

I am fortunate enough to have a staff that is open and honest with me, even when I may not like the answer. After having countless conversations with them, I feel as though many of the teachers like the standards because they will have time to go deeper with curriculum. We have discussed the idea of selectively abandoning some of the curriculum they have always taught so they can focus on going deeper with the new curriculum they need to teach. We are trying our best to move forward with this new initiative as positively as possible.

New Parameters
It has always been my goal to look at the parameters in which we live and figure out how to build creativity within those parameters. Many schools try to meet those creative goals given the parameters of high stakes testing time and are definitely trying to meet that goal during the implementation of the Common Core Standards.

As much as schools are trying to rally behind the Common Core, there is still one question that needs to be answered. How are schools going to pay for it? Adopting Common Core is the easy part. It’s the heave lifting that comes with it that causes difficulties within our districts. Every new initiative, no matter how big or small, comes with unforeseen costs.

It is when schools dig deeper into these unforeseen costs that they end up frustrated. For example, will school districts need to adopt new textbooks that are aligned to the common core? Does that mean that the thousands of dollars school districts have spent on textbooks in the last few years are no longer relevant to what teachers are teaching? Are there better resources than textbooks that schools can use to support them during the implementation?

Although textbooks should always be used as a guide to help teachers during instruction, it will seem irrelevant to use textbooks that were published five or ten years ago. Many would suggest that textbooks are archaic and should no longer be used. I certainly agree with that philosophy.

However, many school districts continue to use textbooks and the Common Core is radically different enough that schools will be forced to buy new textbooks, which should be concerning to educators. Was all of this a way for textbook publishers to get more money from schools?

There are also numerous others costs that school districts will have to endure during this whole process. The following are some of the additional costs that will burden school districts in the coming years.

Substitute Teachers - Schools have to send teachers to be a part of the curriculum mapping process for Common Core Standards. These trainings will be over multiple days which will take teachers out of the classroom and they will be replaced with substitutes. There is a cost to have a substitute teacher in the classroom for multiple days.

New Textbooks - Textbooks are outrageously expensive and to properly choose one for a school district takes time and collaboration between teachers and administrators. In an elementary building, teachers from numerous grade levels have to find the best fit for their students.

I understand that textbooks should act as a guide, and schools always look for on-line supplements, but textbooks continue to be the reality that many schools need. Until there are better alternatives, and schools can break the textbook habit, this continues to be a huge cost. In addition, even if we do find internet options, the publishers who created those options are certainly not offering them for free.

The Cost of Time - Teachers spend a great deal of time trying to educate themselves on the changes from their old standards to those of the Common Core. That training is done through professional development, after-school grade level meetings, training during the contractual school day (which requires a substitute) or time after-school when teachers study the Common Core alone. The cost of time is a big reality for schools.

Training Teachers - Bringing in outside experts or consultants is very expensive. In order to properly train teachers, school districts must offer professional development in order to ensure that educators can master the Common Core Standards. These trainings are not a one-shot deal and will cost school districts money.

In the End
All of these new costs come at a time when districts have to cut budgets and are receiving less funding from state and federal governments. We have seen class sizes rise and are provided with less time to prepare for our present situations. As always, educators work hard to move forward and educate their students.

There are always opportunity costs when districts have to purchase new textbooks, internet licenses, supplies and pay for training teachers. Schools will have students who see more substitute teachers in their classrooms and districts will have less money for other supplies such as upgrades to technology.

Many educators welcome the Common Core as a way to meet the needs of their students. Many teachers are suffering with large class sizes, less prep time and are concerned about high stakes testing being tied to their evaluation. However, they find Common Core Standards to offer a glimmer of hope during, what seems to be, a dark time in education.

Our only hope is that school districts are given a proper opportunity to prepare for these new standards or the whole situation will just be another mandate that school districts cannot afford.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.