Common core standards—Students Come First on steroids?

By Jennie Winter

Would any individual farmer, teacher or businessman endorse a business plan that had no budget, no oversight? Would they endorse a construction project with incomplete blueprints and only untested and untried building practices? One would hope they would not, yet it appears that is exactly what has happened with Idaho’s adoption of Common Core Standards, the latest “education reform” in Idaho.

Adopted in 2009 by the State Board of Education and ultimately approved by the Idaho Legislature in January 2011, the Common Core Standards were mandated with hardly a murmur from the taxpayers. Yet they will ultimately foot the bill for the radical changes under which they will have less say over a significant portion of our state’s math and English curriculum, at least 85 percent of which must align with the patented Common Core Standards.

With the current focus of the Idaho School Board Association on revisiting teacher labor issues and the governor’s priority of repealing the business personal property tax, one might be lulled into forgetting that the state budget is in crisis and that any change should be submitted to close inspection, especially one as radical as Common Core Standards implementation which is a complete overhaul of the way that our students will be taught and assessed, and the way education reform—aka Common Core Standards—will be funded.

States that have actually done a cost analysis of such standards have estimated them to be very high; e.g., Washington State estimates a cost of $300 million.

Apparently no such comprehensive cost analysis has been done for Idaho. However, because the standards have been adopted and teachers are already being trained to implement them fully in 2014, an independent cost analysis is urgently needed so that the education task force can be fully informed and taxpayers notified about the new expenditures.

Other states that have signed on to this public school plan that has no price tag, no fully developed tests and is controlled by private corporations which are unaccountable to the taxpayers, are now having second thoughts. However, time is running out in which to opt out of Common Core Standards.

The Pioneer Institute’s February 2012 study lists three significant state costs of Common Core Standards adoption: 1) The new yearly assessments that will accompany the standards, including the costs of computers and Internet bandwidth required for the computer-scored tests; 2) Professional development and training necessary to prepare administrators and teachers to effectively implement the Common Core Standards; 3) The adoption of new textbooks and instructional materials to bring their schools in line with the Common Core Standards — while many schools are using still relevant textbooks (which have a life span of 2 to 6 years) from previous school years, Common Core Standards adoption will require a total overhaul and replacement of educational materials by fall 2014.

In addition to the three main costs, Pioneer’s study predicts additional costs for necessary technology infrastructure and support required for successful Common Core Standards implementation, while noting that no state has released any report on the cost estimates or feasibility of these technological requirements.

Gov. Otter who pushed for adoption of the Common Core Standards from the outset in 2009 could not have chosen a worse time to try for repeal of the business personal property tax which is essential to education funding. His push to do so, however, supports District 25 Superintendent Mary Vagner’s statement in her recent column, “The connection between the appropriation and public school funding has been broken and there’s nobody out there putting this together.”

Other concerns included in the Common Core Standards debate: the merits of the standards themselves, concerns about the shift from a literature-based method of English education to the technical instruction-manual focus of the English Common Core Standards, questions about the efficiency of another topdown federal education overhaul, debate over the role of national standards in charter and private school curriculum, and the fear that a national system could crush education innovation. Most of all, there are valid worries that the adoption of Common Core Standards could leave our teachers and students caught up in an untested, unproved system.

One thing is clear: Like Students Come First, the adoption of Common Core Standards is expensive and will add more strain to school district budgets already at the breaking point. With some smaller districts still operating on a four day week, and levy amounts increasing throughout the state, the big question is how will the state afford to pay for this massive K-12 education overhaul which has no price tag, has no specifics for future funding to meet its mandates, emphasizes expensive testing for student and teacher evaluation, and will be controlled by private corporations held unaccountable to the taxpayers whose money has been committed to pay for all of it.

The Idaho Department of Education should inform the public as to the progress or lack thereof in dealing with Common Core Standards issues. After all, accountability for the success of Idaho public education does not apply only to teachers.

Jennie L. Winter is a retired English teacher who lives in Inkom