It Is Too Expensive to Replace Common Core?

It is too expensive to replace Common Core.

That’s the argument one member of the Utah State Board of Education made last week.

The Salt Lake City Tribune reports:

Utah opponents of the Common Core State Standards may need to foot a $100 million bill if they’re committed to replacing the controversial education benchmarks, according to state school board member Spencer Stokes.

During a Thursday meeting of the school board’s Standards and Assessment Committee, Stokes said it is simply too expensive for Utah to start from scratch on a new set of grade-level standards for mathematics and English education.

“There’s no way on God’s green Earth that the Legislature is going to give us the money needed to create a true Utah core,” Stokes said. “In my mind, that chapter of this debate has closed because there’s no funding for it.”

Stokes’ explanation met resistance from board colleague Lisa Cummins, a member of the advocacy group Utahns Against Common Core.

She said her constituents don’t believe the debate is over and are not satisfied allowing a “socialist program” to be rendered impenetrable by financial constraints.

“Then they can pay for it,” Stokes responded. “The point is, the Legislature won’t give us the money.”


A 2016 report found that comprehensive revision of the Utah’s math and English standards, including the development of new tests and instructional materials and training for educators, could cost up to $38 million for the Utah Board of Education and another $87 million for local school districts.

First, if it will cost $100 million to replace Common Core, how much did it cost the state to implement it in the first place? I don’t recall the Board bemoaning the cost of new standards back then.  I would also love to see a copy of this report the Tribune cites as there was no mention of who conducted the study, nor a link to the report. Since Mr. Stokes is throwing that figure around he needs to state where he’s getting his numbers.

Second, based on a study sponsored by the Pioneer Institute, American Principles Project, The Federalist Society, and Pacific Research Institute in 2012 that pegged Common Core’s cost at $16 billion nationally I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say Utah spent more to implement Common Core. At least they won’t have to shell out more for broadband which would be a bargain.

Third, how much will it cost Utah, in the long run, to continue with these reforms that have so far have produced no fruit except, at best, a decrease in NAEP scores and increased achievement gaps?

A Republic of Republics: How Common Core Undermines State and Local Autonomy over K-12 Education

The Pioneer Institute in cooperation with American Principles Project and Pacific Research Institute released a white paper written by Robert Scott, the former Texas Commissioner of Education.  It is entitled “A Republic of Republics: How Common Core Undermines State and Local Autonomy over K-12 Education.”  The preface is by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Here is the executive summary:

In three years’ time, the United States has witnessed a sweeping effort to dramatically alter how educational systems are governed and standards and curricula are developed. With the 2009 announcement of an initiative to develop and implement common standards and assessments across all states, and with subsequent federal incentive programs designed to encourage states to sign on to this new initiative, the federal government has succeeded in fundamentally altering the relationships between Washington and the states. The United States has a history of state and local control in K-12 education, and that local control has always translated into diverse systems of educational governance and diverse standards.

By signing on to national standards and the assessments that will accompany them, participating states have ceded their autonomy to design and oversee the implementation of their own standards and tests. The implications of ceding this autonomy are varied. Not only do some states risk sacrificing high quality standards for national standards that may be less rigorous, all states are sacrificing their ability to inform what students learn. Moreover, the act of adopting national standards has and will continue to disrupt legal and other processes upon which states rely to ensure the adequate and equitable delivery of educational materials and resources. Finally and, perhaps, most distressing, the predicted cost to states of implementing the Common Core is in the billions of dollars, a number that only stands to grow if implementation ramps up.

Drawing generously from the experience in Texas, one of only a handful of states that has thus far refused to join in the Common Core, this paper outlines a brief history of the initiative and the federal programs designed, in part, to incentivize states to join in the effort. It goes on to describe the many costs, financial and otherwise, that come with Common Core, not least of which is the cost to states of sacrificing their autonomy to make decisions about standards and testing  and the many other aspects of education upon which these things touch. This paper ends with a brief discussion of the likely road ahead in national education reform and makes recommendations for how policymakers and concerned citizens might think about the proper federal and state roles in education vis–à–vis national standards and tests.

Here is Senator Grassley’s preface:

The system of federalism outlined in the U.S. Constitution is not a technicality nor was it an accident. It was designed to make the government accountable to the people by placing power locally. The question of what content students should be taught has enormous consequences for children. It should go without saying, but it bears repeating, that no one has a greater right than the parents to determine what is best for their child. As a result, parents should directly control as much of their child’s education as possible. When the government makes decisions that affect children’s education, these decisions should be made at the level of government close to the parents and students affected.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative was supposed to be a voluntary effort between states, but federal incentives have distorted the normal state decision-making process. The selection criteria designed by the U.S. Department of Education for the Race to the Top Program provided that for a state to have a realistic chance to compete for funds, the state must commit to adopting a “common set of K-12 standards.” These standards matched the descriptions of the Common Core. The final Common Core Standards were released only two months before a deadline for states applying for Race to the Top to provide evidence of having adopted “common standards,” which cut short any meaningful public debate about whether a state should adopt the standards. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Education has also made adoption of standards meeting the description of the Common Core a condition to receive a state waiver under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As a result, states that might otherwise want to revisit their decision to adopt Common Core Standards will have to think twice about risking
their waiver.

I seek to eliminate further U.S. Department of Education interference with state decisions on academic content standards by using Congress’s power of the purse to prohibit any further federal funds being used to advance any particular set of academic content standards. Whether states adopt or reject the Common Core Standards should be between the citizens of each state and their state elected officials. State governments must be able to make that decision, or to change their decision, based on direct accountability to the citizens of their states, free from any federal coercion.

You can read it in full below:

Brookings: Student Testing Costs States $1.7 Billion a Year

testsA new study by Matthew Chingos of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution shows that states will be spending $1.7 Billion a year in assessments.  We are still not sure how the Common Core State Standards assessments will be sustained after the federal funding for their development runs out in 2014 prior to the assessments implementation.  There is still a lack of transparency about how much these tests will costs.

From the executive summary:

The Common Core effort has prompted concerns about the cost of implementing the new standards and assessments, especially in states that have historically spent very little on their tests. Unfortunately, there is little comprehensive up-to-date information on the costs of assessment systems currently in place throughout the country. This report seeks to fill this void by providing the most current, comprehensive evidence on state-level costs of assessment systems, based on new data gathered from state contracts with testing vendors.

We find that the 45 states from which we obtained data spend a combined $669 million per year on their primary assessment contracts, or $27 per pupil in grades 3-9, with six testing vendors accounting for 89 percent of this total. Per-pupil spending varies significantly across states, with Oregon ($13 per student), Georgia ($14), and California ($16) among the lowest-spending states, and Massachusetts ($64), Delaware ($73), and Hawaii ($105) among the highest spending. We find that larger states tend to spend substantially less, per student, than smaller states, which is not surprising given that larger states save on fixed costs like test development by spreading them over more students and may have more bargaining power.

We estimate that states nationwide spend upwards of roughly $1.7 billion on assessments each year, after adjusting the $669 million figure to (1) account for the fact that six percent of students are located in states for which we were unable to obtain data, (2) reflect spending on assessments not included in states’ primary assessment contracts, and (3) include state-level spending on assessment-related activities that are not contracted out.

…Collaborating to form assessment consortia is not a new idea, and is in fact the strategy being pursued by nearly all of the states that have adopted the Common Core standards. Our model cannot be used to estimate the cost of the tests being developed by the Common Core consortia because they include innovative features not part of most existing systems and because they are substantially larger (in terms of students covered) than any existing state assessment system. But our model does suggest that these consortia will create opportunities to realize significant cost savings, all else equal, compared to the current model of most states going it alone.

A study recently conducted by the Pioneer Institute, American Principles Project and the Pacific Research Institute of California put a $16 Billion dollar price tag on the implementation of the Common Core.  The estimated a cost of $1.24 Billion for assessments.  While Brookings is explaining away the cost of the assessments as being relatively small in comparison to the whole of education spending this is just a smallest part of Common Core spending.  The lion’s share will be in the area of technology – which Pioneer estimates being $6.87 billion spent by the states.  Professional development is next with a $5.26 Billion price tag.  They anticipated textbooks and instructional materials to run states about $2.47.

Here’s the Brookings Report embedded below.

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: State Spending on K-12 Assessment Systems

Common Core Standards Cost Exceeds RTTT Stimulus Funds

States and Localities Projected To Shed Lots of Dollars for the National Standards

The Obama Administration spent an unprecedented $4.35 billion in Stimulus money to create an incentive for states to join the Common Core Standards and compete in the Race to the Top competition.

All but five states (Virginia, Texas, Nebraska, Alaska, and Minnesota) jumped on the Common Core bandwagon, salivating for an outsized piece of the $4.35 billion in Stimulus money.

Bad fiscal decision.

A new cost analysis commissioned by the American Principles Project (Washington, DC), the Pacific Research Institute (San Francisco, CA), and the Pioneer Institute (Boston, MA) and conducted by Accountability Works discovered that the implementation of the Common Core will result in a $10.5 billion in upfront costs.

Over the first seven years, at least $16 billion will be spent.  This does not count the costs associated with the other Race to the Top recommendations, like centrally managed teacher pay structures.

Of course, most states signed onto the Common Core, received none of the Race to the Top funds, and are stuck with the collective $16 billion tab.

This is what happens when a massive change is conducted without the consent of any legislatures (Congress, state legislatures, and local school boards were never given an opportunity to weigh in).  However, they will be stuck with the responsibility to raise the taxes necessary to fund the endeavor unless they find a way out of the state contracts with the Department of Education.

The press release announcing the study is here.  The cost analysis may be viewed here.

Update: You can read the study embedded below as well.

Common Core State Standards Implementation Cost

Is The U.S. Dept. of Education Violating Federal Law by Directing Standards, Tests & Curricula?

BOSTON, MA —Despite three federal laws that prohibit federal departments or agencies from directing, supervising or controlling elementary and secondary school curricula, programs of instruction and instructional materials, the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) has placed the nation on the road to a national curriculum, according to a new report written by a former general counsel and former deputy general counsel of the United States Department of Education.

The Road to a National Curriculum: The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top, and Conditional Waivers  (also embedded below) is sponsored by Pioneer Institute, the Federalist Society, the American Principles Project, and the Pacific Research Institute of California.

With only minor exceptions, the General Education Provisions Act, the Department of Education Organization Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), ban the Department from directing, supervising, or controlling elementary and secondary school curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials.

“The Department has designed a system of discretionary grants and conditional waivers that effectively herds states into accepting specific standards and assessments favored by the Department,” said Robert S. Eitel, who co-authored the report with Kent D. Talbert.

The authors find that the Obama administration has used the Race to the Top Fund and the Race to the Top Assessment Program to push states to adopt standards and assessments that are substantially the same across nearly all states. “By leveraging funds through its Race to the Top Fund and the Race to the Top Assessment Program, the Department has accelerated the adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards (“CCSS”) in English language arts and mathematics, as well as the development of common assessments based on those standards,” added Talbert, former General Counsel of the Department. 

Through its Race to the Top Assessment Program, the authors explain how the Department has awarded $362 million to consortia to develop common assessments and measure student achievement.  Two consortia have won a total of $330 million, and each has been awarded an additional $15.9 million supplemental grant to “help” states move to common standards and assessments.

“There is no constitutional or statutory basis for national standards, national assessments, or national curricula,” said Bill Evers, research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and Koret Task Force on K-12 Education member. “;The two testing consortia funded by the U.S. Department of Education have already expanded their activities well beyond the limits of the law. As this paper recommends, the actions of the Department warrant congressional hearings.”;

One of the consortia has stated directly that it intends to use these federal funds to support curriculum materials and that it expects to use the money to create a “model curriculum” and instructional materials “aligned with the CCSS” pushed by the Race to the Top Fund.  Secretary Arne Duncan has said that the work of the two consortia includes “developing curriculum frameworks” and “instructional modules.”

“Frankly, this makes sense,” said Eitel.  “How can one design assessments without taking into account what is taught?  But the legal concern is that these federally funded assessments will ultimately direct the course of elementary and secondary course content across the nation,” Eitel added.  “This raises a fundamental question of whether the Department is exceeding its statutory boundaries,” Talbert said.

“Proponents of national standards, curriculum and tests claim they’re merely a logical extension of previous federal education initiatives,”said Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios.  “The key difference is that prior to Race to the Top and the recently announced federal waivers, the US Department of Education abided by statutes explicitly prohibiting federal direction, supervision, or control of curricula or instruction.”;

The authors also explore how the Department’s NCLB conditional waiver program, announced last September, is driving the states toward a national K-12 curriculum and course content.   To obtain a waiver from the Department, each state must declare whether it has “adopted college- and career-ready standards” in reading/language arts and mathematics “that are common to a significant number of States.”  States seeking waivers must also declare whether they are participating “in one of two State consortia that received a grant under the Race to the Top competition.”  The Common Core State Standards and the assessments consortia are effectively the only ones that fit these descriptions.

“Our greatest concern arises from the Department’s decision to cement the use of the Common Core State Standards and assessment consortia through conditional waivers,” said Eitel.  “The waiver authority granted by Congress in No Child Left Behind does not permit the Secretary to gut NCLB wholesale and impose these conditions,” added Talbert. “As shown by the eleven states that have already applied for waivers, most states will accept the Common Core State Standards and the assessment conditions in order to get waivers,” Talbert stated.

States need not apply for waivers, the authors said, but most states are desperate enough to escape No Child Left Behind to agree to the conditions.  “And once a state receives a waiver, escapes NCLB’s strict accountability requirements, and makes the heavy investments required by the standards, that state will do whatever it takes to keep its coveted waiver,” said Eitel.  In the view of the authors, these efforts will necessarily result in a de facto national curriculum and instructional materials effectively supervised, directed, or controlled by the Department through the NCLB waiver process.

In their analysis, Eitel and Talbert propose several recommendations, including the enactment of legislation clarifying that the Department cannot impose conditions under its waiver authority, as well as congressional hearings on Race to the Top and waivers to ascertain the Department’s compliance with federal law.

Pioneer Institute led a campaign in 2010 to oppose the adoption of national standards, producing a four-part series reviewing evolving drafts.The reports compared them with existing Massachusetts and California standards, and found that the federal versions contained weaker content in both ELA and math. The reports, listed below, were authored by curriculum experts R. James Milgram, emeritus professor of mathematics at Stanford University; Sandra Stotsky, former Massachusetts Board of Education member and University of ArkansasProfessor; and Ze’ev Wurman, a Silicon Valley executive who helped develop California’s education standards and assessments.

You can read the white paper below:

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