Common Questions on Common Core Part 3: How it’s working in Md., what it costs

Common Questions on Common Core Part 3: How it’s working in Md., what it costs

Photo by chelle_1278 on Flickr Creative Common

Editor’s Introduction:

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Photo by chelle_1278 on Flickr Creative Common

In a major shift in public education, states across the nation have been implementing a new set of standards known as the Common Core. Common Core appears as a subject in national and local news media and is a constant subject of debate, particularly in conservative circles.

Despite all this attention, Common Core still remains a confusing topic for many people. In this three-part series answers some basic questions about Common Core.

Part 1 focused on Common Core itself and how it was developed. Part 2 looked at what the new standards mean for Maryland public school systems and their limited option in implementing them.

Part 3 looks at how the standards are working in Maryland and what they will cost.

The series was edited by associate editor Meg Tully and Part 3 was written by Glynis Kazanjian.

Did Maryland meets its goal of implementing Common Core by the 2013-2014 school year?

A 2014 Race to the Top report that studied Maryland’s progress in implementing Common Core shows that Maryland fell short significantly.

Specifically, the report focused on two major categories – technology delays and deficient school implementation data.

The report stated Maryland experienced numerous, ongoing delays in technology projects, including data sharing programs for educators, infrastructure upgrades, IT specialty staff hiring and multi-media staff training.

Maryland also did not have a plan in place to collect feedback from school districts, schools or educators on how well implementation was going, or what resources they needed to help with, or complete, implementation.

The report also found that Maryland delayed by one year an effort to develop a standardized curriculum management system that would provide teachers with instructional resources needed to transition to Common Core. The state also struggled with its initial principal-teacher evaluation pilot program.

Surveys showed trouble

Surveys conducted at the beginning of the school year also signaled that school personnel were having trouble with the implementation.

According to a Maryland State Department of  Education survey, less than a quarter of Maryland educators felt fully prepared to teach Common Core by the 2013-2014 school year. Another survey conducted by the state’s teachers union showed that only 29% of educators felt like they had received enough professional development.

This would explain the flurry of bills introduced in the 2014 legislative session by Democrats and Republicans alike to either slow down Common Core implementation or stop it altogether.

While Republican efforts to repeal Common Core fell flat, Democratic lawmakers banded together with the teacher’s union to communicate teacher and parent concerns over the rocky implementation.

Two landmark bills passed the legislature practically unanimously.

One bill created a 20-member implementation workgroup that will identify schools that are having trouble with implementation, while another bill delays the use of student test scores on principal and teacher evaluations for two years, to give schools a chance to fully implement Common Core.

Schools did meet their goal for administering PARCC field tests last month. Next year, schools are scheduled to begin administering PARCC tests to reading and math students in grades 3-8, and to algebra/data analysis and English 10 students entering grade 9. School systems are not required to have the tests fully computer-based until the 2016-2017 school year.

What will Maryland pay to administer Common Core each year?

Administering Common Core has some big ticket items, from new textbooks to testing fees to new computers.

One of the largest up-front costs associated with Common Core will be an overhaul of Maryland’s school technology systems. Students are required to take computerized, standardized tests twice a year on the Common Core objectives.

A tally collected from Maryland’s 24 school systems puts the estimate for the transition at $100 million.

Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) Chief of Staff John White said about half of that was earmarked for technology needs associated with the annual tests, including testing devices such as computers and tablets for school districts.

The tests that go with Common Core are called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessments and were field tested this year.

The other half of the $100 million would cover technology upgrades for a “full digital conversion” to help bring Common Core into the classrooms and give teachers more resources for sharing information and collaboration, White said.

It is unclear at this point if the state or local school systems would absorb all of the costs, or if the state would seek additional grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education through Race to the Top.

When Maryland adopted Common Core in 2010 it was awarded a four-year, $250 million federal grant, under President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. Some in the education industry argue that the grant should have covered some of the $100 million estimated IT transition costs, but current Race to the Top funds have already been allocated to other needs.

According to legislative analysts, MSDE has not budgeted anything yet for PARCC, but they estimate at least $19 million in 2015 will be needed to cover the test fees of $29.50 per student.

Another $10 million to $15 million would also be needed for undetermined contractor fees. State analysts say this is primarily due to MSDE underreporting in this area the last two years – $14.5 million in 2014 and $17 million in 2013.

New textbooks needed

A transition to the Common Core will also require new textbooks. A study conducted by the Pioneer Institute estimates the cost at $50 million. The state education department was unable to confirm these figures because they do not budget for school district textbooks.

The only firm budget figure for fiscal 2015 is a $29 million expenditure to cover multi-year contracts set to expire by the end of the 2014-2015 school year for non-PARCC related student assessments, including high school biology, high school government and MSA science tests.

Finally, $4 million in state general funds has been appropriated for fiscal 2015 to cover software licensing fees and technology upgrades for school systems.

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