"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Common Core Standards--They Won't Cost Anything to Implement... According to DESE. Let's Examine their Reasoning.

One of our state senators posted a document he received from DESE dated February 10, 2011 relating to questions on Common Core standards. We appreciate him looking into this matter and sharing the information with us quickly. He has raised questions about the implementation of these standards and we appreciate his concern.

You may read the DESE document here. It is entitled: "Frequently Asked Questions about Common Core Standards", and it is a sheet about the standards and information on how much the implementation will cost.

We would like to address the information DESE is disseminating to the legislators. From DESE:

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state‐led, not federal‐led, effort. The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce. They built on the best “standards‐setting” work done at the state level, including Missouri’s ShowMe Standards.

There is disagreement about whether these standards are indeed state-led. Ed Week contains two articles about concern from states on the possibility of these common core standards being paid for by the Federal Government, (which apparently is illegal), and we hope our senator can help determine if this is what indeed is occurring:

Christopher T. Cross, who is a partner in the Washington-based education consulting firm Cross & Joftus, noted that the 1979 law that created the most recent iteration of the U.S. Department of Education prohibits the federal funding of curriculum. Cross helped write that law when he was the Republican staff director of the House committee on education and labor in 1978. (A brief overview of the history of the department is here, including mention of that law. The 1979 ban was prompted, knowledgeable sources tell me, by the National Science Foundation's controversial "Man: A Course of Study" curriculum.)

You can find the two Ed Week articles here and here. From "Can the Federal Government Fund Curriculum Materials":

The assessment consortia are doing more than just designing tests; they are both planning to design a range of curriculum and instructional materials reflecting the common standards. The consortia's plans to wade into designing curricular and instructional materials came up at the meeting, sparking immediate questions about what sorts of things they have in mind, and when folks in the states will be able to see it. But it also sparked this question: are you allowed to design curriculum using federal funds? (The work is being done with $31.6 million in supplemental funds above and beyond the $330 million in grants the two groups won in the Race to the Top assessment competition.)

Pascal "Pat" Forgione, the former Austin, Texas schools superintendent who is hosting this meeting as the head of ETS's Center for K-12 Assessment & Performance Management, said that this issue could be "the Achilles heel" of the consortia's work. Will that turn out to be the case?

It seems as if DESE's contention that these are state-led, not federal-led may not be accurate. If federal money is being used to craft curricula resources, that would lead one to believe these are, in fact, federal-led. Heck, the federal government is paying for them so it has a vested interest in what is contained in those resources.

DESE continues:

No additional costs are anticipated for revising and maintaining the standards in Missouri. The current department budget and staff have been involved in ongoing activities related to standards, assessments and support for schools since the first adoption of the ShowMe Standards in 1996. In states where curriculum development is centralized and textbooks or programs are chosen by the state, there probably would be a significant cost. However, that is not the case in Missouri. It is also true that states, where there are numerous differences between former state standards and the Common Core, may see a need to support a statewide initiative for professional development; however, the gap analysis conducted shows close alignment between the ShowMe Standards and the Common Core. The work to implement the 3rd edition of the ShowMe Standards will be part of the ongoing curriculum revision process that districts routinely conduct as part of business.

When DESE decided to apply for Race to the Top, it estimated it would cost the state approximately $743,000,000. Now the same goals we are chasing in the adoption of common core standards are determined by DESE to cost us nothing in the state:

"No additional costs are anticipated for revising and maintaining the standards in Missouri". DESE believes that Missouri does not need to "support a statewide initiative for professional development as the gap analysis conducted shows close alignment between the ShowMe Standards and the Common Core."

I would like to know which gap analysis DESE is referring to which shows close alignment between the ShowMe standards and the common core. Here you can find the Fordham Institute's report on Missouri (and other states) communication arts and math standards vs. the common core standards. States were rated as Clearly Superior to the Common Core, Too Close to Call, and Clearly Inferior to the Common Core. What does Fordham's report state for Missouri's grade? Missouri falls in the "clearly inferior to the Common Core" group:

English language arts: Missouri D Math: Missouri D

Perhaps DESE has another study it would like to produce to show close alignment to the ShowMe standards and the common core standards. The Fordham Institute's review panel was noted:

Reviews of ELA standards were led by Sheila Byrd Carmichael, former deputy executive director of the California Academic Standards Commission and founding director of the American Diploma Project. Math reviews were led by W. Stephen Wilson, professor of mathematics at Johns Hopkins University and former Advisor for Mathematics in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

DESE explains about the new assessments:

Missouri is a governing member of the SMARTER Balanced Consortium. The consortium (not Missouri) has received federal grants to develop an assessment system that all states can share and continue to build upon collaboratively. The new system will include assessments for grades 3‐8 (much like our current MAP), end‐of‐course tests (again, the same or similar to those we are currently using), and tools that all teachers can use to improve classroom instruction. The plan also calls for the system to include an end‐of‐high‐school assessment which will measure mastery of elementary and secondary content and assure that every child is ready to go on to post‐secondary training, education or employment. There is no cost to Missouri associated with the SMARTER‐development assessment system.

Pay attention to the last sentence. The new assessment system relies heavily on computer generated assessment answers from the students. This means districts will need computers for each student, or expanded computer labs at every school. We believe these assessments will be very different from the ShowMe standards and WILL require extensive professional and software development for districts. Again, who is going to pay for the computers needed by students required by the mandates? Where is the money to train the persons necessary to score these new on line assessments?

To the question of any increased cost to the data system, DESE states:

No additional state funding for this system has been requested....Additional funds for further developing Missouri’s comprehensive data system will be met through various state, federal and foundation programs as they become available.

The state has received as DESE noted a federal grant of $9,000,000 to help with this system. If and when additional funding is requested, exactly what state, federal and foundation programs will be able to financially back more spending? The state is broke, the districts are broke and the federal government is $14 Trillion dollars in debt. And I have to ask: Why if these same basic goals were thought to cost $743,000,000 in January 2010...why aren't they costing anything today? We have received some federal funding, and while I would like to know from DESE exactly how much we have received for implementation of all these goals, I would guess it's nowhere near $743,000,000 Million DESE initially thought it would cost the state.

Finally, DESE speaks to the question of any money needed for new assessments:

As stated earlier, the Department has not requested additional or new funding for the implementation or professional development associated with revised standards and assessments...Districts also should not have additional costs over and above their current investments in ongoing curriculum and professional development. These costs are built into current budgets and devoted to current activities related to instructional improvement.

There will be costs associated with professional development according the Ed Week article entitled "Common-Assessment Consortia Expand Plans":

BAC also intends to work with states and professional groups to build teachers’ expertise in its assessment system and teach them how to score and analyze student responses to test items. It will create, among other resources, model curriculum and instructional units aligned to the common standards and training modules for teachers to help them focus instruction on the standards, according to the group’s plan.

"Working with states and professional groups to build teachers' expertise in its assessment system and teach them how to score and analyze student responses to test items" is called professional development and that costs either the state and/or the districts money.

"These costs are built into current budgets and devoted to current activities related to instructional improvement": Is DESE contending this type of training is already in a district's budget? If that is true, I imagine these costs are the most expendable from a district's budget in these financially difficult times. Districts would need to decide if they would cut their budgets with money set aside for assessment training, or firing teachers and other staff.

Read this comment from a reader in the Ed Week article "Common-Assessment Consortia Expand Plans":

9:14 AM on February 11, 2011

While it's great that new funds are available to provide support for the new learning and assessment of that learning resources use, may I suggest that such resources will be seen as prescriptive if indeed not presented / provided as being prescriptive. The new funds will not provide nearly enough support for all the situations that will arise but cannot be built into use.
It's very much like preparing for a cross-country auto trip. One can take lessons in how to drive and get a license, can get a route plan via a GPS unit or map (remember them??) service, and get a vehicle checked out and prepared for the trip. BUT if you think that's going to be sufficient for an enjoyable long trip, I have a bridge for sale as the saying goes. Experience consistent with the resources to be used and planning / communication with the suppliers and other experts are absolutely required to deal with unpredictable but guaranteed to happen situations that will arise.

Such is the problems with prescriptive solutions and their supplied materials ...

DESE's version of the cost of common core standards don't seem to make sense from the documentation we've been able to research from national sources. DESE's arguments are dubious and I hope the senator who forwarded this document and the other legislators press DESE for more direct answers.

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