July 21, 2013

Maine schools' shift to tougher standards will come with costs

As the state joins others in a transition to 'Common Core,' experts warn it will almost surely mean lower test scores.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Maine has joined 44 other states in adopting the more “rigorous” Common Core educational standards.


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Education Commission Stephen Bowen

Adopting Common Core standards costs $35 per student for instructional material; $560 per teacher for professional development; $45 per student for testing; and $4 million for fixed transitional costs, according to a study authored by Murphy and two other professors for the Thomas Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C.

In Maine, which had 185,767 students and 15,323 teachers last year, that works out to about $27.5 million.

But that cost is offset by the fact that the state and individual school districts already spend millions on testing and professional development, and that much of the new Common Core training materials and resources are available for free, state officials said. Test fees are expected to drop in Maine under Common Core.

"You can spend it if you want to, but if you can embrace the commonness of the Common Core, those resources are out there," said Hupp, noting the free Common Core-specific resources online represent a move away from paper textbooks. "I see this as a potential cost saver for schools."

Portland officials are estimating it will cost an additional $500,000 a year for five years to pay for training and materials, Galin said. Much of it will be reallocated from existing programs, he said.

Already, Portland high schools are considering adding resources next year for ninth-graders, making sure the students get through the new algebra requirements, Galin said.


Those costs are one of the reasons opposition to the Common Core has been growing.

There was little criticism of the standards when they were first proposed and adopted, but in recent months many groups have stepped up their protests.

Small-government advocates and tea party groups say the standards are an example of federal government overreach. The Republican National Committee passed a resolution opposing the standards and conservative radio host Glenn Beck has railed against them on his show. This spring, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and eight other Republican senators signed a letter seeking to de-fund all Common Core-related initiatives at the Department of Education.

But the opposition hasn't fallen completely along party lines, and education reformers such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, and Students First leader Michelle Rhee, a Democrat, both strongly support the changes.

The more liberal American Federation of Teachers supports the standards, but opposes "high-stakes" testing that ties students' test results to teacher evaluations or school sanctions.

Education historian and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, who served under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, went from initially supporting the standards to opposing them.

The effort is "fundamentally flawed," in part because it wasn't tested first, Ravitch wrote in a February post on her education blog.

"(The standards) are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time," Ravitch wrote. "Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster. ... Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?"

Various critics have charged the standards are too easy and will dumb down higher standards in some states, or that they're too hard and will result in students "giving up" if their grades drop. They have questioned the costs of the new standards, from training to testing, and argue that personal student data will be collected inappropriately.

However, Maine has not seen any organized opposition. Bowen said he and the governor have received "a handful of letters," but nothing serious. A lone anti-Common Core protester was at the governor's recent re-election fundraiser in Kennebunkport, holding a "Common Core = Communist Core" sign outside the event.

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