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Common Core printing, training costs outpace Race to Top funds

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Even though testing for the state’s Common Core standards has been delayed, school districts across the state are finding that in education, the better things in life are far from free.

The new curriculum requires districts to pay what can total more than $10,000 for printing out modules and other learning materials, and it could cost districts about $300 a day to provide training for teachers and a substitute to provide instruction in their absence. It also will cost money to purchase equipment to grade the tests or hire staff to do it.

Race to the Top funding, professional development grants and district funding are all being used to implement the Common Core standards. For the printing, instruction training and technology improvements for grading tests, the districts have paid out more for the Common Core than provided by Race to the Top, but educators say it is worth working through to implement the program that inspires critical thinking in their students.

“We get about $19,000 from Race to the Top and we spend more than that,” Thousand Islands Central School Superintendent Frank C. House said.

Mr. House said this year, it has cost the district $9,000 in printing and the rest of the money has been spent to train staff.

He said that despite the costs to the district, he thinks Common Core, which established a single set of educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics, is a beneficial learning program.

”The Common Core is great. The lessons are tougher and more rigorous modules. They had a rough start, but it’s getting better,” he said.

Ogdensburg City School District administrators said the school has an annual textbook and supply budget of about $100,000, but the district spent more than $120,000 this year on materials to prepare students for the rollout, including interactive math tools, nonfiction novels, textbooks and photocopying of modules.

New modules are coming through every day and the materials have to be printed and distributed to the teachers, while teachers must learn how to adapt their lesson plans for the new modules.

Mary-Margaret Zehr, assistant superintendent for instruction in the Watertown City School District, said she could not identify funding that was spent exclusively on the Common Core.

“We’ve never stopped to think about how much it’s costing for printing or details like that,” Mrs. Zehr said. “It’s hard to articulate how much money we’ve spent where because the money was put toward making sure the needs of our teachers have been met at every grade level.”

Kevin Kendall, Ogdensburg director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said, “With the rollout as it was, it was very difficult to find the monies this year to purchase materials to start the transition for K through nine students.”

A number of factors will determine the cost of Common Core. It depends on whether the district can support the program on its own by using district staff members for training or using district-owned machinery to print or grade the tests. Jack J. Boak, superintendent of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, said many smaller districts have joined a cooperative with BOCES to share services and costs. He said BOCES provides printed materials for all 18 of its component school districts at some point during the year and provides instructional training for 14 of the districts.

“It’s something we did at the request of several school districts,” Mr. Boak said. “By pooling their grant money, we brought in trainers to hold sessions here or to go to the schools.”

Mr. Boak said the printers are working around the clock to provide the instructional materials.

“Because the districts are all at different stages of implementing the modules, we’re constantly printing out new materials for them,” he said.

Expenses for implementing the Common Core standards include purchasing or upgrading computer systems to handle the grading of the Scantron tests, training teachers about the programs and new modules and providing substitute teachers while the teachers are at training.

The module packets, which include lesson plans and sample test questions, are well over 100 pages, said Stephen J. Todd, St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES assistant superintendent for instruction. Printing these materials can be paid for partly through a Title II fund, which is a federal grant for textbooks or technology upgrades. Mrs. Zehr said grants aren’t always enough and the district must pay for the additional printing costs.

Mr. Todd said his district has a regional copy center.

“Our copy center was working overtime,” he said. “We were able to work up a plan to get those printed on time for the district at an affordable price.”

He estimated the average cost for printing one packet of modules for each class is about $280.

“If you spread that out for all teachers and classes, that adds up pretty quickly,” Mr. Todd said. “The modules are free to download, but the printed copies, licensing for software packages, testing monitors and record keeping are not. When added together, several of our districts are spending over six figures. The expenses are sizable.”

Mr. Boak said the 14 districts that come to Jefferson-Lewis BOCES for instructional support work collaboratively with instructional staff and do not have to purchase equipment individually. Working together, districts likely will experience cost efficiencies, he said.

Jefferson-Lewis BOCES has three full-time trainers who work with district educators on three major elements of the Common Core: English language arts, social studies and math.

Massena Central School Superintendent William W. Crist said the biggest expense to the district has been funding for professional development. The school received more than $49,000 over four years through Race to the Top, but that funding ends this year.

“On any given year, we eclipse that by at least double by both books and manipulatives that we need to purchase, paying for consultants, and substitute costs and pull-out time for teachers that have to be away from school and the classroom,” Mr. Crist said.

Substitutes can cost upward of $80 a day, Mr. Todd said.

He estimated the 18 St. Lawrence County school districts have also paid well over $100,000 in implementation costs over the last three years. He said the costs have placed an undue burden on districts which have, in some cases, received only about $5,000 in non-earmarked Race to the Top funds over the last three years.

“I definitely would say districts could use some financial help with implementation,” Mr. Todd said. “We always advocate for districts to be adequately funded. Our districts are already cash-strapped, being that we are a poor region. With state aid not being what it should be, it further compounds their struggle.”

“I think when people start talking about funding for the Common Core, it’s important to remember that it’s still taking education in a positive direction,” Lyme Central School Superintendent Karen M. Donahue said.

There are critics of the Common Core standards who say the curriculum was implemented prematurely and with errors. Mrs. Donahue said despite the initial setbacks, in the long run the well-rounded lessons plans are beneficial for encouraging critical thinking in students. Also, she said, students in her school are coming to school more excited than ever to learn.

“We’re already seeing kids excited about math, social studies and English. They aren’t afraid to jump in their lessons and try to figure out the unknown,” Mrs. Donahue said. “It’s really fun to work with kids when they are this excited about learning.”

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