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OP-ED | Blindly Financing the Common Core

by Sarah Darer Littman | Jan 24, 2014 1:42am
(15) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Opinion, Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, New London


After a six month sabbatical from political writing, it’s depressing to realize that here in Corrupticut, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” — or, as one of my favorite bands would put it, “The Song Remains The Same.”

Despite concerns from parents and educators — especially having witnessed the online testing fiasco this spring — our state Education Department is racing to implement the Common Core aligned Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the question of whether the Common Core standards are developmentally appropriate or if Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s approach of “teaching to the test as long as it raises test scores” is really the best thing for our children and the long-term economic health of our nation.

Instead, let us put on our taxpayer hats and talk about money. Assuming that this is the right strategy — and that’s still up for debate — how much will it cost our state to implement the Common Core State Standards?

Last week the Washington Post highlighted a report the Maryland State Department of Education provided for state legislators that said it would require $100 million to bring the state up to technological snuff by 2015. This includes additional devices, bandwidth capacity, and IT staff to manage all of the above.

I had a vague remembrance of a joint press release from Malloy’s office and the Education Department, received while on sabbatical, to the effect that the state was going to issue bonds in order to provide technology grants amounting to around $24 million to towns and cities. According to the release: “Awards must be used for the purposes of purchasing new computing devices, inter-school bandwidth, or inter-district bandwidth and are determined in accordance with a town wealth measure based on a 20 percent-80 percent sliding scale.”

But seeing the Maryland report made me curious. Have our legislators received a comprehensive report about the total cost of implementing the Common Core? If so, it certainly hasn’t been made public. One would hope that they’d at least ascertained the quantum of the entire exercise prior to authorizing bonds to fund the purchase of technology that in all likelihood will be outdated long before we taxpayers have paid it off.

So I sent the following questions to Kelly Donnelly at the Education Department last Friday:

1) Has Connecticut produced a similar report, or is such a report in the works?
2) Do you have estimates on a statewide and school-system-by-school-system basis for CCSS implementation?
3) In terms of additional time spent on standardized testing in minutes, what is the comparison for the SBAC test vs. CMT, CAPT at the various age levels?
4) Where is the money coming from for the necessary technology upgrades, particularly in the communities that already struggle for resources? Is it from the borrowing/bond funding?

Although these days I’m better known for literary pursuits, in my sordid youth I spend in inordinate amount of time crunching numbers. So I whipped up a spreadsheet and started analyzing Education Department figures.

When I looked at the dollar grant per student on a district by district basis, some anomalies jumped out.

For example, the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication charter in New London received $474 per pupil, whereas the New London School District received a mere $44 per pupil. I struggle to understand how this makes sense when New London is allegedly an Alliance District.

Similarly, the Park City Prep charter school in Bridgeport received $384 per pupil whereas Bridgeport District Schools received only $45 per pupil.

The Jumoke Academy Charter Schools network, which are operated by an organization called the Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), received a $260 per pupil grant whereas the districts in which its charters operate, Hartford and Bridgeport, received $30 and $45 respectively.

The Achievement First Charter Schools network in Connecticut received $82 per pupil compared to Hartford’s $30 and Bridgeport’s $45. New Haven, the other city in which Achievement First operates charter schools, did better at $130 per pupil.

Why did New Haven ($130 per pupil) receive almost three times the grant of Bridgeport ($45 per pupil) and more than four times that of Hartford ($30 per pupil)? All three are in District Reference Group I, representing the districts with the highest need in the state. Their Adjusted Equalized Net Grand List per Capita (AENGLC) Rank/Weighted ANGLC Ranks are 167, 166 and 169 respectively. Based on the Education Cost Sharing Town Wealth and Rank, New Haven ranks 165, Bridgeport ranks 164 and Hartford 169.

Donnelly explained that “project proposals were developed at the local level. Project proposals reflect their individual needs and local readiness as determined by the district or school. Every grant request submitted by an Local Education Authority (LEA) was honored in accordance with their respective town wealth measure.” What’s important to note here is that, as defined by federal law, school districts are an LEA, but public charter schools and interdistrict magnet schools are considered LEA’s unto themselves.

The Education Department emphasized that these were construction grants and the wealth of the town/sliding scale must be taken into account (which I have). The construction scale used by the Education Department to determine the grants is here. Bridgeport is 78.57 percent, Hartford is 80 percent, New Haven is 78.93 percent, and New London is 77.86 percent.

I’m still struggling to understand why a charter school in New London requires 10 times the grant on the basis of the number of students served than the district schools there. One wonders what guidance was received from the Education Department regarding these grants.

It turns out that the Education Department has not produced, and is not in the process of producing, a report on the full costs of implementing the Common Core in the state. According to the department, on top of the previously announced technology grant for which we are borrowing the money, “the state is investing approximately $8 million this year and $6 million next year to support implementation efforts.” I’m not sure if this includes the $1 million CCSS marketing campaign announced by State Education Commission Stefan Pryor last December, or if that’s a separate line item.

I’m also still struggling to understand why we’re using school construction bonds to finance the purchase of iPads and computers. That controversial practice hasn’t worked so well in Los Angeles.

Yesterday, Republican lawmakers pitched the idea of using $247 million of this year’s budget surplus for tax relief. Wouldn’t it make more sense instead to refrain from borrowing more to buy technology that we know is going to be obsolete within a few years? But of course, that would require us to first figure how much this joyless Common Core ride is going to cost us.

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.

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(15) Comments

posted by: StanMuzyk | January 24, 2014  4:57pm

@Sarah: Welcome back. After six months—“Situation normal. All fouled up!”  missed your savvy views. Keep plugging!

posted by: Bluecoat | January 24, 2014  6:25pm

Great Article
Now if we can only get the message out that the glue that holds Common Core together, is the Smarter Balanced Consortium. This testing consortium, along with its evil twin PARCC, is required per the written agreement with the US Department Of Education, to purge our kids of personal & private information. This is all done without parental or legal guardian notification or written permission. Our kids private lives have been pimped out, and no one seems to be creeped out by this. I dare anyone to find a teaching professional that needs to know my child’s sexual preference in order to teach them the new CC standards.  Time for every public official, whether elected or hired, to have their personal and private info included in a database for all tax payers to see.
Let’s see which public official is taking mind altering drugs like Prozac. Or a teacher that may be taking Viagra, ( seems to be a epidemic in or schools of teachers abusing kids,) or how about Coaches who may have taken PED’s in their past and may be inclined to tells our student athletes it not a big deal.
If you want to stop the CC, you have to stop the data mining, which means dumping, the Smarter Balanced testing, first.

posted by: Bluecoat | January 24, 2014  6:34pm

CT is in way too deep into Common Core to stop.
More teachers, parents, and legislatures need to step forward now.
Because after we borrow money to pay for computers, so that the data mining assessments can take place, the next waves of Ed programs will include, all day pre-school,  three meals per day, health care, school for 7 day weeks ,11 months per year as Arnie Duncan believes.
As Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC said a few months back, we need to get away from the notion that your kids are your kids.
You see, per the vision of the self anointed, parents are too stupid to raise their kids, educate their kids, feed their kids, and provide healthcare for your kids. Time to purge this state of Progressives.

posted by: Linda12 | January 25, 2014  8:55am

Search Tim Farley Ten Myths about CCS, on Ravtich blog.  Here’s a few:

2. “They amount to a national curriculum.”

FACT: The standards are shared goals, voluntarily adopted. They outline what knowledge and skills will help students succeed. Curricula vary from state to state and district to district.

TRUTH: The standards are not “shared goals”, just as they were not “voluntarily adopted”. The CCSS were written and developed by a group of non-educators and the architect was David Coleman. The only two content specialists (Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. James Milgrim) served on the Validation Committee and refused to sign off on the standards because they were not good enough. As for the curricula varying from state to state, I find it difficult for AFT to back up that claim. However, whatever curricula are available, they are aligned to the developmentally inappropriate designed CCSS.

posted by: Linda12 | January 25, 2014  8:56am

Another myth vs. Fact

6. “Common Core is a federal takeover.”

FACT: The federal government had no role in developing the standards. They were created by state education chiefs and governors, and voluntarily adopted by states. States, not the federal government, are implementing them.

TRUTH: The CCSS were created by NGA and CCSSO (two lobbying groups financially supported by Gates) and mostly written by David Coleman. States that “adopted” CCSS were the same states that accepted Race to the Top (RTTT) funds in the false belief that the money being “given” would help stop the laying off of teachers. Adopting CCSS was a requisite for “winning” RTTT monies. This also allowed states to receive a waiver from the unfair and onerous NCLB requirements. What they call “voluntary”, I call “extortion”.

posted by: Linda12 | January 25, 2014  8:57am

Two more, search for all ten

7. “Teachers weren’t included.”

FACT: Lots of teachers were involved in developing the standards over several years, including hundreds of teachers nationwide who served on state review teams. Many teachers are pleased to report seeing their feedback added verbatim to the final standards.

TRUTH: Again, I would like to see proof of that claim. Technically speaking, there were teachers “involved in the process”, but their role was perfunctory at best.

8. “The standards make inappropriate demands of preschoolers.”

FACT: They were written for grades K–12. Several states added their own guidance for preschool.

TRUTH: When you have developmentally inappropriate expectations for Kindergarten students, wouldn’t the logical thought be that the expectations for Pre-K students rise to a level that is also developmentally inappropriate? And, although not in its implementation phase yet, there are plans for a P-20 initiative developed by the Data Quality Campaign (financially supported by Gates).

posted by: Castles Burning | January 25, 2014  6:17pm

Welcome back, Sarah.  I am delighted that you have not lost those number crunching skills of your sordid youth.  And, your curiosity is quite revealing.

The numbers seem to reveal a rather sordid picture—even though you were not able to answer (or get all of the answers you asked) while researching this piece.

Let me see if I can recap: Charter or interdistrict schools appear to get more funding that public schools in the same district.

Why New Haven received, for example, received 3/4 times more than Bridgeport/Hartford is because “project proposals” were locally developed.

These monies come from Construction grants, which somehow accounts for the monies given New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford.  Even though, the “construction scale” ranks them closely.

We will never know what it cost to implement the CCSS, but we do know that 1 million will be spent on a professionally-produced marketing campaign to sell it to the people.

Please correct any errors I may have made in trying to recap all that you uncovered. I would make only one suggestion: perhaps a reconsideration of the title.  “Something is happening here” (my nod to music), yet it does not appear to be “blind.”  One senses an agenda.

Thanks again for an enlightening (and challenging) read.

posted by: Linda12 | January 25, 2014  8:02pm

See here, legislation to end one million fleecing of taxpayers to sell national standards:

When the new legislative season begins on February 5, Connecticut State Senator Joe Markley (R-16) will introduce a bill that blocks officials from spending $1 million on an advertising campaign for Common Core.
“Why should the government spend a million dollars of taxpayer money to convince people why they should like Common Core?” Markley told Breitbart News. “They passed it without asking us, the educators or parents.”
Connecticut is offering a $1 million contract, and four public companies are competing for it. Their names are withheld under Connecticut’s Freedom of Information statutes.
Private interest groups based in Washington, D.C., without any representation from the states, developed Common Core. The Board of Education was involved in the meetings and continues to pour money into the standards. The states had to adopt Common Core in order to receive Race to the Top funding.
Markley told [url=”
http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2014/01/25/CT-State-Senator-Will-Introduce-Bill-to-Stop-Common-Core-Advertising”]Breitbart News[/url] the state board of education decided to implement Common Core behind closed doors. The state government, parents, and students did not have any knowledge of the standards, and the board was not engaged enough when they passed them.
“They told us they were going to reform education,” Markley said. “We had 45 minutes to look it over and the papers were still hot from the copy machine. I have noticed a serious deterioration in communication between the board of education and state government since the first time I served in office.

posted by: StanMuzyk | January 25, 2014  8:13pm

‘Castle-burner’ described Sarah as “sordid” twice. It comes with the territory. “Since Saran has it—she can flaunt it!”

posted by: ASTANVET | January 25, 2014  9:06pm

Usually Sarah and I are at odds - conservative/progressive.  However, I think this is a good example of where to find bipartisanship.  85% of CT is against Common Core - yet we persist in slamming it down the throats of concerned parents.  I believe we are on the verge of some big issues that progressives/conservatives can agree upon.  Common core - it’s bad, we need to get rid of it.  I don’t particularly like some of the wealth re-distributive answers sarah eluded to, however the starting point is that CC is bad.  Let’s get rid of it.  Let’s please capitalize on this moment, not bicker about Bush/Obama Red team/Blue team blah blah blah…I say it’s time to focus on what common sense things we can agree on, not what divides us.

posted by: JamesBronsdon | January 26, 2014  8:44am

Sarah, I don’t generally agree with your commentary, but you’re spot on.  I can already see the negative effects in the robotic and incoherent teaching of my first grader. Give the teachers the discretion to be creative and attend to the needs of each student as an individual. Metrics do not translate well to the classroom.

posted by: Joebigjoe | January 26, 2014  2:05pm

My understanding was that it was the National Governors Association that started this but under pressure from the US Dept of Education.

This would similar to people saying that the banks are totally to blame for the subprime mortgage crisis when in fact it was Mr Coumo present Governor of New York (and quite a psycho) telling banks what they had to do when he was in Charge of HUD.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | January 27, 2014  8:12am

Stan - I’m not entirely sure to what you are referring, but when I refer to my “sordid youth” I’m talking about the time I spent working on Wall St in the late 80’s. Let’s just say that when I watched “The Wolf of Wall St”  I saw a lot of the same attitudes I fought as a young woman.

posted by: Stingy Blue | January 27, 2014  12:56pm

What Education Department grant program is this article analyzing?  Is it the technology grant program, or general construction grants to school districts?  Also, as I understand it, state Dept. of Ed. construction grants are made in response to requests from school districts.  The more a school districts requests, the more construction grant money they will receive.  This may explain the differentials in state grant money - districts that were undertaking larger construction projects requested more construction grant money, and were awarded larger grants based on the size of their requests.  It is not my understanding that there is any discretion exercised by the state regarding whether or not a district receives construction grant money - I thought that so long as the district meets the state statutory criteria, they automatically receive a construction grant based on the size of the project and the “construction scale” that takes into account the wealth of the community.  I suppose that the New London school the author refers to made a larger construction grant request (relative to the number of students it serves) than the New London School District, and that this is the reason for the grant-per-student differential.  I think its also possible that certain infrastructure improvements have a set cost regardless of how many students use project, which would be another reason for per-student costs differences.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | January 28, 2014  2:47pm

Well that’s the interesting part of this whole exercise, StingyBlue. These were construction grants, but they’re being used to purchase technology to be able to run the SBAC tests, including items like iPads which to my mind should NOT be funded by bonding. How can you justify iPads under a construction grant? And if it’s going to cost 10X the amount to administer these tests at a charter school in New London, perhaps we should do it like we do with the SATS - just administer them in one location for efficacy rather than spending a fortune - a fortune for which our state Dept of Ed hasn’t even ascertained the quantum - to make every school a Guinea pig for these tests, which haven’t even been properly field tested yet. And another thing I find curious - my state senator, L. Scott Frantz, who spends every single meeting I’ve attended complaining about the amount of state debt, signed off on this. Why? I wrote to his website asking for comment prior to deadline and …*crickets*. Perhaps it’s because Sen Frantz, who attended Hotchkiss, Princeton and Harvard and whose own children went to Greenwich Academy and Brunswick, never met a charter school that didn’t “excite” him (he calls “the absolute answer”  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Senate-candidates-lay-out-views-in-forum-3917711.php) so the charter school loading on this debt made him able to rationalize it?