State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Cost concerns linger over PA Common Core debate

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Aug 15, 2013 5:30 PM

As the commonwealth seems poised to adopt more rigorous educational standards known as Pennsylvania Common Core, talk of costs is still looming large.

Corbett administration officials have tried to quash what they call misinformation that the new standards represent a bigfoot approach to education policy.

The academic standards, which include assessments required for high school graduation, were developed within the commonwealth to satisfy federal regulations. They were engulfed in controversy this spring as critics suggested they represented top-down educational mandates. But relatively few answers have been provided to questions about the projected cost of implementing more rigorous expectations for students and teachers. The state hasn't given any estimate of what implementation of the standards might cost.

Joan Benso, head of the child advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, has championed the new standards. She said she hasn't seen any reliable data estimating costs of implementation - in terms of training teachers, buying teaching materials like textbooks, and providing remedial help for students who can't pass the assessments that come with the new standards.

"Districts have been working on changing these standards for three years, and many districts in that timeframe bought new textbooks," said Benso. "Look, we don't spend enough money in Pennsylvania on public education and our organization thinks we should spend more, but we need to spend it wisely."

She voices a suspicion that teachers unions are opposing the standards because assessment performance would be some small part of the basis for new teacher evaluations.

"Sometimes this all feels a little too much like adults grousing, as opposed to worrying about whether or not Pennsylvania's kids are going to graduate from high school ready for the next phase of their lives and be productive taxpayers in our state, support our economy," Benso said.

But Wythe Keever, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a teachers union, said assessment results would make up just five percent of a teacher's evaluation.

"Our concern continues to be adequacy of resources," he said.

Keever said the PSEA has tried to pinpoint the cost of providing remedial instruction to students who weren't doing well on the old statewide standardized tests. "Several years ago we took a look at the number of students who were not scoring advanced or proficient," said Keever. He said the cost was estimated to be about $300 million, "and none of that is being addressed in any meaningful way."

Another group, the Pennsylvania Association of School Budget Officers, also notes the potential implementation costs among its top concerns, though it doesn't take a position on Common Core.


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