‘Jaw-dropping’ costs of NCLB waiver

An ambivalent State Board of Education discussed but took no action Wednesday on pursuing a temporary waiver from strictures of the No Child Left Behind law. The state will pass up the two application deadlines as a result.

California could still apply in June for a two-year relief from the law. Los Angeles Unified is among the districts favoring a waiver, and several Board members indicated interest as well – if the state can negotiate terms more to its liking. However, the Obama administration has given no public indication yet that it’s willing to bend on its terms.

Because Congress has been unable to agree on how to fix a flawed NCLB, President Obama has offered states a deal: For two years, they’d no longer be bound by many of NCLB’s disliked provisions, which have led to labeling most schools as failing. They also would gain flexibility in using a portion of Title I money for poor kids, in exchange for agreeing to several requirements. States would have to move ahead with Common Core or rigorous college and career standards, to focus on fixing 15 percent of schools (the worst  performers and those with the biggest achievement gaps), and to adopt teacher and administrator evaluations based partly on test scores – a demand staunchly opposed by the California Teachers Association as an intrusion on local collective bargaining. CTA lobbyist Ken Burt called the waiver “money down a rat hole,” and said the state should focus on working on Congress to pass a better law.

But drawn to the prospect of getting out from under NCLB’s thumb, 39 states and the District of Columbia have expressed interest in a waiver. Some of those are Race to the Top winners that already are complying with the requirements.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, however, has called for a waiver without conditions and criticized Obama for overstepping his authority in requiring test-based teacher evaluations.

The state Department of Education’s cost-benefit analysis of the waivers found what State Board member James Aschwanden called “jaw-dropping numbers.” The Department put the net price tag to California of between $2 billion and $2.7 billion. Broken down, the costs would include:

  • $600 million to implement Common Core, through: teacher training, $237.5 million; buying textbooks and materials, $237.5 million; and adopting English learner standards, $118 million;
  • $410 million to fix the 15 percent low-performing schools;
  • $76 million to train principals and conduct evaluations for all teachers.

Torlakson called the Obama plan “not so much a waiver as a substitution for a new set of requirements and a new set of challenges.” And he said California would run the risk of moving in one direction with the waivers, only to have Congress head in another direction by passing a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the formal name for NCLB).

Cost estimates disputed

The state Department of Education offered no corroborating cost estimates from other states, and those favoring the waiver said the Department undervalued the financial benefits and overestimated the costs of transitioning to Common Core, which the state will have to do anyway. Rick Miller, a former deputy state superintendent who’s now executive director of the nonprofit California Office to Reform Education (CORE), said the seven districts comprising CORE could redirect $84 million to rehire teachers and counselors by redirecting dollars that had to have been spent on tutoring services in Program Improvement schools. “Do the waiver as soon as possible for needed flexibility,” he said.

One of the CORE districts is Los Angeles Unified. Superintendent John Deasy’s deputy chief of staff, Tommy Chang, testified that the district is already attempting to do what the waiver calls for by shifting dollars within its existing budget: preparing for Common Core and shifting to new teacher evaluations that incorporate measures of student progress.

Brad Strong, senior policy director with Children Now, acknowledged that the waiver’s demand that the state expedite its spending on evaluations and Common Core would be “a huge lift.” But it’s far from certain whether Congress will reauthorize NCLB anytime soon, he said, and California needs the will to develop a quality plan for Common Core and an evaluation system that improves learning for all kids.

Adopting a wait-and-see middle ground, the Association of California School Administrators called for putting off a waiver for six months while pressing Congress to pass a new NCLB as proposed in the bipartisan Senate bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Republican Mike Enzi of Wyoming. Failing that, ACSA said in a letter to the State Board, the state should apply for a waiver “based on what California believes is in the best interest of our students and schools and not based on prescriptive conditions.”

State Board member Trish Williams said she was interested in having  California submit a “customized” waiver application. Saying she was frustrated that California has missed out on a number of education grants and programs she said, “Would Washington like to work with California? I would like to find a way that would benefit us, and we could live with.”

Chang, Miller and others also expressed the hope that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would eventually permit large districts like Los Angeles Unified and groups of districts like CORE to apply for waivers on their own, if California refused to.

This entry was posted in No Child Left Behind on by .

About John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (www.TOPed.org), one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

18 thoughts on “‘Jaw-dropping’ costs of NCLB waiver

  1. Sue Moore

    My first attempt failed I think because my server severed the connection. So…
    1. I don’t understand how there is so much difference in content and process between Common Core and existing K-12 Standards in CA, that supplementary materials could not be developed and accessed through web-based media. Nor do I begin to comprehend the costs supposedly associated with Professional Development. There are times when I wonder if the astronomical costs are projected in order to scare off everybody. Math is still math. Language Arts   – presumably still reading, writing, grammar …
    I know Science is changing, but that would be the prime subject area for some revolutionary technological innovations  - – or at least using what is already available for free.
    2. Teacher evaluations – my least favourite ground on which to tread in California. Aren’t principals already supposed to be observing classroom practice, as well as meeting with teachers and evaluating them? I was evaluated in San Diego, and apart from the “official” evaluations always had open classroom and talked with administrators, just as I had in England.  If California cannot develop its own decent and reasonably priced evaluation system, then it should borrow from elsewhere. I still cannot fathom how CTA blocks any progress in teacher evaluations, and it is an absolute disservice to the profession to continue this practice. Without evaluations, and very clearly delineated notion of levels of excellence in teaching practice, etc., teachers are let down. More importantly, children are let down.
    3. As for the 15% of schools. Does anybody have a figure as to what these have already cost in terms of II/USP, QEIA … and who knows what else. It is time to look outside the box for solutions  - and to me that means looking outside of the existing Ed. Code constraints. 
    Thanks for covering this John - 

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  2. el

    The professional development costs can be pretty real. Just because you understand math and teaching math doesn’t mean that you can pick up any piece of math curriculum and teach it effectively. There is considerable value in giving teachers the time to analyze what they’re suppose to change in what they do and in discussing together the strengths and weaknesses of the new program. Much of that expense, I suspect,  is not in paying out to trainers, but in paying the teachers for their time to meet and paying substitutes to cover their classes if school contracts do not have enough professional development days in their calendars.

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  3. Sue Moore

    Thanks el:
    I understand professional development costs – but I should have have more closely questioned effectiveness, and evaluation of outcomes in terms of measured performance. I did a lot of professional development hours and additional required classes, but I can honestly say that rarely was anything of value. A lot of what I had to cover was so routine, or failed completely to meet the specific areas that I needed improvement in. I taught  in  a large, culturally diverse school, and the finer points of meeting the needs of some under-served student groups were not even under discussion by the “professional developers”  - – — I was honestly shocked when I started to work in the US by the incredible amount of wasted time and money in teaching. As I watch my kids in school – I continue to be shocked! Much of what the development is about should be part of TEP,and/or  should be part of a teacher’s personal ongoing professional development. Instead, the school takes away 5 days of instruction. 
    Let’s then consider the massive ongoing costs of professional development to meet STAR testing and Standards Based curriculum in CA since 1998 – - –  how effective has that been in raising student achievement? The fundamental issue is: There is no finely tuned evaluation method to figure out where we were – - what we did  - – did it work?  Without data evaluation, be it numbers, portfolio assessment, reduced drop-out rates, it is just money spent – and more money spent. 
    Why not observe the teachers with long-term, outstanding student achievement and ask them what they do and how they do it? When I’ve talked to these teachers there are commonalities – but that would mean CTA accepting that some teachers are better than others. That it does matter that teachers have mastery of the material they are teaching. That they understand pedagogy. That they do constantly re-evaluate their teaching methodology, and materials, etc. That they do grade students’ work themselves and evaluate not just where the student is, but where they are as a teacher with that student.  Ask the students – they know whether or not they are being challenged, if a teacher is fair, if they are learning. Yes, there are some axes that are ground – but on the whole, it’s worth the angst.

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  4. el

    Professional development can certainly be badly done, and I doubt there are any teachers who haven’t been exposed to useless PD. :-) But the answer is to select it better and do it better, not to simply not do it.
    In today’s financial climate, there are limits to what we can do, but I think it’s remarkable that we expect teachers to pay for their own professional development. As an engineer, my employers paid for PD classes, paid for my time to attend them… and also paid me a lot more than what a teacher makes.

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  5. Jan Dietzgen

    I, too, thought that California was on its way to buying into Common Core. Still one needs to read Anthony Cody’s , “Living in Dialog,” piece on The Gates / Pearson Foundation collaboration on State Testing to understand why we must stop this love of all of this high stake testing. We need to get the word  out of the testing experts who state strongly how invalid high stakes testing actually is.

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  6. John Fensterwald - Educated Guess Post author

    CDE’s estimate for Common Core assumed that the state would have to purchase materials and do the Professional Development in one year, in order to comply with the guidelines for the waiver. This would be  impossible under current state law, because formal textbook adoption has been put off until 2015 at the earliest. So it begs two questions: Would the federal government allow California to stretch out the materials purchase for Common Core over at least several years? (Will other states ask for this in their applications, too? Given other states’ fiscal problems, I’ll bet they will.) And how much of the PD can be done by shifting existing Title III money to Common Core, as the CORE districts are doing now?

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  7. bstrong

    An EdWeek article today says the following:
    U.S. Department of Education officials have encouraged California to apply. About 40 states have signaled that they intend to pursue a waiver.
    “We’re working with any state that is indicating interest to make sure that this is an achievable proposition,” said deputy press secretary Daren Briscoe.
    Other language in the application materials from the Feds says that they will acknowledge that not all states are beginning at the same starting point.  The immediate challenge is the will to get moving, AND ensuring that all stakeholders are involved in developing a high quality plan.  This is a big lift and the clock is ticking.
    If the ESEA reauthorization happens then we don’t need to apply, but if reauthorization doesn’t happen then California will not receive the flexibility OR the reprieve from NCLB’s 2013-14 deadline for achieving 100% proficiency.
    The above comments rightly beg the question about attributable costs, and unless California is contemplating doing an about face on Common Core, a substantial amount of the cost estimates are attributable to activities California already planned on — that doesn’t mean we can be naive about the ramped up time frames (which are extremely ambitious) and that needs to be acknowledged.
    Hopefully the Feds are serious about working with states, but California needs to get moving on a plan to improve instruction and learning for all children or we’ll be the ones who will get left behind.

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  8. el

    This story about Tennessee’s RTTT evaluation experience doesn’t fill me with confidence:

    Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers — kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers — the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.

    There’s also the question of how a principal can do a classroom observation of someone who doesn’t teach a classroom subject.
    The answer is, the principal still has to observe them teaching something. Erin Alvarado, a librarian at Central Magnet, a combined middle and high school, picked eighth-grade descriptive writing. One of the rubric variables is how well the teacher knows her students. There are 938 students at Central, and she knew few in that class by name. “Fortunately, the teacher put all the names on index cards for me,” Ms. Alvarado said. “I’d take a quick peek down at the card, pick a name, look around and hope the student was there.”

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  9. Pingback: No Child Left Behind Waivers May Be Too Expensive, State Officials Say | | UTILITY DOCUMENTSUTILITY DOCUMENTS

  10. Ze'ev Wurman

    Seems to me CDE forgot to figure in the cost of putting computers in every school to support the fancy hi-tech test coming from our newly joined SBAC consortium. With 3.5M student annually tested, and with a cheap $500 computer with software per two students, 5 year amortization and 12% annual maintenance, this comes to another tidy $1.4B over 5 years. Not counting the cost of networking infrastructure and annual bandwidth costs to support them. And budgeting only additional $10/student for this test is naive, to put it mildly. But, then, who counts?  It will all come from OPM.

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  11. Sue Moore

    This is an incredibly helpful discussion, and I wish there was a way to get more parents to participate in the Common Core/Standards/Waiver debate. I talk to many parents, and a huge amount of their frustration lies in the ongoing “patchiness” in teacher quality. Very specifically, those with children who are increasing growing bored and dis-engaged with the classroom for a variety of reasons – limited curricular offerings, lack of differentiation –   are being ignored. The focus is on closing the gap in achievement based on SES, Race, etc., and I am 100% behind closing the gap. But at the same time, students are finding a large gap between what they need to learn – and what they are offered. Statewide the longer term, objective evaluations of student outcomes after 13 years of schooling are deeply troubling, and parents understand that; but administrators deflect with the rhetoric, while resting on the minimal, bureaucratic SPSA format.  The obsession with testing and Common Core and STEM all seems to detract from fundamental pedagogical concern, and parental concern – at the end of the day, how do I help my child to love learning, engage in a community, and be prepared to participate in a complex, global economy? How do I help the other children to do the same?   To me, Common Core and STEM, and NCLB Waivers are part of the story of the Emperor With No Clothes. We have no idea what these will look like, but we’re told that if we spend the money we already don’t have for libraries, music, practical arts, foreign language instruction, we’ll get the clothes in an undefined future. Well, I’ve already watched my younger kids’ education get dumbed down and narrowed in the decade since my oldest son was their age, so I’m healthily skeptical.
    As for PD – - until there are robust, meaningful evaluations in place the money will continue to be haphazardly spent. A lot of PD, if you evaluate it in relation to outcomes, might be counter-productive (I’ve attended those events), but if it isn’t evaluated, who knows. 
    By ongoing PD I meant reading research, reviewing articles, remaining current in one’s field. Just the everyday of continuing interest in one’s profession. I’d have loved an annual stipend for PD, but doesn’t happen. On the other hand, several of the engineers  I know, as well as many others in the private sector,  are accepting pay cuts and health benefit contribution increases in order to keep jobs as the economy shifts.

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  12. el

    @Ze’ev – don’t forget the cost to rewire those classrooms to have enough power and outlets for 30 computers…
    All schools need broadband, and unless every school has a grant application in process, there’s no way they will all have that bandwidth for 2014.
    No doubt they’ll just slip the deadline. In fact, in that NY Times article, that’s what the administration says, that just because they set a deadline doesn’t mean they expect schools and states to meet it. Imagine what they’d do to the evaluation of teachers whose assignment deadlines were that fluid.

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  13. mzb

    If California does not proceed with the waiver, what are the expected consequences for not achieving proficiency?  I am looking for information about 2014 NCLB sanctions.  I think this is an important part of the conversation, not because I am against the waiver but because it is a crucial consideration.  If the budget and timeline for the waiver requirements are not realistically feasible for California, what exactly will this mean come 2014?
    Rushing the implementation of the common core creates the potential for long-term dysfunction related to the adoption of these standards.  I am drawing on my experiences making meaningful changes to school culture through professional development at the school level.  In my experience from one of California’s underperforming schools, even the best designed, strategic, carefully coordinated  responsive efforts to implement new programs take several years to get traction from a majority of teachers and community members (if they even get that far).
    The common core are coming and it’s important to remember they stand for more than just new textbooks and different tests.  I believe they offer a structure  and framework for both teachers and students to develop deep content understanding, which is a vast improvement from the current state standards.  However, research and policy aside, if California’s teachers and families do not take ownership in the common core, they will be tolerated as yet another bureaucratic hurdle rather than a tool for change.  I worry that by ramping up the time frame, we are losing opportunities to get folks excited, engaged and informed about the coming changes.
    I appreciate bstrong’s urgency around improving instruction and learning for all children.  I also think it is hard weigh pros and cons how the waiver will effect that goal without a clear picture of exactly what the state is facing if they speed things up and what they face not.  What are compromises inherent in each option and how might we strategically address these compromises before they arise?

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  14. Karen

    We are sorely need some strong investigative journalism into the costs, implications and players of Common Core.
    The cynic in me thinks that the billion dollar beneficiaries of the NCLB assessment boom saw the clock ticking down. Common Core standards assure those same players a fat gravy train tied to new assessments, new texts, new PD. By eliminating state differences, the barriers fall for charter CMOs and online  goliaths like K12 Inc while their  profits rise.
    As for costs, several have touched on things like the need for computers, networking, etc. When. PARCC and SMARTER testified before the SBE earlier this year, they blithely confirmed that an average CA school district would need five new full time information technology staffers to implement computer-based assessments. And that those folks would need to be on our payrolls no later than 2013.
    Troubling stories like this are starting to trickle out as we approach the launch of Common Core: http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=2716
    Can’t help but feel a bit duped. Perhaps the entire effort will collapse by 2014 — along with the statistically impossible mandate of NCLB, ironically due the same year.

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  15. Ze'ev Wurman

    I will not argue Common Core will be more effective than California standards. In fact, I often argued just the opposite, as those who know me well know. But that is beside the point.
    When it comes to the dramatic difference between them, however, consider simply the fact that it took California the better part of a decade to place (almost) sufficient number of qualified math teachers able to teach Algebra, at the middle school level.
    Now, consider the fact that Common Core pushed a sizable chunk of Geometry into the middle school. Essentially no middle school teachers are qualified or able to teach Geometry today. How long do you think it will take California to address this issue, and at what cost?
    This is just one example.  Here is another. Common Core expects literacy be also taught at the high school level withing the context of teaching informational texts in science and social sciences. Hard to believe any science or social sciences teachers are ready to do so today. Conversely, English teachers could teach literacy aspects of informational texts in science or social science. How many of them could even understand, let alone correctly point out readability aspects of texts in the FedViews economic analysis written by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, or in the “U.S. General Services Administration. Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management”? These are some of the actual suggested examples of such texts in the Common Core standards.  How long do you think it will take California to address this idiocy, and at what cost?

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  16. Pingback: Costs Of No Child Left Behind Waivers ‘Jaw Dropping" | Edhuru Annex

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