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Post Audit report to look at cost of NCLB waiver and Common Core standards
An audit report is due out next week looking into the cost of implementing the Common Core State Standards for reading and math in Kansas, as well as the state's recent federal waiver from No Child Left Behind.
Kansas lawmakers asked for those audits during the 2012 session amid furious debates over education funding that revealed just how politically charged issues around school finance have become.
The basic question is whether Kansas is being stuck with unnecessary costs for implementing the waiver and Common Core, both of which are perceived by some lawmakers to be costly mandates from President Barack Obama's administration.
That perception is reflected in the original "scope statement" of the audit itself - a general outline of what is to be audited and why. Here's a passage from that document:
"Although the Common Core Standards Initiative was originally a state-led effort, President Obama has promoted the standards at the federal level. Specifically, the President offered states a waiver in September 2011 that would exempt them from certain requirements of the current federal No Child Left Behind law, in exchange for adopting the Common Core Standards and several other requirements."
But the Obama administration did not tie the waivers to the adoption of Common Core or any other specific set of standards. It merely required states to adopt rigorous standards in reading and math that were geared toward making students "college and career ready" by the time they graduate.
Admittedly, that is the stated mission of the Common Core standards - college and career readiness, a catch phrase that has been all the rage in education circles for some time now.
It's worth noting, however, that the Kansas State Board of Education officially adopted the Common Core standards in October 2010, nearly a full year before the Obama administration opened up the waiver process. It was a significant decision that generated absolutely zero political reaction from Kansas legislators at the time.
It wasn't until 2012 — an election year — that lawmakers in Kansas and other states began to sit up and take notice. Certain Kansas lawmakers started making unequivocal statements that the waivers and the whole Common Core initiative were Obama administration policies that were going to cost states millions, if not billions, of dollars to implement.
But as Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker tried to explain to them last session, adopting the Common Core standards probably saved Kansas something in the neighborhood of $5 million.
That's because in Kansas, curriculum standards in reading, math and all other subjects come up for review and update on regular seven-year cycles. When the Common Core standards were being developed, the English/language arts and math standards were coming up for review anyway.
Had it not been for the Common Core initiative, which included participation from many states, Kansas would have had to go through the whole process of writing its own new reading and math standards, and developing a new battery of tests aligned to those standards, all at the state's own expense. But by piggybacking on a nationwide effort among many states, Kansas saved substantial amounts of money.
That's not to say there aren't additional costs. As we've reported earlier, the Lawrence school district, and other districts in Kansas, are now going through the process of training teachers to get them ready for the transition to a completely different set of teaching materials.
For example, in both reading and math, some things that were previously taught in fourth grade will instead be taught in third grade, and vice versa. That means many teachers, especially at the elementary level, need significant amounts of help to retool and prepare for teaching entirely different content.
Schools refer to that as "professional development" costs, and they're not cheap.
It will be interesting to see whether the Legislative Post Audit report will capture the true nature of the Common Core standards, as well as the actual costs and savings associated with them. It will also be interesting to see whether lawmakers will accept those findings, or cherry-pick bits and pieces of the report to validate their own pre-conceived biases.
The report is scheduled for release next Thursday, Dec. 13.