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Can States Afford to Implement Common Standards?

The nation's education publishers got a chance to get the president's ear yesterday, and here is what they said: the common standards may be great, but you need to help states afford to put them into practice.

The concern about paying for the implementation of the common standards ricocheted around the room yesterday where the school division of the Association of American Publishers was holding its annual fall meeting on Capitol Hill. It was an intimate affair; only about 40 publishing executives listening to speakers outlining the education landscape. One focus was the common standards, an area that is wide open for development of curriculum and instructional materials. And big bucks to be made. If, that is, there is money to pay for the stuff that gets developed.

That's how the question came to be posed to the White House. Roberto J. Rodriguez, a key education adviser to President Barack Obama, was taking questions after talking about the administration's education agenda. Richard Blake, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's senior vice president for governmental affairs, asked him what kind of federal resources might be forthcoming, through the ESEA reauthorization or other means, to help states implement the common standards. States are in horrible fiscal shape, Blake reminded Rodriguez, and "finding resources at the state level to make this successful looks pretty dubious." He pointed out that when it comes to curriculum development, a hefty chunk of financial and intellectual capital was sitting right there in that room, ready to make that investment.

Rodriguez noted the difficulty of the road ahead. Getting 36 states and the District of Columbia to adopt common standards was the easy part, he said; "Now the hard work begins." He acknowledged that the cost of professional development necessary to make common standards and assessments work the way they should is "huge," and said that the administration is committed to "recalibrating" the Elementary and Secondary Education Act so that federal funding helps support the common standards and assessments. But the President knows that it will "take much more than that," Rodriguez said, so the administration is looking into public-private partnerships and the philanthropic community for support as well, and will encourage states to "dedicate resources in a serious way" to the new standards and tests when they are making decisions about funding.

Though Blake was the only one to voice the concern about states' ability to pay for standards implementation, other publishers at the meeting told me privately that it's a widespread concern.

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