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TC Forum: Professor Natriello Says Cost to Meet New State Standards Could Reach $3.5 Billion

In his remarks to an audience of 50 New York City metropolitan school superintendents who attended the TC Forum, an education-policy seminar, Gary Natriello, Professor of Sociology and Education, and the author of a new report, spoke about "Estimating the Resources Necessary to Meet the New Standards."

In the wake of new graduation standards imposed by New York State, a report by the Community Service Society, a nonprofit group dedicated to fighting poverty, predicted dire consequences, especially for inner-city and rural schools starved for funds.

The report maintains that many schools are setting up children for failure because the schools are not prepared to meet the goals. In his remarks to an audience of 50 New York City metropolitan school superintendents who attended the TC Forum, an education-policy seminar, Gary Natriello, Professor of Sociology and Education, the author of the report, spoke about "Estimating the Resources Necessary to Meet the New Standards."

The TC Forum is offered twice a semester by Thomas Sobol, the Christian A. Johnson Professor of Outstanding Practice and the Director of TC's annual Superintendents Work Conference.

According to Natriello, the implications for the revised Regents Examination Program are "quite substantial." Many schools offer few courses, Natriello says, for the existing Regents Examinations and "these will need to engage in very significant curriculum and staff training efforts." He adds, "even schools that offer Regents level courses currently will confront the serious challenge of preparing all students for the new Regents standards."

Natriello says there are several positions being staked out in estimating what it will cost to implement the new standards. There is the position that "you can have it all for less." That is, he says, "some say you can get dramatically better outcomes with fewer resources. You can do it through means like greater choice, charters, and vouchers, anything that tilts at the current system, which we assume to be inefficient." Natriello disagrees. To get better outcomes, he says, "is going to cost the public a lot." He said he was one of those "wild-eyed educators" who conservatively estimates the initial costs for implementing the new standards at $3.5 billion, which he computes at $5,678.10 per student.

Calling his estimates "modest," Natriello adds, that it "doesn't begin take into account a whole variety of other expenditures needed, but rather only to get the schools positioned to have a shot at approaching the standards."

He breaks the costs down into categories: staff development and new staff; materials; facilities; and special needs. The largest single cost category is facilities, which he estimates at $1.45 billion or $3,375 per student. One English department chair captured the dilemma facing a number of schools. He said, "Our building is an old building. We are looking for space, because every time we set up a computer room, we give up a classroom. And we really don't have anymore classrooms to give up."

In interviews with principals and department heads from 18 statewide high schools, Natriello found many struggling just to keep up with current requirements. In discussing the issue of staff development as a cost category, one principal told Natriello, "We need tons of staff development. The staff will need some tools, some will need training in methodology for kids who haven't been taking Regents classes." The cost of staff development and recruiting teachers in disciplines as varied as science, mathematics, and foreign languages is estimated at $508 per student--Material costs, resources (curriculum, computers, science laboratories, etc.) to address the new learning goals were estimated at $850 per student.

When estimating the cost to meet the special learning needs of students, all of whom must now reach the new diploma standards, Natriello set the cost at $1,045.10 per student. A mathematics department chair told Natriello that, "I have a hard core of 30 kids who will have trouble passing, and I'm not talking about the special education students. These are students who are having problems passing Math I . . ."

Natriello, after reviewing the numbers, candidly remarked, "I don't think there is a clear sense what the new standards involve. I don't think that people have thought seriously about what has to be in place to achieve the goals they have articulated and certainly no one has thought hard about what it might cost."

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