Michael Rothfeld of the Wall Street Journal has written the best, most balanced account that I have seen of the perilous condition of the Common Core standards. The article fails to explain adequately why 46 states adopted the standards, as if everyone was waiting and hoping for the chance to endorse untested national standards; it happened because of the $4.35 billion offered as a state competition, but only to states that agreed to do what the Obama administration wanted them to do, which included embracing the standards.

Rothfeld documents why states are dropping out. A few have repealed the Common Core standards. Half of the 46 states that signed on to one of the two federally-sponsored tests have backed out. It wasn’t simply the political controversy from right and left, from parents and educators. The cost turned out to be a deal-breaker.

Some states couldn’t afford the cost of retraining teachers. Some could not afford the technology. Some could not afford the new tests.

But the standards and tests arrived at a time when districts and states were strapped.

“The total cost of implementing Common Core is difficult to determine because the country’s education spending is fragmented among thousands of districts. The Wall Street Journal looked at spending by states and large school districts and found that more than $7 billion had been spent or committed in connection with the new standards. To come up with that number, the Journal examined contracts, email and other data provided under public-records requests by nearly 70 state education departments and school districts.

“The analysis didn’t account for what would have been spent anyway—even without Common Core—on testing, instructional materials, technology and training. Education officials say, however, that the new standards required more training and teaching materials than they would otherwise have needed, and that Common Core prompted them to speed up computer purchases and network upgrades.

“Much more money would be needed to implement Common Core consistently. Some teachers haven’t been trained, and some schools lack resources to buy materials. Some states haven’t met the goal of offering the test to all students online instead of on paper with No. 2 pencils….

“Common Core advocates hoped to make standards uniform—and to raise them across the board. Their goals were to afford students a comparable education no matter where they were, to cultivate critical thinking rather than memorization, to better prepare students for college and careers, and to enable educators to use uniform year-end tests to compare achievement. They wanted to give the tests on computers to allow more complex questions and to better analyze results.

“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which signed on to the effort in 2008, so believed in the cause that it has spent $263 million on advocacy, research, testing and implementing the standards, foundation records show. Vicki Phillips, a Gates education director, says its Common Core-related funding of new curriculum tools developed by teachers has led to student gains in places such as Kentucky.

“But after a burst of momentum and a significant investment of money and time, the movement for commonality is in disarray.

“Some states, including South Carolina, Indiana and Florida, have either amended or replaced Common Core standards. Others, including Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana, New Jersey and North Carolina, are in the process of changing or reviewing them. A total of 21 states have withdrawn from two groups formed to develop common tests, making it difficult to compare results.

In California, the costs of implementation are staggering.

California has allocated $4.8 billion to local school districts that they can use for Common Core implementation, but some have asked a state commission to order more funding for giving the Smarter Balanced test.

“For some urban districts struggling to pay for basic educational needs, preparing for the standards has been challenging.

“The Philadelphia school district unveiled a plan in 2010 to implement Common Core and won a $500,000 grant from the Gates Foundation. But a budget crisis the next year resulted in nearly 4,000 layoffs, including of some putting the plan in place.”

There is something bizarre about pouring billions into untested standards and tests at a time when districts like Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, and many others are struggling to maintain basic services in their schools and at a time when privatizers are targeting the very existence of public schools.