In this article we'll look at the actual cost of developing your own curriculum, both in terms of the time required and the financial burden involved.
It stands to reason that before diving in to the process of devising a new, NGSS-aligned curriculum, a district would want to determine how much the cost would end up being. There is a fairly simple format for determining this: Simply add up all the hours that would theoretically be spent on each phase of development, then multiply that by the contracted rate of the district. If it is teachers developing curriculum, you might estimate that rate to be $25 per hour; for administrators, it will likely be higher.
A DIY cost formula for estimating how much curriculum development will require budget-wise. To get a number, add up the hours spent on each phase of development, then multiply that by the district's contracted rate for whoever is doing the work. The initial time input required to develop just one new grade level of curriculum—not including testing it—is typically around 5,000 hours.
To use this formula, of course, you will need a rough number of how many total hours will be required to complete the phases. Too often, it seems like districts plan to pull a few teachers together once a week, or get together for 10 weeks in the summer, and create NGSS-aligned curriculum. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way. Our experience is that to develop the initial curriculum, it takes about 5,000 hours per grade level. That number does not include testing. By the time thousands of teachers and their students have tested it, we generally have to add another 5,000 hours to refine it adequately. It's amazing how deploying and tweaking a curriculum can really add up over a period of 2 or 3 years.
Cost of Developing Curriculum
Developing good STEM curriculum requires a serious outlay of time and money, which explains why too many districts instead have shoddy curriculum that fails to align to the standards and performance expectations.
If you think about the total cost of creating your own curriculum, refining the initial creation and tweaking it further over a period of years, it's likely to cost a great deal once you multiply that by the district contract rate. If you assume it's $25 per hour for 10,000 hours, that's going to come to about $250,000… and that's just per grade level. Many districts and educators will look at that kind of time and cost and conclude that it just isn't worth it, that they've never had that kind of resource allocation and therefore they don't plan to.
However, if what you're looking for is district-level curriculum with tight scope and sequence that is pulling all of these elements together and really supporting teachers so that you don't have systemic gaps, it's unrealistic to assume you won't have to. But these assumptions do explain why curriculum is often shoddy. And standards tend to change every 5-7 years, which means a degree of starting over to update and realign curriculum.
Think about it: A 50-week work year for a curriculum developer at eight hours a day is 2,000 hours, so if that's all your willing to devote, you can just forget about refinement. If you're hoping to hit that 5,000-hour mark needed for truly effective STEM curriculum that aligns to Next Generation Science Standards, it's more realistic to assign two full-time and one part-time person to the task.
Of course, that's just for one grade level and does not include refinement. So then you have to incorporate another year for refinement at each grade level, of which there are 13 (K-12). That's 5,000 hours for two years, meeting that total 10,000-hour requirement, multiplied by 13. That comes to a total of 130,000 hours to develop effective STEM curriculum, which when multiplied by the sample contract rate of $25 per hour (which you will recall is conservative) comes to $3.25 million. This is why high-quality in-house curriculum development is generally out of reach for districts.
The Price of Poor Curriculum
If you're thinking "Who on Earth has that kind of money?", you're not alone. And that right there is why curriculum often just isn't that good. A lot of people point out that they've spent the entire summer developing curriculum, but when you compare the time a team can put in over the summer to the time required to truly align to NGSS, it's clear why the curriculum fails to bridge the gap. It explains why curriculum becomes lists of vocabulary words, activity sheets, and "I do, you do" lessons; the time for high-quality outputs isn't there. It's pretty unlikely that real curriculum will emerge from this or that the proper supports will be in place for students to truly engage with the science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas or crosscutting concepts.
Yet districts still routinely expect teachers to meet the standards and help students engage fully with the material in an inquiry-based environment. That's just not rational. When you think about the numbers above, it is factually impossible for a teacher to embark on and successfully complete this curriculum development process by themselves. In the end, every teacher will pull supplements together differently, many of which will have conflicting processes and definitions—a huge disservice to students. As a student moves from one classroom to the next, they are going to be stuck with somebody else's interpretation of what the district wants. Even within the year, if that student moves to another classroom, they're again going to get an entirely different take on earth science, life science, physical science and so on. Given such inconsistency, how can we expect students to succeed or teachers to successfully coach their students to meet the performance expectations if teams don't agree on the basic curriculum elements?
In order to successfully meet the performance expectations and ensure that students can do everything required by the evidence statement, students need much more support than they'll get from traditional canned curriculum.
This is where mistaking standards for curriculum occurs. Because teachers simply don't have the time and money to create the kind of effective STEM curriculum described above, they end up just teaching standards in a traditional model of "I do, we do" instruction. Again, this is detrimental to the student. But teachers simply cannot be expected to adequately connect the NGSS standards to NGSS evidence statements on their own, with no systemic supports in between.
Connecting standards to evidence statements follows a specific progression from the standard itself to district curriculum, student experience, student learning and evidence of learning.
The process of connecting standards to evidence statements is a multi-tiered one—standard to district curriculum to student experience to student learning to evidence of learning—and teachers cannot be expected to do it on their own. Even if they're able to, their interpretation will be different from another teacher's, leading to disorganization at the district level and no year-to-year continuity for students. This process must instead be carried out at a district level to ensure that all students within that district have a uniform experience when they move from classroom to classroom or school to school.