People Like Common Core Better Once They Know What It Is

Muslim Alkurdi, 18, of Albuquerque High School, joined classmates in Albuquerque, N.M, as part of a walkout to protest a new standardized test. CREDIT: RUSSELL CONTRERAS, AP
Muslim Alkurdi, 18, of Albuquerque High School, joined classmates in Albuquerque, N.M, as part of a walkout to protest a new standardized test. CREDIT: RUSSELL CONTRERAS, AP

A pair of polls released Tuesday show while Americans support the intent and ideas behind the Common Core standards, the term itself has taken a hit in popularity. This is potentially due to the fact that the public holds a lot of misconceptions about the voluntary state standards, polling reveals.

One survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling and commissioned by the Center for American Progress, shows 79 percent of voters want a set of high-quality academic standards or goals in English and math, with the input of the community on how to develop curricula. Seventy-eight percent supported annual tests in English and math for accountability.

An overwhelming majority of voters — 90 percent — agree that the nation’s academic standards should be raised in order to compete with other countries, which was one of the original reasons for implementing Common Core in the first place. Respondents also said collaboration with teachers was important, with 82 percent of voters agreeing that the U.S. should develop these standards with teacher, school district, and state input.

However, the Common Core name has become increasingly less popular over the past few years. Another poll released Tuesday by Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, shows that support for “Common Core” itself is continuing to fall, with 49 percent seeing it favorably this year compared to 53 percent last year and 65 percent in 2013.

According to an interview with The Advocate, editor in chief of Education Next Paul Peterson said opinions on the standards are likely “stabilizing,” since support fell more dramatically last year.

The PPP poll sheds some light on why the public may not support the Common Core standards despite supporting the ideas behind them. As political opposition to Common Core has grown, misinformation has spread in terms of how the standards were created, what is in the standards and how they are implemented.

For example, the majority of voters polled believe that the U.S. Department of Education created the standards and almost half of voters thought the standards were a specific curriculum. Only 4 percent of those polled knew that teachers were involved in the creation of Common Core and 14 percent knew that governors were involved in its development. The poll also showed that 72 percent of voters thought test-taking took more time than it actually does. Only 1.6 percent or less of a student’s instructional time was spent on tests on average, according to a Center for American Progress report.

A poll from PublicMind at Farleigh Dickinson University, released earlier this year, shows that 77 percent of those said they heard a lot about the standards incorrectly believe that subjects such as history, global warming, and sex education are included in the standards.

As an effort to dodge the political opposition to Common Core, many states have simply adopted different names for what are essentially the same standards, such as Florida’s Sunshine Standards, or have decided to pull the Common Core standards but keep Common Core-affiliated testing companies involved.

Perhaps most surprising, the Education Next and Harvard Kennedy School poll showed more white people opposed Common Core, at 41 percent, than black people, where opposition was only at 27 percent or Hispanic people, at 23 percent. A 2013 Associated Press-NORCC poll found 62 percent of Hispanic parents said they believe the Common Core will improve schools.

Although Common Core has vocal critics on both side of the political spectrum, the poll shows that 57 percent of Democrats support the standards compared to 37 percent of Republicans. Criticism on the left, often from teachers unions, tends to be based on the idea that implementation of the standards has been too swift, is not handled well by administrators, or doesn’t involve enough input from teachers. The American Federation of Teachers, which has said it supports the standards, has been critical of its implementation and some governors’ decisions to tie it to teacher evaluations or students’ progression to the next grade level. Teacher support of Common Core has slipped from 76 percent in 2013 to 40 percent this year, according to the Education Next and Harvard Kennedy School poll, but they are much more likely to support it when the “accountability” phrase is removed from the question. But it has become a huge issue mostly on the right, with presidential candidates quick to pummel the standards. Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), recently changed his position on the standards. He suggested in 2014 that the Council of State School Officers simply rename the standards, saying, “Rebrand it, refocus it, but don’t retreat.” Likewise, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who is also running for president, recently announced his opposition to the standards after supporting them a couple years ago. Only Jeb Bush and John Kasich still support the policy, though Bush has grown tepid in his support of late.