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Peter Cunningham

Does the Public Support Common Core? Depends How You Ask

Framing matters: that’s one critical takeaway from three recent polls that asked about the Common Core State Standards. How a question is asked dramatically affects how people answer.

Standards and Accountability

Education Next just released a poll showing that support for Common Core is dropping, based on a question that links the standards to “accountability.” Here’s the question:
As you may know, in the last few years states have been deciding whether or not to use the Common Core, which are standards for reading and math that are the same across the states. In the states that have these standards, they will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose the use of the Common Core standards in your state?
This year, 49 percent of the public support them versus 35 percent who oppose. Last year it was 53 percent in support and 26 percent opposed. The year before (2013) it was 65 percent support and 13 percent oppose. The bottom line is that public support remains pretty strong, according to Education Next, even if it is declining. Among teachers, however, support has dropped even more quickly—from 76 percent in 2013 to 46 percent last year and 40 percent this year. Again, keep in mind that the question is framed around “accountability,” which many teachers feel is unfairly targeted toward them. Oddly enough, when Education Next framed the Common Core question without mentioning “accountability,” support for the standards among the public dropped even lower to 39 percent. Perhaps the public believes there is no point in setting standards if we don’t hold ourselves responsible for meeting them.

Standards and Curriculum

Another recent poll, from PDK/Gallup , frames a question about Common Core State Standards as a “guide” to what is taught in your community. Here’s the question:
Do you favor or oppose having the teachers in your community use the Common Core State Standards to guide what they teach?
The response is overwhelmingly negative with 54 percent opposing the standards versus 24 percent favoring them. However, implying that standards “guide” what is taught is somewhat misleading. For the most part, teachers and principals decide what is taught and choose their own curriculum. Put another way, the standards are akin to the food pyramid . While the government publishes a basic nutrition guide—suggesting a mix of fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and starches—the curricula, on the other hand, are the day-to-day decisions parents make about what to feed their kids.

Standards and Local Control

To prove the point, yet another poll—this one conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Center for American Progress—asks about learning standards without the words “Common Core” and explicitly emphasizes local control over curriculum. In this case, support for “high” standards is overwhelming. According to this poll, 79 percent of the public agreed with the following statement:
We should create a set of high-quality academic standards or goals in English and math and let communities develop their own curriculum and strategies to meet these goals.

Confusion Around Common Core

The same poll also shows widespread confusion around the Common Core with more than a third of people wrongly believing that reading and math standards also cover hotly debated topics like, “climate science” and “sex education.” The Education Next poll further revealed how uninformed many people are on the issue. According to the poll, 58 percent of the public did not even know if the standards—currently in place in 43 states and Washington, D.C.—are being implemented in their schools. The public can hardly be blamed for their confusion about the standards, which have come under attack from all sides. On the right,  almost all of the GOP presidential candidates oppose them . On the left, some  anti-education reform activists also oppose them as do  some teachers unions . In many cases, the facts get lost in the rhetoric, so parents interested in learning about Common Core State Standards might want to visit the website set-up by state education leaders who created the standards and are responsible for implementing them.

But a Larger Federal Role?

There are two additional findings from Education Next related to the federal role in education. Although the federal government is explicitly prohibited by law from setting learning standards, when asked who should set them, virtually equal percentages—41 percent chose the federal government, while 43 percent chose the states. Only 15 percent said “local” governments. In another question asking how much each level of government should pay for education, the average response for the federal government was 37 percent, versus 35 percent for the state and 28 percent for local government. In fact, the feds pay only about 10 percent of the overall cost of education in America, with state and local governments splitting the rest. So, while the politicians and the pundits all rant about local control and federal overreach , the public’s view is somewhat more complicated.   (P.S. Education Post will be releasing its own parent poll in the fall asking about Common Core, accountability, testing and other issues. Stay tuned.)  
Peter Cunningham is the Executive Director of Education Post.
Peter Cunningham
Peter Cunningham is the founder of Education Post and serves on its board. He served as Assistant Secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter is affiliated with Whiteboard ...

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