Common Core Support, and Opposition, Increase in K-12 Policy Poll

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 20, 2013 4 min read
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In a new national poll commissioned by the K-12 policy journal Education Next, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they support the Common Core State Standards at least to some extent, although there’s been a significant uptick in the level of opposition to the standards over the past year, the public-opinion survey finds. But there’s something about the wording of the question about the common core I’d like to highlight. But more on that later.

For now, let’s look at the numbers. As you can see from the results, which come from polling 1,138 adults in June (with “oversamples” of teachers, parents, African Americans and Hispanics in order to highlight those groups’ answers) 65 percent of respondents said they either strongly support or somewhat support the new standards. That figure breaks down into two categories: 19 percent of the public “strongly supports” the common core, while 46 percent “somewhat supports” the standards. Meanwhile, 13 percent oppose the common core to some extent, with 8 percent somewhat opposing it and 5 percent strongly opposing it. Among the oversampled groups, teachers displayed the least hostility to the standards, with only 11 percent strongly or somewhat opposing it. By contrast, parents and Hispanics displayed the most opposition, with 15 percent of each group opposing the common core.

The survey categorized common core as an issue for school accountability, and also asked about policies related to school choice and personnel.

Last year, by contrast, in the Education Next poll, 63 percent of respondents supported the common core, and 7 percent opposed it. So opposition to the standards remains relatively low in 2013 among the general public, according to the poll, but it’s definitely on the rise, and in fact it nearly doubled from 2012. (The poll was conducted by KnowledgeWorks administered “under the auspices” of the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance.)

“The growth in opposition coincides with a decline among those taking a neutral position, which may be due to changes in the survey design discussed above, Paul Peterson, the director of the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance, and Michael Henderson write on Education Next‘s website, referring to the placement of the “neutral” option for respondents and how it caused a decline in the number of people taking a neutral position on almost every issue. “It’s notable, however, that the shift was almost entirely toward the opposition.”

And in 2012, a greater share of teachers (16 percent) opposed the core at least to some extent.

But what about the wording of the question I mentioned earlier? The question is introduced by stating “As you may know, all states are currently deciding whether or not to adopt the Common Core standards in reading and math...” and goes on to ask respondents if they support or oppose the common core. The question’s wording seems odd: States decided to adopt or not to adopt the standards several years ago, and 2010 was the watermark year for common-core adoption. Since that time, a few states have mulled whether to drop the standards after adopting them, but that seems like a different action than deciding whether to adopt.

The 2013 poll is the seventh time it’s been administered, and the same wording I discussed above is also in the 2012 survey. In 2011, the common core doesn’t seem to be explicitly mentioned, but it did ask whether state governments should “adopt the same set of educational standards” and give the same tests. To that question, 72 percent of all respondents favored “one test and standard for all students.”

I contacted Education Next to explain the wording of the question. The response I got was that this part of the question was ultimately a “minor wording” issue that didn’t significantly impact poll results, and that most people consider adopting the curriculum and testing related to the common core the actual adoption process, not the votes by state boards of education to adopt the standards. “That is an ongoing process so we preferred to use the present tense rather than the past tense,” Peterson and Henderson, through a spokeswoman, stated in an email.

Common core opponent Neal McCluskey at the Cato Institute, however, said the poll results were merely the work of push-polling by Education Next, and that many remain ignorant about the standards themselves.

“And the fact is the Core does not hold anyone accountable for performance,” McCluskey wrote in a piece for Cato, referring to the survey’s categorization of common core under accountability. “That would be the role of tests coupled with sanctions, not the Core itself. Core supporters love to bash opponents for attributing to the Core things that do not directly come from it-data mining, squeezing out literature-but seem to have no trouble wrongly attributing positive things directly to it.”

UPDATE: My colleague Lesli Maxwell has written about additional new polling on the common core from Phi Delta Kappa and Gallup, in which most respondents said they had not even heard of the common standards. Check out her piece for other interesting public-opinion details.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.