Could False Beliefs About the Common Core Bolster Support for the Standards?

By Andrew Ujifusa — February 24, 2015 3 min read
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A new poll about the Common Core State Standards shows that a plurality of those surveyed don’t have an opinion about the standards, followed closely by the share of those who disapprove of the common core. But the Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released last week reveals something else that may seem counterintuitive: the possibility that incorrect beliefs about the standards could actually increase support for them among some.

Some critics of the standards, largely if not exclusively on the conservative side of the spectrum, have long linked various controversial curriculum topics and other issues to the standards. Examples of this are allegations that the standards promote certain forms of sex education and advocate the scientific concepts of global warming and evolution—even though the common core does not deal with those topics. Back in 2013, I wrote about how common-core opponents believed, incorrectly, that the standards were linked to the use of facial-recognition technology that measured (among other things) students’ “smile intensity.”

Common-core supporters bemoan these stories, saying that Republican politicians who previously supported the standards have waffled because of such inaccurate attacks linked to conservative-base voters.

Why am I bringing all this up? The “PublicMind” poll from Fairleigh Dickinson attempts to link false beliefs about the standards to support and opposition to them. Keep in mind that the survey of 964 adults last December revealed that, overall, 17 said they approve of the standards, 40 percent said they disapprove, and 42 percent said they didn’t know. Among Democrats, those splits were 27 percent approve, 32 percent disapprove, 41 percent don’t know; for Republicans, the splits were 9 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove, and 42 percent don’t know. (The poll’s margin of error is 3 percentage points.)

The Fairleigh Dickinson poll then asked respondents whether or not they believed the standards dealt with sex education, global warming, and evolution (called “controversial topics” in the poll). The survey noted how many times an individual said he or she held one of these three false beliefs about the common core, and then highlighted that person’s party affiliation. The survey results are below:

Among Republicans, disapproval of the standards by those who held all three false beliefs (54 percent) was 20 percentage points higher than for those Republicans who held no false beliefs about the “controversial topics.” That’s part of the basis for the poll’s main finding about the power that misperceptions have over people’s views of the common core, as the poll’s director, Dan Cassino, pointed out:

But look at the numbers for Democrats: 33 percent of those who hold all three false beliefs approved of the standards, while just 21 percent holding none of those beliefs said they approved.

So why might Democrats support the common core at a greater rate if they hold more false beliefs about it? Cassino gave me this answer: While these “false beliefs” about the common core may originally emanate from conservatives, they’ve gained enough traction in the public sphere that some Democrats have also begun holding these false beilefs. But Democrats, Cassino said, would in many cases approve of topics like evolution and global warming being taught in classrooms through the common core, even though the common core doesn’t touch those isssues.

In other words, the poll results suggests that off-base right-wing attacks have bolstered off-base left-wing approval for the common core.

I asked Cassino why the survey results, beyond the general approval-disapproval ratings, should concern common-core supporters. He responded by pointing out that the poll also asked whether respondents approved of the federal government setting educational standards. Among the 964 adults, 40 percent said they approved of such federal action, more than double the approval rate for the common core. That statistic, he said, also shows how unpopular the standards are, especially since the common core has been attacked for its links to Washington, despite its creation by the states.

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