Flashback: 1989 Poll Finds American Public ‘Ready for National Curriculum’

By Catherine Gewertz — July 30, 2014 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Reading a 25-year-old story from Education Week* the other day, I was tempted to muse that everything old isn’t new again.

Here’s how the story started:

The American public would welcome the establishment of national achievement standards and a national curriculum for public schools, according to the annual Gallup Poll on education.

It went on to say that:

• 70 percent of the respondents favored requiring local schools “to conform to national achievement standards and goals";

• 77 percent endorsed the idea of testing students to determine whether they meet those standards; and

• 69 percent voiced support for the institution of a “standardized national curriculum.”

Think about it: There we were, in 1989, with America rallying for national standards and curriculum. And here we are in 2014 with stories piling up about common-core backlash and states withdrawing from the shared standards—or the common tests—under political pressure. It seemed like a different world.

Then I went digging around in the Education Week archives for more recent polls on this topic.

Only three months ago, a pair of polls of U.S. adults found substantial support for shared standards across states. One, by the University of Connecticut, showed that seven in 10 respondents favored the idea of “one set of national education standards.” Similarly, majorities said that “expectations should be the same in all states.” Another poll, by Republican strategist John McLaughlin, showed two-thirds of respondents approving of the common core. (Another question, however, produced a response divided about equally among support, opposition and uncertainty.)

A year ago, a survey by Education Next found that two-thirds of adults surveyed supported the standards at least to some extent, although the poll results also showed growing opposition. An informal survey of science teachers in 2009 showed them craving a national curriculum.

The 1989 Gallup poll that found Americans so rah-rah for common standards and curriculum reported that “a consensus appears to be building for more uniformity in public-school programs.” But it also noted that while Americans appeared to be increasingly supportive of common standards, previous polls had shown them to care deeply about local control of schools, and to be wary of federal intervention (an observation that proved prescient, to say the least).

Interestingly, too, the 1989 support for national standards drew skepticism from the country’s biggest teachers’ union. Why? Concerns about sufficient financial support to carry them out properly.

The National Education Association would “be willing to sit down and talk” with proponents of the concept, former NEA President Mary Hatwood Futrell said in our story. But she “emphasized the need for increased funds to implement such a program. ‘You can’t have uniform national standards without uniform national funding,’ ” she said.

*Thanks to Education Week librarian Holly Peele.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.