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PDK/Gallup Poll Finds Rising Awareness, Majority Opposition to Common Core

By Lauren Camera — August 20, 2014 4 min read
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While more people know what the Common Core State Standards are than last year, a majority of them oppose the standards, according to the 46th edition of the PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

Overall, the wide-ranging survey found, 81 percent of those polled said they had heard about the common standards, compared with 38 percent last year. However, 60 percent oppose the standards, generally because they believe the standards will limit the flexibility that teachers have to teach what they think is best. Last year’s poll did not specifically ask respondents whether or not they supported the standards.

The poll also highlighted a partisan split in opinion on the common core: 76 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents said they oppose the standards. Democrats were the only category of respondents polled in which a majority said they support the standards, 53 percent in favor compared to 38 percent opposed.

A majority of Republicans, public school parents, and independents also agreed that the common core is not challenging enough, despite the fact that many education analysts have found them to be more rigorous than most previous state standards (with the exception of Massachusetts and California).

The poll findings are based on telephone interviews conducted in May and June with a national sample of 1,001 American adults, including a sub-sample of parents. Other education issues covered in the PDK/Gallup poll include testing, school choice, and international rankings.

No Surprise on Common Core

“Given the increased media coverage this year, we were not surprised that an overwhelming majority of Americans have heard about the Common Core State Standards, but we were surprised by the level of opposition,” William Bushaw, CEO of PDK International and co-director of the poll, said on a call with press Tuesday. “Supporters of the standards, and education in particular, face a growing challenge in explaining why they believe the standards are best in practice.”

Terry Holliday, state school chief in Kentucky, who was also on the call, said the level of opposition doesn’t surprise him.

“It’s pretty apparent that common core has become a polarizing term,” Holliday said, placing a large chunk of the blame on what he called biased media outlets and on the speed with which the standards have been adopted.

Holliday also said the rush by states to implement requirements linked to waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act “connected the common core with a federal overreach,” which didn’t help. “And the rush to implement the standards has led to inadequate support for teachers, inadequate communication with our public, and led to a major pushback from our teachers who [are skeptical] of connecting the common core to teacher development,” he said.

Holliday, the president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, has been a big proponent of the common-core standards, and Kentucky was the first state to adopt and implement them. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia are in the process of putting them into effect.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten echoed both Holliday’s sentiments and that of the poll respondents who said the common-core standards tie the hands of teachers.

“These standards must be guides, not straightjackets, and they must be decoupled from testing,” Weingarten said in a prepared statement. “Parents, students, and teachers have to be given the time, curriculum, resources, and support to make the transition work.”

The common core is turning out to be a popular polling subject ahead of the midterm elections. On Tuesday, Education Next, a journal from Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, published a poll with a series of similar findings about the standards.

Opinion Landscape

Among the findings on other topics in the PDK/Gallup poll:

  • 68 percent of those polled were skeptical that standardized tests help teachers evaluate their students, but they support using them to evaluate student achievement or to guide decisions about student placement, particularly in the case of awarding college credit for Advanced Placement exams.
  • 27 percent gave President Barack Obama an A or B and 27 percent gave him an F for his performance in support of public schools, his poorest performance overall since being elected president.
  • A lack of financial support was named as the top challenge facing public schools by 32 percent in response to an open-ended question, the only problem to draw a double-digit response.
  • Sizable proportions of Republicans (68 percent), Democrats (45 percent), independents (55 percent) and public school parents (60 percent) agree that local school boards should have the greatest influence in deciding what is taught in the public schools, as opposed to the federal or state governments.
  • A majority of Republicans (73 percent), Democrats (55 percent), independents (60 percent) and public school parents (55 percent) favor the idea of charter schools.
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