Reading & Literacy

Public Poll Finds Divided Views of Common Standards

By Catherine Gewertz — August 22, 2012 3 min read
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State schools chiefs or boards of education in all but four states have adopted the common standards. But if a new national poll out today is any indication, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is flag-waving confidence at the John Q. Public level that the standards will be a potent force for good in our schools.

The annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of attitudes toward public education finds that only half of those queried think the Common Core State Standards would improve the quality of education in their communities. Four in 10 said the standards would have no effect. Eight percent said they would make things worse, and 2 percent didn’t know.

That’s not exactly a portrait of ringing optimism. It could also be, of course, that these folks just don’t know much about the standards. Nowhere in the poll report is there a sign that pollsters asked respondents whether they knew, or what they knew, about the standards.

Interestingly, too, the common-core issue showed partisan leanings. Republicans and Independents were more pessimistic about the standards’ ability to improve education than were Democrats.

Other sections of the poll results show a disconnect regarding a key underlying rationale for the common core. Advocates have argued that it would boost national competitiveness, but large swaths of the public don’t seem to buy that line. Thirty-seven percent said the standards would actually make American education less competitive, and another 7 percent said they’d have no effect. Fifty-three percent of the respondents said the standards would boost competitiveness, and 4 percent don’t know.

Respondents were more unified when asked whether the common standards would improve “consistency” in the quality of schooling among states and districts. Three quarters said they would.

Americans don’t seem to be waving a flag, though, for another of the key assumptions underlying the common core: that students are seriously lagging in college and career readiness.

Respondents were clear in agreeing, quite strongly, that high school dropouts don’t stand much of a chance of getting good jobs. But they were more mixed when asked to size up the work or college readiness of students who earned high school diplomas. It’s an interesting temperature-taking of how well the public thinks schools are doing getting kids ready for jobs or for higher education.

Only 18 percent, for instance, agreed strongly or moderately strongly that high school graduates are ready for the world of work. Four in 10 disagreed, strongly or moderately strongly, that such students are work-ready. But 38 percent rated themselves somewhere in the middle on that question (3s on a scale of 1 to 5).

A similar pattern held true when respondents were asked if high school graduates were ready for college. One-third agreed, strongly or moderately strongly, that they were ready for higher learning. About one-quarter disagreed, and 43 percent were in the middle (3s on a 5-point scale).

It’s college completion that really seemed to make the difference for these respondents. Only 29 percent were in the middle on this one; 54 percent agreed strongly or moderately that college grads were ready for work.

So what do we have here? A respondent group that tilts heavily toward thinking that high school graduates are not ready for work, but not so heavily toward questioning their college readiness.

How will this play out when Americans absorb what the common core means for their children? Will they support the heavy lifting ahead for schools and students if they don’t buy passionately into the need for higher levels of college readiness?

For more slices of Americans’ attitudes toward public education, especially with regard to the 2012 presidential campaign, see my colleague Alyson Klein’s story on the poll.

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