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Common Core 'Brand' Finally Recognized, and 6 in 10 Don't Like It

The state educational standards heralded with great acclaim in 2010 have hit on hard times. Although the Common Core State Standards have become a true "brand" recognized by 81 percent of Americans (way up from just 38 percent last year), most people don't favor the idea of teachers using them to guide what's taught. In fact, six out of 10 oppose the idea of teachers using the standards, which are currently being adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia. A solid third of Americans favor the use; and seven percent don't know or don't wish to say. As one analysis put it, the "Common Core" brand has become "toxic."

Republicans oppose the Common Core in far greater numbers (76 percent) than Democrats (38 percent); in fact, more than half of Democrats actually favor the standards.

Those results and others come out of the latest education poll conducted by PDK, a global association of education professionals, and Gallup. The poll, financed by the Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, has been conducted for the last 46 years in order to understand the opinions of the American public about K-12 education issues. Interviews were conducted in English with 1,001 adults aged 18 and older. The margin of error is about 4.6 at the 95 percent confidence level.

Among public school parents, a third favors the Common Core and nearly two-thirds oppose it. That's in sharp contrast to results earlier this year of another Gallup poll, in which three in four parents said having one set of educational standards across the county for reading, writing, and math would be a "positive" for education.

Part of the branding problem may be that most American's don't support public education initiatives "that they believe were created or promoted by federal policy makers," stated the poll's authors, Although the Common Core was developed by a consortium primarily made up of state educators, and individual schools and districts decide how to teach to the standards, those who oppose the use of the standards fear that the Common Core is "an attack on local school control" and "will limit the flexibility of the teachers in their communities to teach what they think is best."

It isn't that people believe the state standards to be too challenging for most students. In fact, more than three quarters said they were either "not challenging enough or "just about right."

"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," said William Bushaw, chief executive officer of PDK and co-director of the poll. "Supporters of the standards, and educators in particular, face a growing challenge in explaining why they believe the standards are in the best interest of students in the United States."

Americans also dislike the new assessments based on the Common Core. In fact, 54 percent don't believe that standardized tests "help teachers know what to teach." Public school parents are even more negative about the value of standardized testing with 68 percent saying they believe they are not helpful to teachers.

However, that negative sentiment doesn't run true across all kinds of standardized testing:

  • 91 percent of respondents support assessments to determine whether to grant college credit to high school students, such as advanced placement exams;
  • 80 percent support college entrance assessments, such as the SAT or ACT;
  • 78 percent support testing to determine whether a child should be promoted from one grade to the next; and
  • 78 percent support tests for determining whether a student should be awarded a high school diploma.

People in this country also think more highly of their local schools than they do of schools in the United States in general. Half said they'd give the public schools in their own communities an A or B. However, 80 percent said they'd issue a grade of C or lower to public schools in the nation as a whole.

Support for the Common Core is still strong among some education organizations. The National PTA, for example, "is confident that the standards are a significant improvement over previous state standards and an essential tool to ensure every child receives a high quality education that prepares him or her for success upon graduation from high school," said President Otha Thornton in a statement.

However, the fight is taking its toll on teachers. Survey results released this week by the non-partisan Education Next showed that support for the Common Core among teachers has eroded to 46 percent from 76 percent in 2013.

PDK's Bushaw offered two "necessary" actions for how educators and policy makers should respond to the latest poll numbers. First, he said, they need to mount a "nonpartisan communications campaign" to explain why the new standards are "essential to the nation's future and to the success of all children. Public support for the standards is declining — we need to fight for these standards since we are losing in the court of public opinion."

Second, the model by which education systems are held "accountable" need modification. "The oversimplified model based almost exclusively on standardized testing isn't working, and Americans know that. That's why it's losing public support." Standardized testing can be "one of the tools," he noted, but not the only form of evaluation. "Americans want assurance that every child has the opportunity for success and that educators and systems will be evaluated on whether we are achieving that goal. This is a much more complicated approach to accountability but it is clear that this is the only one that Americans will accept."

This year's results of the PDK/Gallup poll are here.

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