b yFrederick M. Hess
- The Common Core State Standards have gotten a lot of attention this fall, but many claims on what Americans think of the Common Core have been informed by agenda-driven polls and analysis.
- Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup’s and Education Next’s national, annual polls of attitudes toward education are the only two credible, independent polls that offer a clear take on the evolution of public sentiment on the Common Core.
- Three things are known about public opinion on the Common Core: (1) support remains positive but is trending downward; (2) support depends enormously on how polling questions are phrased; and (3) conservative support has melted away, but Democratic support has also steadily fallen.
There has been much ado about the Common Core State Standards this fall, especially after states released results on the new standards-based tests, but many of the claims on what Americans think of the Common Core have been informed by push polls and agenda-driven analysis. A Washington Post headline earlier this year reflected the media’s general conclusion: “Conservatives hate Common Core. The rest of America? Who knows.”
In truth, we know three important things about public opinion on the Common Core. We can say confidently that the Common Core still generally enjoys majority support, that it has seen a dramatic erosion in its level of support, and that the degrees of support one finds depend enormously on how polling questions are phrased. The first two conclusions, clearly evident in the only valid and reliable polling on the Common Core, often get lost because so much of the reported polling on the Common Core is more about pushing an agenda than about actually understanding what the public thinks.
For instance, Children Now conducted a poll through EMC Research that found that 93 percent of respondents think “promoting critical thinking and proactive problem-solving skills” is important. From that, Children Now concluded that Californians were “supportive of the reforms that Common Core brings.”
Similarly, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released poll findings late this summer, reporting that “90 percent of voters agree that we should raise our nation’s academic standards so that the United States can be more competitive with other countries.” Because of this, CAP asserted that the Common Core was more popular than kittens—which polled less favorably—and even went so far as to say that Common Core blowback was because “opponents of the Common Core have embarked on misinformation campaigns in order to create widespread confusion among voters or to score political points.”
To accurately measure the shifting opinion on the Common Core, we should look to two national, annual polls of attitudes toward education: one by Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup (PDK/Gallup) and the other by Education Next. Today, these are the only credible, independent numbers providing a year-over-year measure of national sentiment and offering a clear take on the evolution of public sentiment on the Common Core. Both organizations released their 2015 surveys in early fall, timed to coincide with the start of the 2015–16 school year. Between 2010 and 2015, each survey featured two Common Core questions that were asked more than once.