Poll: Few aware of new teaching approach
By Emma Brown
The Washington Post
Most Americans have never heard of the Common Core State Standards, the educational approach that is overhauling classroom instruction across most of the country and has triggered intensifying political and policy debate about the nation's academic benchmarks, according to a national poll scheduled to be released Wednesday.
The disconnect between policymakers and the public is among the key findings of a PDK-Gallup poll that was the 45th annual effort to measure Americans' views on key education issues.
The poll found that two in three people had not heard of the Common Core, which has been fully adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia. The new rigorous standards emphasize critical thinking and problem solving and are meant to better prepare students for success.
Of those who did recognize the term, most had major misconceptions about the standards and believed that they will have no effect or will make American students less competitive with their peers across the world.
Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, one of two groups that sponsored the Common Core initiative, said the poll highlights the need to intensify efforts to explain and build support for it.
"This is an important lens into the minds of parents across the country," Minnich said. "It does appear from this data that we're going to need to have a more detailed conversation about what these standards mean."
The survey, conducted by the Gallup polling organization and Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional society of educators, repeats many questions year after year, offering some insight into how perspectives can shift.
Support for charter schools has grown during the past decade, said Bill Bushaw, executive director of PDK International. Nearly 70 percent of Americans favor charter schools, up from less than 40 percent 11 years ago. Charters, funded by taxpayers but run independently of traditional school systems, have grown in number as they have drawn support from President Barack Obama and two of his predecessors.
Also, support for private-school vouchers hit an all-time low this year, the poll found.
As in the past, most people said they trust teachers and principals, and most felt more confident in their local schools than in U.S. public schools generally.
The PDK-Gallup survey also incorporates new questions relevant to current events. In the aftermath of the shooting massacre that killed 26 people at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary last year, people who were asked about ways to keep schools safe were about twice as likely to favor boosting mental health services than hiring security guards.
People were sharply split on closing underenrolled neighborhood schools to save money, a strategy that has made headlines recently in cities including Washington, Chicago and Philadelphia. Half of all respondents opposed such a policy; opposition was higher among those who were not white.
As lawmakers struggle to reach a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform, more than half of the poll's respondents — 55 percent — said they opposed providing free public education to children of people who are in the country illegally.
The poll also tackled the charged issue of standardized testing.
The majority of Americans believe that testing has hurt the performance of public schools or made no difference, according to the poll. And nearly 60 percent opposed requiring the use of test scores to evaluate teachers.
Those findings seem to run counter to the results of a poll released this week by AP-Norc, which found that 60 percent of parents support using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers.
The muddled picture of Americans' views on testing and teacher evaluations might stem in part from how pollsters phrase their questions or the order in which they ask them, experts said.
"There are certainly loaded terms that parents react to in different ways," said Andy Rotherham, a co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, a Washington-based nonprofit group.
The AP-Norc poll also found that a majority of parents believe that standardized tests are an effective measure of their children's performance and school quality.
Six in 10 said the amount of standardized testing was "about right."