Two new polls this week attempt to quantify the public's
feelings for the Common Core State Standards. The K-12
benchmarks in English and math were little known this time
last year. But they've since become the subject of a
high-profile political fight. Now a majority of the public
Or do they?
Poll No. 1, out today, puts support for the Core at just
33 percent. But Poll No. 2, released yesterday, puts it at
53 percent. That's a big difference.
Which one is wrong? Or can they both, somehow, be right?
Poll No. 1 is a joint effort between Gallup and Phi
Delta Kappa, or PDK. They've been doing this annual
education poll for 46 years.
In last year's poll, the Common Core barely registered:
the new kid in class that nobody knew. That's changed, says
Bill Bushaw, the CEO of PDK. "Last year, two-thirds hadn't
even heard the words together. Now 80 percent indicate that
they know about the Core."
And that new kid has an image problem. The PDK/Gallup
poll found that 60 percent of respondents oppose the Core.
Roughly half of respondents said they learned about the
Core from TV, newspapers and radio. And critics — like
commentator Glenn Beck — have used all three to wage a
public campaign against the Core standards.
Poll No. 1 found that misconceptions are, well, common
among opponents. A majority said they believe the standards
were initiated by the federal government. They worry that
the Core will result in a national curriculum and national
tests. And their biggest fear, says Bushaw, is that the
standards "would limit what teachers could teach locally."
Poll No. 2 comes from Education Next, a journal
sponsored by Harvard's Kennedy School, the Hoover
Institution at Stanford and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
While this poll found many of the same misconceptions about
the Core, it differs from the PDK/Gallup poll in a big way.
That difference stems from the way this poll asked the
central question, about whether people support or oppose the
PDK/Gallup asked it this way:
"Do you favor or oppose having the teachers in your
community use the Common Core State Standards to guide what
The result: 60 percent of respondents said they oppose,
which isn't all that surprising since the question hits on
what we know, from the poll, is opponents' greatest fear:
that the Core will somehow limit teachers.
Here's how Education Next phrased that question:
"As you may know, in the last few years states have been
deciding whether or not to use the Common Core, which are
standards for reading and math that are the same across the
states. In the states that have these standards, they will
be used to hold public schools accountable for their
performance. Do you support or oppose the use of the Common
Core standards in your state?"
See the differences? It's longer, for sure, with more
context. "States have been deciding whether or not to use
the Common Core" sends a subtle but clear message: no
federal takeover here.
Also, take a second look at this line:
"In the states that have these standards, they will be
used to hold public schools accountable for their
That idea — accountability — polls really well with
So ... was there a difference in responses to this
Education Next question and its analogue in the PDK/Gallup
poll? You bet. In the latter, support for the Core was 33
percent. In the former, with that language about state
control and accountability, support hit 53 percent.
The team at EdNext also put the same "do you support"
question to a different group of people, but without using
the words "Common Core."
Support jumped: from 53 percent to 68 percent. It's
clear: Drop those two toxic words, "Common Core," gain 15
This negative association with the name is a relatively
new phenomenon, says Paul Peterson, a professor at Harvard
and the editor-in-chief of Education Next. He says his team
posed the same two questions in the same poll two years ago,
and the words "Common Core" made little difference. A strong
majority then approved of common standards, with or without
Given these two polls and the considerable differences in
that central Common Core question, it's natural to ask: Is
one of these questions the right question?
"I've studied survey research since I was in graduate
school some 40 years ago," Peterson says, "and the first
thing you learn is that there is no right way to ask a
But can both polls be right? Can a majority of Americans
oppose and support the Common Core?
In a word: yes.
Because, when it comes to polling, a word can make all