Common Core Brand Taints Opinion on Standards: 2016 Findings and 10-Year Trends from the EdNext Poll

By Peterson, Paul E.; Henderson, Michael B. et al. | Education Next, Winter 2017 | Go to article overview

Common Core Brand Taints Opinion on Standards: 2016 Findings and 10-Year Trends from the EdNext Poll


Peterson, Paul E., Henderson, Michael B., West, Martin R., Barrows, Samuel, Education Next


THE YEAR 2016 MARKS THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY of the Education Next poll on K-12 education policy, offering us the opportunity to take a retrospective look at public opinion on this vital topic. In 8 of the past 10 years, we have also surveyed teachers on the subject and have seen some interesting differences between the thinking of these educators and the public at large. And this year, given that public opinion on many national issues is riven by partisan disparities, we compare and contrast the views of Republicans and Democrats.

On many topics, we find that opinion has remained consistent over the past 10 years. We see only slight changes in people's views on the quality of the nation's schools, for instance, or on federally mandated testing, charter schools, tax credits to support private school choice, merit pay for teachers, or the effects of teachers unions. But on other issues, opinions have changed significantly. Support for the Common Core State Standards has fallen to a new low in 2016. So has public backing for school vouchers--both those limited to low-income families and those made available to all families. Support for teacher tenure has declined, but approval for teacher salary hikes has climbed to levels not seen since the U.S. recession of 2008 among respondents who are not told current salary levels. Also, people think better of their local public schools in 2016 than they did in 2007.

On numerous issues, a partisan divide persists. From Common Core and charter schools to merit pay and teacher tenure, from school spending and teacher salaries to union impact on schools, the opinions of Democrats differ in predictable ways from those held by Republicans. But the partisan differences do not always follow the patterns that political leaders might expect. Surprisingly, school vouchers targeted toward low-income families command greater backing among Democrats than Republicans. The same is true for tax credits for donations to fund scholarships for students from low-income families who attend private school. Even universal vouchers for all students garner greater support among Democrats than Republicans.

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Other results from the 2016 survey are no less intriguing. We shall see, for example, that members of the public, on average, think that 15% of all teachers at their local schools are performing at an unsatisfactory level. What's more, teachers themselves, on average, think that 10% of their colleagues are unsatisfactory. People also remain adamantly opposed to policies that mandate equal suspension and expulsion rates across racial lines, despite ongoing efforts by the Obama administration to move public education in this direction. All this, and more, is spelled out in the following discussion and in two interactive graphics at educationnext.org.

Common Core, Accountability, and Testing

Public thinking on these issues is complex. On one hand, Americans continue to support state and federal policies that require schools to assess student progress toward meeting state-designated performance standards. On the other, they are steadily turning against the most prominent initiative to do just that--the Common Core State Standards.

Common Core. For several years EdNext has gauged public support for Common Core by asking the following 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?

In 2012, the first year EdNext inquired about Common Core, 90% of those who took one side or the other said they favored the standards. But as shown in Figure la, it fell to just 50% in 2016. Republicans have made the largest shift. …

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