Public Support for Common Core Falls to New Low, Poll Shows

Published October 12, 2016

Public support for school reform remains high and support for the Common Core State Standards continues to drop, a new public opinion poll shows.

The survey, titled “Ten-Year Trends in Public Opinion from the EdNext Poll,” conducted by Education Next, a journal published by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, found, “[T]he demise of school reform has been greatly exaggerated.”

“Public support remains as high as ever for federally mandated testing, charter schools, tax credits to support private school choice, merit pay for teachers, and teacher tenure reform,” the report states. “However, backing for the Common Core State Standards and school vouchers fell to new lows in 2016.”

The poll results, released in August, show public support for Common Core has dropped from nearly 90 percent in 2012 to 50 percent in 2016.

“Overall public support for charters has remained quite stable since 2013,” the poll found. “In 2016 the share favoring charters is 65 percent, roughly the same as in the past four years.”

The survey also found public support for targeted and universal school vouchers has declined, and support for targeted school vouchers, those designed for a specific demographic such as low-income students, is down from 55 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2016. Public support for universal school vouchers, open to every child, declined from 56 percent two years ago to 50 percent in 2016. 

Negative Common Core Brand

The poll reports Education Next has for years “studied public response to the name ‘Common Core’ as distinct from opinion about the general concept of uniform state standards.” To accomplish this, researchers asked one group about uniform state standards and other group about the Common Core standards.

“Differences in the responses to the two questions reveal that the Common Core ‘brand’ holds a negative connotation for many people: every year, support for using the same standards in general is higher than it is for Common Core in particular,” the survey states.

Study coauthor Paul E. Peterson, a professor of government at Harvard University and
senior editor of Education Next, says the disparity in polling results between Common Core and unnamed national standards is caused by the negative press surrounding Common Core.

“We’ve seen some slight drop when Common Core is not mentioned, but more of a slip instead of a fall,” Peterson said. “There is an objection to national standards, but the Common Core name has been energetically criticized.”

Greg Forster, a senior fellow at EdChoice, formerly the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, says parents are conflicted about standards and spending.

“They like all the individual government programs that spend money on things that sound good, but when they see the total result, they hate big government and high taxes,” Forster said.  “Similarly, people like the idea of high standards, but we have seen over and over that every time there is a concrete effort to implement them at the federal level, people don’t like the result. It’s inconsistent, but that’s democracy for you.”

‘Voucher Brand Has Been Tainted’

Peterson says the decline in public support for school vouchers is also the result of negative branding.

“The voucher brand has been tainted for the public, same as Common Core,” Peterson said.

Forster says reports of support for school choice fluctuating are partly a result of pollsters’ word choices, to which readers can be highly sensitive.

“A while back, EdChoice commissioned a survey to test the Phi Delta Kappa question on private choice because we thought their wording was biased against choice,” Forster said. “We found that a minor change in the wording produced a 20-point swing in the results, which is enormous.”  

Teacher Tenure ‘Vulnerable’

The poll found when asked about support for “giving tenure to teachers,” 31 percent of the public expressed a favorable view in 2016, “a figure that has declined by 10 percentage points since 2013.”

Peterson says recent challenges to the legality of tenure policies have shaken public support for the policy.

“The percentage opposed to teacher tenure increased 10 [percentage] points, probably because of the Vergara case in California, which [initially] found teacher tenure illegal,” Peterson said.  “It makes the policy vulnerable. If someone wanted to cut teacher tenure, the public would support that.”

Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Internet Info:

Paul E. Peterson, et al., “Ten-Year Trends in Public Opinion from the EdNext Poll,” Education Next, Winter 2017: