• Washington Post
Saturday, February 21, 2015 2:00am

WASHINGTON — Many Americans are confused about the Common Core State Standards, according to a new poll that finds widespread misperceptions that the academic standards, which cover only math and reading, extend to topics such as sex education, evolution, global warming and the American Revolution.

A 55 percent majority said the Common Core covers at least two subjects that it does not actually cover, according to the survey that Fairleigh Dickinson University conducted and funded. Misperceptions were widespread, including among both supporters and opponents of the program and peaking among those who say they are paying the most attention to the standards.

The Common Core is a set of guidelines that describe what children should learn and be able to do in math and reading from kindergarten through 12th grade. They began as a bipartisan, state-led effort and do not contain classroom curricula: States and school districts decide how to teach the skills and knowledge that the Common Core describes.

The poll findings show that advocates for the Common Core face a major public relations challenge as they seek to bolster support for the national academic standards, which have been adopted in more than 40 states but have become a target for some conservatives and many parents across the country.

"People are receiving bad information," said Blair Mann, a spokeswoman for the Collaborative for Student Success, a pro-Common Core group that is funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the new standards. "There are a million different Web sites that you can go to that have the 'truth' about the Common Core that are just perpetuating these myths."

Mann blamed politicians such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, both Republicans with presidential aspirations, for spreading misinformation for political gain.

Paul's political action committee sent a fundraising email last month criticizing the standards as "anti-American propaganda, revisionist history that ignores the faith of our Founders." Jindal also suggested in a recent speech about the Common Core that the standards address U.S. history lessons.

"What happens when American history is not the American history that you and I learned about, but rather it becomes a history of grievances, of victimhood?" Jindal said.

Asked to explain, Shannon Bates Dirmann, a spokeswoman for Jindal said: "Governor Jindal wasn't talking about current curriculum, but what type of curriculum to expect if the federal government continues to control what our children learn from Washington. President Barack Obama and bureaucrats in D.C. have proven over the last several years that they do not believe in American exceptionalism, and if they continue to garner control over K-12 education that view could be passed to our children."

Paul has said he is a proponent of state and local control when it comes to educational standards.

"Common Core is a prime example of federal overreach into academic standards which have been traditionally set by the states and localities," said Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Paul. "As educators, parents and other experts are finding out, the standards of Common Core are just the tip of the iceberg in a much larger federal education agenda. It would be dishonest to say that the Common Core State Standards do not inform curricula, textbooks, and assessments. A distorted and problematic view of American history is evident in Common Core aligned textbooks and the readings it recommends and omits."

The issue could play a role in the upcoming 2016 presidential primaries, separating candidates like Jindal, Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who recently changed from supporting the Core to saying he has "grave concerns" about it — from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a longtime advocate for the Core who has maintained his support for it.

Previous polls have found mixed support for the standards, with wide-ranging results depending on question wording. In this poll, which described it simply as the "new Common Core Standards initiative," 17 percent approved while 40 percent disapproved.

A significant portion of respondents — 42 percent — offered no opinion. The wide uncertainty is unsurprising for an issue that large swaths of the public, not having children in school, has ignored. Just more than half of respondents said they've heard "just a little" or "nothing at all."

But misperceptions were more common among those who said they were paying more attention. Sixty percent of those who have heard "a lot" about Common Core incorrectly said that the standards cover at least two of the four subjects that it does not cover. Among those who report having heard nothing about the program, only 45 percent said Common Core includes at least two such programs.

Forty-four percent of all respondents incorrectly said that the standards address sex education, and about the same share said that the standards include teachings on evolution, global warming, and the American Revolution.

Fewer than one in five respondents correctly said that any of the items were not included in the Common Core.

The poll found similar levels of confusion about Common Core's content among Democrats and Republicans, supporters and opponents of the program and among people of different education levels.

No matter their level of misperceptions, more people disapprove of Common Core than approve. And even among those who have the most misperceptions, disapproval is not especially steep.

For instance, among poll respondents who incorrectly thought the standards include all four subjects tested in the poll, 36 percent disapproved of the standards, compared to 24 percent who approved.

But the impact of Common Core confusion on the program's popularity differed across political groups. Republicans who incorrectly believed Common Core covers teaching on evolution, sex education and global warming were more apt to disapprove of the program. But among Democrats and independents, support did not grow or fall with greater levels of knowledge.

The Fairleigh Dickinson Public Mind poll was conducted December 8-15 by live interviewers among a random national sample of 964 adults reached on conventional and cellular phones. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points, and is higher for results among subgroups.

Poll finds widespread misperceptions about the Common Core standards 02/21/15 [Last modified: Saturday, February 21, 2015 1:59am] 
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Gov. Rick Scott has all but ignored the state’s constitutional duty to provide uniform, high-quality and free public schools. The governor’s Board of Education has pandered to the tea party’s misinformation campaign on Common Core State Standards, and it has set the stage for a potentially disastrous standardized testing change this spring. This is not the work of a governor engaged in enhancing the state’s investment in children. Scott has done far more to undermine public education than to support it.

As he campaigns for re-election, Gov. Rick Scott portrays himself as a champion of public education who has increased spending, befriended teachers and ensured Florida's schoolchildren will be better prepared for to enter college or the job market. His record is at odds with his rhetoric. In 16 years since Republicans took over the Governor's Mansion and began pushing major education policy changes, no governor has been so coldly calculating and cynical about what happens to Florida's traditional public schools.

From his first year backing steep budget cuts and nonsensical teacher assessments to his repeated favoring of private interests, Scott has all but ignored the state's constitutional duty to provide uniform, high-quality and free public schools. The state has its fourth education commissioner in four years. The governor's Board of Education has pandered to the tea party's misinformation campaign on the Common Core State Standards, and it has set the stage for a potentially disastrous standardized testing change this spring. This is not the work of a governor engaged in enhancing the state's investment in children but of a former CEO who treats education like an expense line to be managed and squeezed.

In four years, Scott has done far more to undermine public education than to support it.

Budget cuts

A month after taking office, Scott unveiled a proposed state budget that called for cutting school spending by 10 percent, or $700 per student. Even the Republican-led Legislature balked before agreeing to a still-staggering $1.3 billion in cuts for 2011-12 — or $540 per student. Florida's public schools and their teachers have been struggling to regain their footing ever since.

The current school year is the first in which the state will spend more per student than when Scott took office, but it is still nearly $200 less than the high of 2007-08. More sobering, when adjusted for inflation schools now have roughly $356 less per student than in Gov. Charlie Crist's last year in office.

Scott notes a spending increase this year for the state's voluntary prekindergarten program — the first increase in his tenure. But spending of $2,383 per student is $17 less per student than the program received in its first year, 2005-06. When adjusted for inflation, the gap grows to about $450 per student.


Scott has approved changes to Florida's accountability system that have managed to breed further distrust and loathing from parents and educators. Months into his job, he approved a deeply flawed and unfair teacher evaluation system that Crist had vetoed a year earlier because it relied too heavily on standardized tests and ultimately judged many teachers on the performance of students they had never taught. Lawmakers have tweaked the law — which also eliminated school districts' ability to grant tenure to new hires — but the districts are still grappling with implementing "value-added models" in any meaningful way even as these assessments play a huge role in whether new teachers are retained or veterans receive merit pay. That's on top of the continuous changes in how the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test figures in school grades, making the ratings nearly meaningless.

Common Core

When the furor erupted a year ago over the state's years-old transition to Common Core State Standards, Scott rashly abandoned the state's investment in a multistate, nonprofit testing concern that was writing Common Core assessments to replace the FCAT. Then the state Department of Education — whose administration of standardized testing has been highly problematic throughout Scott's tenure — handed the test-writing over to a firm that won't do extensive field testing in Florida before students take the exams this spring. Transitions are always tough, but Scott has only made it harder by irresponsibly pushing forward without regard to the consequences.

Special interests

Never mind that the vast majority of Florida's children attend traditional public schools. During four years in office, Scott's focus has been on helping privately run schools — from those private schools that take state vouchers to publicly financed charter schools — boost enrollment at the expense of public schools. He has fully enabled Tallahassee's penchant for regulating and assessing every aspect of public schools but failed to insist on the same accountability when taxpayers pay the bills at privately run schools. He signed laws making it harder for school boards to oversee charter schools and easier for the state's lightly regulated voucher program to expand without meaningful assessments of whether those students are learning. Three times Scott signed budgets giving charter schools that serve a fraction of Florida's students access to millions in construction money while not providing a dime for construction for 67 public school districts.


From the start, Scott's lack of interest in education has translated into four years of short-term crises and no long-term planning. Well-regarded Education Commissioner Eric Smith, a holdover from the Crist administration, was frozen out and left after three months. His successor, former Virginia Education Secretary Gerald Robinson, lasted a year before the state had yet another failure in administering standardized tests. Former Indiana Education Commissioner Tony Bennett was gone in six months after a controversy about a charter school grade in his previous job. Scott's current education commissioner, veteran bureaucrat Pam Stewart, got the job when the Board of Education skipped a national search. Scott finally appeared to engage in 2013, calling for $2,500 teacher raises and debit cards for teachers to buy supplies, but neither worked out as promised and Scott once again looked clueless about public schools.

A few months later, as Common Core came under attack, Scott called a summit of the state's education leaders at St. Petersburg College. Then he failed to show up.