Contorted Common Core Polls

Back to November 2015 Ed Reporter

Contorted Common Core Polls

It’s not surprising that teachers, parents, and citizens are confused about Common Core standards. Campaigns that offer biased claims or slanted information have been sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the copyright owners of the Common Core standards, by Pearson Education, the Gates Foundation, and even Chambers of Commerce. Some of the biased information comes in the form of polls.

Common-Core-101There’s an old saying that statistics can be manipulated to provide evidence for whatever side of an issue one wants to prove. Polls fall in the same category, offering statistics that are influenced by the way questions are asked.

A recent Education Next poll found that 49% of Americans support Common Core standards, while in the same timeframe a PDK/Gallup poll found that only 24% support Common Core. Obviously one or both of these these polls must be wrong.

The Education Next poll has shown decreased support for Common Core ever since 2012. Between 2014 and 2015, those who oppose the standards increased by 9 percentage points from 26% to 35% who are now against the standards.

Flawed Poll Questions

A third poll gives insight into how there can be such discrepancies and major errors that occur when an effort is made to gauge what people believe. While media outlets portrayed the storyline that “the public remains confused about the Common Core” and decried “disinformation” as the culprit, the poll itself was flawed.

On September 8, 2015, the Hechinger Report ran an article titled, “Think you know a lot about Common Core? A new poll finds you’re probably wrong.” The PACE/USC poll they used found that 52% of Californians support Common Core. The Hechinger Report is “an independent nonprofit, nonpartisan organization” based at the Teachers College of Columbia University.

This survey of 2,411 California citizens who are registered to vote shows that, in some cases, those surveyed may actually know more about Common Core than those who were conducting the poll.

In response to a question about whether Common Core is only in math and English language arts, 52% of those who said they were quite familiar with Common Core responded that was wrong. While this was counted as an incorrect response, it is a correct response. Common Core is integrated into social studies, history, science, and other courses. Common Core standards directly address what should be read by students in history and science classes.

Another poll question asked whether states are allowed to add content to Common Core. Among those who said they were quite familiar with Common Core, 35% responded that adding content was not allowed. Although that was counted as a wrong answer, the fact is that the Common Core standards are copyrighted (by the NGA and CCSSO) and supposed to be used exactly as they are. There is an allowance for up to 15% of additional content. So, those who answered that states aren’t allowed to change content were at least partially right. If copyrighted material can only be enhanced by a maximum of 15% of additional material, that is not a substantial alteration. The 20% who responded that standards could be altered, which was counted as a correct answer, were closer to wrong.

Perhaps the most correct response to this question among the groups of respondents was the 56% of voters who answered that they were “unsure.” Being unsure could mean they knew about the copyright and they knew about the 15% rule. yet the possible responses offered by the poll gave no way to give a correct answer.

While critics of respondents’ ability to inform themselves, including the Hechinger Report article, elicited scorn that only 30% knew the truth, it was actually those asking the question who were most mistaken.

The questions for the poll were devised by a research center that analyzes California education, called PACE, in conjunction with the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.

This brings up a critical issue with an education system obsessed with using test questions as the measure of student knowledge. The most knowledgeable students may give a “wrong” answer when the information they possess is greater than that allowed for in the scope of the question.

A Useless Poll

American Principles in Action senior fellow Jane Robbins explains that “the phrasing of poll questions can substantially affect the response.” (, 5-6-15)

Robbins says that lack of transparency about poll questions renders many polls about Common Core useless. An individual who is asked if they “favor Common Core” is more likely to answer in the affirmative when the question is preceded by a description like “rigorous standards designed to improve your child’s academic performance.” Few would be against “rigor” or “better performance.” So when pollsters don’t provide actual polling questions, the results of the poll are dubious.

Robbins found some surprises when she analyzed a May of 2015, NBC poll. The poll claimed 50% of parents favor Common Core, but the actual questions asked were never provided. She says, “This lack of transparency apparently violates American Association of Public Opinion Research standards, which require release of the entire questionnaire along with the research methodology.”

As Robbins explains, the lack of transparency is “especially problematic given that the poll results are being used for political purposes.” Common Core has become a hot political topic and some candidates and current legislators might change their opinions and actions depending on what they are told the public believes about the standards. Busy parents who lack the time to do their own research could also also be influenced by how many other parents approve of the Common Core scheme.

The most shocking thing Robbins found out about the NBC poll is that it was actually done in conjunction with Pearson Education, “the mega-publisher that has been in bed with the Common Core developers from the beginning of the initiative and is poised to make millions (at least) from this educational transformation in curriculum and assessments.”

The final piece of the puzzle renders this particular poll nearly useless. Robbins says, “NBC’s Education Nation, which produced the report along with Pearson, has received over $4.35 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — the primary financier of the Common Core standards.” Her final analysis of the NBC poll is:

What we have, then, is an opaque report based on undisclosed questions funded by organizations that have a tremendous stake in the success of Common Core.

The lessons learned from Common Core polls is that the more parents understand about the standards, the less likely they are to support them. No matter what tricks interested parties may use in order to sell Common Core, the truth will eventually be known and hopefully the scheme will be ditched.