opinion

Common Core's Perception Problem

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Judging by headlines, public support for the Common Core standards appears to be waning. But that doesn’t necessarily suggest that people are against adopting a unified academic standard for American school children.

Instead it seems that there’s some Marketing 101 lessons around branding, image and perception going on, as observed by The Atlantic on two recent public polls about the Common Core standards.

In the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll, conducted during May and June 2014, 53% of the 1,000-plus respondents reported knowing “only a little” or “nothing at all” about the Common Core. Still, 60% of them oppose teachers using it to guide what they teach in the classroom.

The Education Next poll, conducted in spring 2014, dives deeper into the growing dissatisfaction over the standards. Fifty-three percent of the estimated 5,000 respondents say they support the Common Core (down from 65% in 2013) while 25% oppose it (up from 13%). More startling, though, is that the percentage of teachers who oppose the Common Core tripled in 2014 to 40%--up from 12% a year earlier.

Seems like “Common Core” has become the equivalent of chopped liver. Researchers suggest the mounting opposition may have more to do with the fact that the term has now become a "tainted brand." They write:

The words 'Common Core' elicit greater antagonism than does the concept of common standards itself...

...When the Common Core label is dropped from the question, support for the concept among the general public leaps from 53% to 68%.

The poll also found that the majority of people who said they had heard of the Common Core also believe that the federal government 1) requires all states to adopt the standards; and 2) collects test performance data of individual students. Both statements are false. A surprising number of people--including a majority of teachers surveyed--believe the second is true.

(Source: Education Next)

Some states are largely re-branding the standards in an effort to curb public opposition. The Washington Post noted that Iowa has renamed the standards to "The Iowa Core," while Florida opted for the "cheerier-sounding 'Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.'" Marketplace recently asked, “Is it time to rename the Common Core?”

"Whether it’s called 'Common Core' or 'Next Generation,' the fact is that rigorous standards are here to stay," Adam Blum, CEO of OpenEd, an online resource for Common Core-aligned materials, told EdSurge in July. "Some of the states that withdrew from the Common Core are putting out standards based on it. It's a rose by any other name."

Donning a new hat is, at best, only a short-term solution to a problem rooted in misinformation. As musician-turned-teacher-turned blogger, Bob Seay, opines in the Huffington Post, many "legitimate questions are buried beneath the noise" generated by the media echo chamber. In recent weeks, issues like sex and creationism--which have nothing to do with the math and reading standards--have been dragged into discussion.

There are many significant--and valid--criticisms over the  tests, the technology, and yes, whether companies will reap big profits. Sometimes, policymakers do bow to public pressure and take a step back to reassess the implications of Common Core implementation. Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, offered states a one-year delay from using student test scores in teacher evaluations, acknowledging that “test issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.”

But when impressionable comedians like Louis C.K. and Glenn Beck turn Common Core into entertainment and punditry, it’s easy to be swayed by their passions and opinions (to which they are entitled). Our susceptibility to catchy headlines brings to mind a brilliant April Fool’s prank played by National Public Radio; it shared on Facebook a provocatively titled article, “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?” The body of the article makes it clear that it’s a joke and specifically instructs people to refrain from commenting on the “story.” Guess what? Over 1,700 “readers” still voiced their opinion.

Informed dissent is healthy in any decision-making process, especially for something as significant as academic standards.

The irony here, of course, is that the Common Core standards for English Language Arts emphasize making evidence-based claims--something often remiss in today’s mainstream media.

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