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Politics & Policy

Does the Common Core Have a Branding Problem?

Students at the George Buck Elementary School in Indianapolis

Photograph by AJ Mast/AP Photo

Students at the George Buck Elementary School in Indianapolis

The Common Core State Standards, a set of educational guidelines that were initially adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia to improve the college and career readiness of high school graduates, have become increasingly controversial. A new poll by Education Next, a journal published by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution that supports the Common Core, suggests part of the problem may be the standards’ name. As the authors write, “The words ‘Common Core’ elicit greater antagonism than does the concept of common standards itself.”

According to the poll, 65 percent of the general public favored the standards in 2013, but just 53 percent do now. Meanwhile, the opposition has doubled, from 13 percent to 26 percent. (The share of people taking no position on the issue has remained essentially the same.) But when pollsters asked about support for the concept of common standards—without the Common Core label—68 percent of people were supportive. “Significantly, the pronounced partisan polarization evoked by the phrase Common Core disappears when the question does not include those seemingly toxic words,” write Michael Henderson, Paul Peterson, and Martin West, the professors who analyzed the results.

This is particularly true for conservative Republicans, the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, and anyone else who views the standards as a federal mandate, aka ObamaCore. In fact, the Common Core isn’t a national policy, though the federal Race to the Top initiative did provide encouragement and funding to states that adopted the standards. There’s also criticism of the standards, and how they’re being implemented, from teachers and parents on the other end of the political spectrum, but the authors don’t delve too deeply into those questions.

They found that the Common Core has the support of a majority of self-described “moderate” Republicans (57 percent) and a plurality of “slightly conservative” Republicans (45 percent). When it comes to conservatives, however, only 38 percent support the Common Core, and among those who call themselves extremely conservative it’s just 23 percent. Five states run by conservative governors—Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and South Carolina—have already either repealed the standards or begun reviewing them. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is fighting his own schools superintendent over them.

As for teachers, 76 percent backed the Common Core last year, but only 46 percent do now. Teacher opposition has more than tripled, from 12 percent to 40 percent. (The share of teachers without a position on the issue remains essentially unchanged.) The authors note that in 2013 teachers were more positive than the public, while today teachers are less positive. They attribute that to concern about tying scores on Common Core-aligned tests to teacher evaluations. But teachers and parents, especially in New York—among the first states to introduce the standards and new tests—have also complained that the implementation has been poor, that in some cases the standards aren’t age-appropriate, and that they may well exacerbate the achievement gap between poor and privileged communities.

The Education Next authors suggest the opposition will fade if states reassure the public “that the new standards allow local districts to make key curricular decisions.” They don’t, as some corporate branding experts might, suggest a new name for the standards, though.

Berfield is a writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York. Follow her on Twitter @susanberfield.

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