Editorial: Common Core poll results depend on word choices

Published Aug 22, 2014 at 12:10AM

Two polls released this week appear to conflict sharply about public support for the Common Core State Standards, with one study finding 33 percent support while another reported 53 percent.

Scratch the surface, though, and it’s easy to see a difference: It’s in the way the questions were asked.

The Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll found 33 percent in favor when it asked, “Do you favor or oppose having the teachers in your community use the Common Core State Standards to guide what they teach?”

As noted by several analyses, this version hints at a well-known point of opposition to Common Core, namely the worry that it will take away teacher autonomy and limit how they teach.

The 53 percent approval came when Education Next asked this longer version: “As you may know, in the last few years states have been deciding whether or not to use the Common Core, which are standards for reading and math that are the same across the states. In the states that have these standards, they will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose the use of the Common Core standards in your state?”

This question, by making reference to states’ decision-making, counters the criticism that the standards are imposed by the federal government. Mentioning accountability touches on something the public generally favors.

Support in the Education Next poll went even higher, to 68 percent, when respondents were asked that same question without the words “Common Core.” Clearly those words have a negative association.

There’s no suggestion here of intentional effort to skew the results. But it’s a potent reminder of the power of words and the need to look below the surface of studies, surveys and their findings.

Such caution is hardly a new idea, but its importance is growing along with the flood of data in our world and the increasing effort to find and apply “best practices,” especially in education and medicine.