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While protests against the Common Core have sprung up in communities as diverse as New York City, St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana and Portland, Oregon, a new poll suggests that the protestors themselves may be less diverse: White parents tend to dislike the standards, while the majority of black and Hispanic parents approve of Common Core.
The NBC News State of Parenting Poll, which was sponsored by Pearson, a publisher of Common Core textbooks and tests, found that 50 percent of parents surveyed approved of the Common Core and 38 percent opposed the standards, which are grade level expectations in math and English in place in more than 40 states. But the plurality of white parents – 49 percent – opposed the standards, while 73 percent of Hispanic parents and 56 percent of black parents favored the Common Core.
Rick Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, thinks some of this can be explained by partisan politics.
The Obama administration used some federal education funding to incentivize states to adopt college and career ready standards and tests. Since then many on the right have assailed the standards as an example of Obama administration overreach into areas usually left up to the states.
“It has become highly politicized. It’s anathema on the right and we know that Tea Party conservatives are disproportionally white and we know that the Democratic coalition is heavily black and Hispanic,” said Hess. “So if responders are answering with an eye to their political radar and whom they tend to trust that might lead to big gaps like these.”
The poll did indeed find big differences among Republicans and Democrats. While 61 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents supported the standards, only 26 percent of Republicans did.
Hess says this interpretation, however, doesn’t fully explain the big racial differences.
“If it was purely partisan, you would expect blacks to be more supportive than Latinos,” added Hess. ”And a lot of these white families are liberals that feel Common Core is too focused on reading and math and is pushing things like art and music out.”
The high level of support among Hispanics doesn’t surprise Leticia de la Vara, senior strategist for civic engagement at the National Council of La Raza, a national Hispanic civil rights organization that supports Common Core.
“Whether you are a recent immigrant or a sixth-generation American, education is important,” said de la Vara. “Very few things are monolithic about our community but education is one of them.”
Like many people interviewed for this story, de la Vera used the phrase “leveling the playing field,” to describe what black and Hispanic parents hoped for from the standards.
“These standards are leveling the playing field so that our kids are not relegated to lesser instruction because of the zip code that they are born into,” said de la Vara. “This is a way to make sure that schools aren’t pre-determining the abilities of our children.”
Andre Perry, dean of urban education at Davenport University and a columnist for The Hechinger Report, isn’t surprised by the poll either.
“In poll after poll, we have seen that blacks and Latinos have always desired a higher education more than whites,” said Perry, who is black. “But they haven’t received the quality of education that would give them the access to higher education. So when things like the Common Core are proposed there is hope.”
“Folks in the community might not know all the politics or the money attached to these things but they just want a better option and a better chance,” added Perry. “As long as black and brown people are receiving a substandard education, they are going to want the next, better thing.”
Perry thinks that part of the difference in support between Hispanic and black parents can be explained by the fact that black parents may be more likely to be employed by the education system, and thus have more to lose.
“Many African Americans are in positions in school districts so they have a different perspective,” said Perry. “While certainly that power is diminishing in terms of the number of teachers and school board members, I think the results of this poll reflect the difference between the level of engagement on an institutional level between black and brown people.”
Perry thinks that the even lower support among white parents is because they have yet more at stake with the new Common Core-aligned tests.
“When you see the animus among whites, it’s because a lot is at stake,” said Perry. “The one thing at stake for us is a quality education. But in some communities for the first time, jobs are at stake. Credibility is at stake. Someone is telling them what to do and they have never had that experience.”
Dao Tran, the mother of a second grader at Castle Bridge School in Upper Manhattan, has mixed feelings about the standards themselves. While she thinks her daughter’s math has improved with the Common Core, she is concerned about the emphasis on non-fiction, especially in the earlier grades.
Tran, who is Vietnamese-American, says that the opposition she sees is largely about the stakes attached to the tests aligned with the standards.
“I get why low-income families and parents of children of color would support the Common Core. It holds a promise of fairness at a time when our schools are so unequal,” said Tran. “But the problem is the tests. If all the Common Core entailed was some excellent guidelines for what kids need to know and it wasn’t tied to the high stakes of whether your school would get shutdown or teachers would lose their jobs, it wouldn’t be this controversial.”
Despite the fact that overall the poll found more parents supported the standards than opposed them, Hess says that supporters of the standards should take no solace in this poll.
“The implication here is that most white Americans are skeptical and blacks are only marginally supportive,” said Hess. “If an election turned on this issue, in many states, that would be a problem for the Common Core supporters.”
But he cautioned reading too much into any Common Core poll.
“All of these polls need to be taken with several grains of salt,” cautioned Hess. “The question of Common Core is like abortion, you can change the framing of the questions and you will get very different answers.”