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Common Core myths
In this Feb. 12, 2015 photo, Yamarko Brown, age 12, works on math problems as part of a trial run of a new state assessment test at Annapolis Middle School in Annapolis, Md. The new test, which is scheduled to go into use March 2, 2015, is linked to the Common Core standards, which Maryland adopted in 2010 under the federal No Child Left Behind law, and serves as criteria for students in math and reading. Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

As kids across the country return to school, the results of a new poll suggest it’s adults who need a lesson on the Common Core State Standards, a set of end-of-grade expectations in math and English adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia.

The poll – a survey of 2,411 registered California voters by PACE, a research center that analyzes California education policy, and the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California – found that the 10 percent of voters who say they know “a lot” about the Common Core were the most likely to get true or false questions about the standards wrong.

This poll adds to the body of research that suggests that years after the standards started taking root in public school classrooms around the country, the public remains confused about the Common Core. With the standards on the defensive in many states, this poll raises questions about the influence of misinformation in the debate.

Asked whether the standards only in English and math, which they are, 52 percent of those who said they knew a lot about the standards answered incorrectly, compared to 30 percent of all Californians surveyed. While the Common Core is only in math and English language arts, the English language arts standards do address what kinds of writing and reading students should be assigned in history and science classes.*

Asked whether states are allowed to add content to the Common Core, which they are, 35 percent of those who said they knew a lot about the Common Core chose false compared to 20 percent of all those surveyed – 24 percent of all voters surveyed got that question right, while 32 percent of those who said they knew a lot did. In all, 56 percent of voters were unsure.

These results show the need for more outreach around the controversial standards says Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of education at the USC Rossier School of Education.

Related: The surprising initial results from a new Common Core exam

“There’s a lot ignorance out there around many major political issues and the Common Core isn’t an outlier,” said Polikoff. “There has also been, primarily through social media, but also with news stories from different partisan outlets, a lot of purposeful misinformation.”

Common Core myths

While Polikoff doesn’t think there’s an existential threat to the Common Core, he does think the misinformation casts a negative light on the standards and that the Common Core’s proponents are not doing enough to explain its benefits.

“To my knowledge there has been no organized effort to combat all of the misinformation,” said Polikoff. “I do think the advocates could argue that lots of kids are arriving to college unprepared, or that math is math and your zip code shouldn’t drive how you learn math. There are many arguments that can be made to the public that I’m just not hearing.”

Some districts like Howard County Public Schools in Maryland have invested in programs aimed at teaching parents about the standards.

The poll found that more than one in four Californians had never heard of the Common Core and that nearly 60 percent of voters said they knew either little or nothing about the standards.

Related: Poll raises questions about the breadth of the opt-out movement

This survey comes on the heels of two national surveys released earlier this summer that found quite different levels of support for the standards. While an Education Next poll found that 49 percent of Americans support the Common Core, a PDK/Gallup poll found that 24 percent did and that a majority opposed the Common Core. The PACE/USC poll found that 52 percent of Californians support the Common Core.

Polikoff says that it isn’t surprising that the PACE/USC poll of exclusively California voters would show higher favorability ratings than national surveys since state officials decided to halt testing and accountability during the transition to the new standards and, as a result, the Common Core has been less controversial there.

But Polikoff says that he is “quite confident” that the findings of the true or false questions are representative of what you would find in other states in part because many of the sources of the inaccurate information, for example social media, are national.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about Common Core.

*Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect the Common Core English language arts standards address what kinds of writing and readings students should be assigned in history, social studies and science and technical subjects. 

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