Poll: California voters have mixed views on Common Core standards


PACE/USC Rossier Poll shows voters greatly overestimate the hours students spend on state testing each year, but support annual testing for all students

Contact: Merrill Balassone at (213) 740-6156 or balasson@usc.edu

LOS ANGELES – Sept. 8, 2015 –  As Californians get their first look at new test results since 2013, a new poll released Tuesday shows California voters have mixed views on the Common Core State Standards, and their views shift with the way questions about the standards are posed.

Levels of support for the Common Core are generally higher – and levels of opposition are lower – in California than in the rest of the nation. The PACE/USC Rossier School of Education Poll shows a strong majority still know little or nothing about the new standards, however, and many voters are misinformed about the details. More than one in four California voters (26%) had not heard of the Common Core State Standards, the poll showed.

The PACE/USC Rossier Poll randomly asked voters several differently worded questions about Common Core support, reflecting the different questions included in other national and California polls. The results of the poll showed the wording of the question can dramatically affect responses.  

When asked simply to what extent they approve or disapprove of the Common Core, 26 percent of California voters said they approve, while 31 percent said they disapprove and 17 percent had no opinion. Opposition among parents was higher: 38 percent said they disapprove of Common Core, while 31 percent said they approve and 16 percent had no opinion.

When the poll asked voters whether they support or oppose “having the teachers in your community use the Common Core State Standards to guide what they teach,” as the recent PDK/Gallup Poll posed the question, the percentage who support Common Core fell to 24 percent. The percentage that opposed the new standards also fell, to 27 percent. 

When the question presented more information about the Common Core, however, support for the new standards was much higher. Support for the new standards rose to 52 percent when California voters were asked the following question, which was included in a recent Education Next poll:

As you may know, over the past few years states have been deciding whether or not to implement the Common Core State Standards, which are national standards for reading, writing, and math. In the states that have these standards, they will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance. To what extent do you support or oppose the use of the Common Core Standards in California?


“Even after four years of implementation and a great deal of political controversy, most Californians simply don’t know or don’t care much about Common Core,” said Morgan Polikoff, assistant professor of education at the USC Rossier School and an expert on Common Core standards. “Their views depend to a surprising extent on the questions they are asked about the new standards.”

The PACE/USC Rossier Poll also found that nearly 6 in 10 voters (59%) said they knew “a little” or “nothing” about the Common Core state standards, with 41 percent of voters who said they knew “some” or “a lot” about them.

Reported knowledge of the standards was greater among parents, 54 percent of whom said they knew “a lot” or “some” and 46 percent of whom said they knew “a little” or nothing, according to the poll.

A plurality of voters also had misconceptions about several tenets of the standards: 34 percent of voters said Common Core requires more testing than California’s previous standards (17% said this was false and 49% were unsure); 25 percent said the federal government required California to adopt the Common Core (20% said this was false, 54% were unsure); and 30 percent said the statement that Common Core only applies to English and math is false (20% said this was true and 49% were unsure).

Parents were more likely to have misconceptions in these areas: 41 percent said Common Core requires more testing than California’s previous standards (18% said this was false and 42% were unsure); 34 percent said the federal government required California to adopt the Common Core (21% said this was false, 46% were unsure); and 35 percent said the statement that Common Core only applies to English and math is false (28% said this was true and 37% were unsure).

Voters who claim to have more knowledge of the standards are often considerably more likely to hold misconceptions about the standards than those who claim to have less knowledge. For instance, 52 percent of voters who report knowing a lot about the standards think Common Core applies in subjects other than math and English, and 57 percent believe Common Core requires more testing, both of which are incorrect.

“There remains a great deal of misinformation about the standards, and this is almost certainly driving some portion of the opposition here in California,” Polikoff said.

Republicans were more likely than Democrats to be misinformed about what subjects were included in Common Core, 34 percent to 29 percent. Democrats were more likely to be wrong about whether Common Core required more testing, 38 percent to 32 percent.

But the Common Core is unlikely to be an important election issue, with a plurality (34%) saying they would be no more or less likely to support a presidential candidate who strongly supported Common Core. Twenty-four percent of voters said they would be less likely to support such a candidate, and 19 percent said they would be more likely to support that candidate.


“California’s policy leaders have been very deliberate in their implementation of the Common Core, which has short-circuited much of the political controversy that has emerged in other states,” said David Plank, executive director of PACE. “California's teachers unions and other education organizations are united in their support for the state’s new standards, and the opponents of Common Core have not found a way to make it a significant statewide issue.”


Voters strongly support state testing policies, greatly overestimate the hours spent on testing

When asked to guess how long they thought California students spend taking state tests in a school year, voters on average said more than 23 hours, the poll showed.

After being told that California students spend 8 to 10 hours taking standardized tests in a year, 34 percent said that level of testing was “just right.” Thirty-one percent said that amount of testing was “too little” and 20 percent said it was “too much,” according to the poll.

Despite their equivocal stance on the amount of testing, nearly 7 in 10 voters said students should be tested in every grade to ensure they are progressing, and results of state tests should be used widely and for many purposes. Among Latino voters, 81 percent said students should be tested in every grade, higher than the 66 percent of white and African American voters who agreed with annual testing. 

When asked which ways student scores should be used, 82 percent said to ensure students have a minimum level of achievement before graduating high school; 81 percent said to identify schools in need of support; 75 percent said to identify teachers in need of support; and 65 percent said to identify which teachers are effective or ineffective.

Voters also strongly oppose allowing parents to let their children skip taking state tests, the poll showed. Sixty-eight percent said they disagree with allowing parents to let their children opt-out of taking tests, as opposed to 22 percent who agreed. Opposition to opt-out was strongest among whites, with 70 percent who disagreed with giving parents that option.

“State policymakers should be encouraged to see that the majority of voters support annual testing and multiple uses of those data,” said USC Associate Professor and PACE Co-Director Julie Marsh. “The big question is whether that support will continue after the new Smarter Balanced test results are released."

Results from the PACE/USC Rossier School Poll released Aug. 27 showed voters are increasingly optimistic about California public schools, and a strong majority would back the reauthorization of Proposition 30 to provide additional funding to public campuses.

The PACE/USC Rossier School of Education Poll was conducted August 3-22, 2015 by polling firms MFour Mobile Research and Tulchin Research and surveyed 2,411 registered California voters. The poll was conducted online and allowed respondents to complete the survey on a desktop or laptop computer, tablet or smartphone. The poll was conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for the overall sample was +/- 2.9 percentage points.

The poll is the fifth in a series from Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) and the USC Rossier School of Education.

To view the results of the PACE/USC Rossier Poll, go to http://www.edpolicyinca.org/node/545

About the USC Rossier School of Education The mission of the USC Rossier School of Education (ross-EAR) is to improve learning in urban education locally, nationally and globally. USC Rossier leads the way in innovative, collaborative solutions to improve education outcomes. Their work is field-based, in the classroom, and online, and reflects a diversity of perspectives and experiences. USC Rossier prides itself on innovation in all its programs, preparing teachers, administrators, and educational leaders who are change agents. The school supports the most forward-thinking scholars and researchers, whose work is having direct impact on student success in K-12 schools and higher education. USC Rossier is a leader in using cutting-edge technology to scale up its quality programs for maximum impact.

About Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) is an independent, non-partisan research center based at Stanford University, the University of California – Berkeley and the University of Southern California. PACE seeks to define and sustain a long-term strategy for comprehensive policy reform and continuous improvement in performance at all levels of California’s education system, from early childhood to post-secondary education and training. PACE bridges the gap between research and policy, working with scholars from California’s leading universities and with state and local policymakers to increase the impact of academic research on educational policy in California.


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