The results of this year's PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Towards the Public Schools offers some heartening news for public education advocates. Despite the rhetoric dominating the national media, which gives the impression that our schools are struggling and that educator quality is to blame, 71 percent of parents give the school their oldest child attends an "A" or "B" (these numbers drop substantially when it comes to the national level, perhaps because of the media's rhetoric -- a mere 18 percent give the nation's schools as a whole an "A" or a "B").
In addition, even in the wake of Newtown, parents perceive their child's school as safe -- just 12 percent indicated they feared for their child's safety at school. This is a dramatic improvement from years past -- in 1998, 36 percent feared for their child's safety at school; in 1977, 25 percent did.
Also particularly heartening for educators: 72 percent of respondents have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools. Sixty-five percent have trust and confidence in those serving as principals in the public schools. And support is greater among younger Americans -- 78 percent of those under age 40 have trust and confidence in teachers, and 70 percent have trust and confidence in principals.
Given the trust that the public has in public school educators, these educators have the potential to move public opinion, and they should take advantage of it, both to improve education for students and to advance their own causes with policymakers. One area particularly ripe for educator advocacy: The Common Core State Standards.
The Public's Knowledge of the Common Core
Before taking the poll, only 38 percent of respondents had heard of the Common Core State Standards -- and just 45 percent of public school parents had heard of them. Of those who had previously heard of them, 41 percent believe they will make US education more competitive globally -- and 21 percent believe they will make US education less competitive (35 percent believe it will have no effect). Considering that these standards are one of the most significant educational initiatives of our time, the fact that fewer than half of Americans know about them -- and that fewer than half of those recognize what is touted as one of the biggest benefits of the Core -- is concerning, particularly since in many states there is a great deal of pushback against the Common Core right now.
In addition, further polling of those who had heard of the Common Core indicated that they believed a great deal of misinformation about it. For example, when asked whether the Common Core will create standards in all subject areas, on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 meaning strongly agree and 1 meaning strongly disagree), 49 percent answered with a 4 or 5, indicating some level of agreement with this false statement (another 24 percent answered with a 3, which I take to mean neither agreeing nor disagreeing). Thirty percent indicated some agreement that the Common Core was based on a blend of state standards, with an additional 39 percent neither agreeing nor disagreeing (it was not).
The poll did indicate some good news around the Common Core: Responses to other questions around what schools should teach indicates that the public will support the Common Core once they understand it. For example, 80 percent of respondents strongly agree that schools should teach critical thinking skills, and 78 percent strongly agree they should teach communication skills -- both emphasized under the Common Core.
What Can Educators Do?
Educators are currently under a great deal of pressure to successfully implement the Common Core -- pressure that is mounting as high-stakes are attached to the Common Core assessments that in many places have yet to be developed or field-tested. And adding the responsibility of building public support to their plate seems a bit unfair. Unfortunately, without public pressure to do so, the legislators who are responsible for providing the funding that ensures educators have the resources to implement these standards effectively might not. So how, in addition to everything that educators must do to get ready for back to school, can they raise awareness around the Common Core?
- Add the Parents' Guide to Student Success to back-to-school packets. The National PTA has developed detailed guides to help parents understand the importance of academic standards; what students should be able to know and do at the end of each grade K-8 (plus separate overviews for high school math and high school English) based on the Common Core State Standards; and how they can support their child's learning at home. (For example, check out the fifth grade guide.)
- Share a Three-Minute Video Explaining the Common Core State Standards. Developed by the Council of the Great City Schools, this video can be shared on social media or shown during back-to-school night. (Also available in Spanish)
- Check out the National School Public Relations Association's Common Core Communications Network for additional ideas. NSPRA has compiled a number of resources on communicating about the Common Core. Their collection is organized by topic (for example, Projected Low Test Scores and What to Do and Say about Them) or by resource type (for example, Fact Sheets/ Backgrounders). While some of the resources are available only to NSPRA members, there are many available to the general public
Additional Poll Findings
While this year's poll identified a potentially powerful role for educators, trusted by the general public, in building support for the Common Core, it also offered insights into the public's beliefs on a number of other important issues. Some that might be of particular interest to educators:
- Educator Accountability: In just the past year, the public's thoughts on educator accountability have changed dramatically: 58 percent now oppose requiring teacher evaluations to include student performance on standardized tests (up from 47 percent in 2012), and 63 percent oppose the release of information on how the students of individual teachers perform on standardized tests to the public (up from 48 percent in 2012)
- Standardized Testing: Testing is falling out of favor with the public - 36 percent believe that increased testing has hurt their local public schools performance (up from 28 percent in 2007) and just 22 percent believe it has helped (down from 28 percent in 2007) (41 percent believe it has made no difference, down from 42 percent in 2007)
- Earning Credits Online: While a significant number of Americans (75 percent) favor the idea of high school students earning college credit online, fewer (just 56 percent) favor the idea of students earning high school credits online
- School Safety: The public believes that providing more mental health services would be more effective in promoting school safety than hiring more security guards (59 percent to 33 percent). What they do not want: Armed teachers and administrators -- 47 percent strongly disagreed with allowing elementary school teachers and administrators to be armed, and 43 percent strongly disagreed with allowing middle/junior high and high school teachers and administrators to be armed
Access the complete poll on the PDK website.