Although 45 states including California have adopted new Common Core curriculum standards aimed at improving education, more than half of Americans surveyed in May had never heard of it.
In the 45th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward Public Schools released Wednesday, less than one-quarter of those polled believe that increased testing has helped the performance of public schools, and a majority oppose the inclusion of students' test scores in teacher evaluations.
The finding that Americans are largely unaware of major curriculum changes sweeping the nation mostly mirrored the results of an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey released four days earlier, with one major difference. The AP survey reported support for the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations and satisfaction with the amount of standardized testing done in schools, along with the belief they accurately measure student and school performance.
"Americans' mistrust of standardized tests and their lack of confidence and understanding around new education standards is one the most surprising developments we've found in years," said William Bushaw, executive director of PDK International and co-director of the PDK/Gallup poll. "The 2013 poll shows deep confusion around the nation's most significant education policies and poses serious communication challenges for education leaders."
Michael Kirst, President of the state Board of Education, said he was surprised by the apparent change in public opinion related to using test scores in teacher evaluations. Kirst said he didn't give much weight to the PDK/Gallup poll's results about whether testing is helping or hurting schools, since that is a cause and effect question that would inspire debate even among education researchers.
He said he wasn't particularly alarmed by the public's lack of knowledge about new curriculum standards, since they are still being rolled out in California. The new curriculum revises the way lessons are taught and tests students' comprehension and critical thinking skills with more in-depth questions and essays.
"I predict you will see a major communication campaign on Common Core in the school year 2013-14 and intensifying in 2014-15," he said.
California schools are transitioning to the new standards in the next two years and will begin piloting computer-based tests in the coming year, with those assessments replacing the current standardized tests in 2015.
Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said in a Tuesday media call that it's important for education leaders to communicate the benefits of increasing academic standards across the country.
"We aren't lowering the bar," he said. "We are trying to set higher expectations for all students."
Andy Rotherham, co-founder and partner of Bellwether Education, said the public's confusion about new curriculum standards provides an opportunity for opponents to sway opinion.
"There are still a lot of people waiting to be influenced," he said.
The PDK/Gallup poll also looked at a range of other education issues. It found Americans have higher opinions of local schools than of public schools nationwide, and 52 percent believe teachers should have the right to strike, up from 40 percent in 1980.
The results were based on telephone interviews of 1,001 American adults in May. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent.
Additional data from the PDK/Gallup Poll of America's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools is available by visiting www.pdkpoll.org. The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs survey on Parents' Attitudes on the Quality of Education in the United States is available by visiting www.apnorc.org.