Americans Are Concerned About Direction Of Public Education, Two New Polls Show : NPR Ed Two new polls show contradictions and partisan divides in the public's opinion of education.

Americans Like Their Schools Just Fine — But Not Yours

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It's that time of year. Students are heading to school with their pencils sharpened, new clothes and lots of anticipation. As the school year kicks off, two new polls find that Americans overall have serious concerns about the direction of the public education system.

Specifically, public opinion of the Common Core, a system of national standards designed to lift low student achievement, is at an all-time low itself. Here's Anya Kamenetz of NPR Ed Team.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: So this is the poll from a policy journal called Education Next. And when they first started asking about the Common Core just four years ago in 2012, when it was brand new, it garnered 90 percent approval.

And this year, the numbers sank to 50 percent, which is an all-time low. But in this same Ed Next poll, when you ask about using, quote, "the same standards across states," two-thirds gave their approval.

MONTAGNE: Which suggests, I guess, that it's partially the brand that people are reacting to - or even the name.

KAMENETZ: So a political science expert I spoke with said that the Common Core as a brand has been extremely politicized, particularly within the Republican Party. And, for example, I did a search of the hashtag #CommonCore on Twitter.

And you see references right away to things like - you know, this is going to indoctrinate our children into Islamic Sharia law. And a lot of self-described Trump supporters are anti-Common Core. Then again, for parents and teachers who actually have experience with the Common Core, there's been real substantive concerns raised.

There is an entire activist movement about opting out of the tests associated with the Common Core. There's been concerns raised about the implementation, about teacher training, even about the approach to math. So it may not just be about the branding but about people's experiences with the Common Core in the real world.

MONTAGNE: And what about Americans' opinions of schools as a whole?

KAMENETZ: Well, this is really interesting. So Ed Next found that just 1 in 4 Americans would give the schools in general an A or B grade - the public schools. And Gallup, which also has, in recent numbers, found a partisan divide here - but still pretty low.

Just 32 percent of Republicans would approve of public schools. Fifty-three percent of Democrats approve of public schools. And that gap has opened up - that partisan gap - just in the last two years.

MONTAGNE: But there's - what? - also a contradiction?

KAMENETZ: Yeah. So Americans' approval of their own children's school or their local school is much, much higher. In the Ed Next poll, 55 percent would give their local schools an A or B grade. And that number has actually risen 12 points since 2007.

And in the Gallup poll, they found that three-quarters of parents approve of the education their oldest child has received. So that's the - you know, speaking from personal experience, they really are happy. And that's been steady for over a decade with no partisan divide.

And, you know, this is an effect that we can see in a lot of different situations with public opinion. It's sometimes called the mere-exposure effect, the idea that what we're familiar with is a lot more appealing to us than, you know, things that are farther away that we may only learn about through the media.

MONTAGNE: Anya Kamenetz of the NPR Ed Team, thanks very much.

KAMENETZ: Thanks, Renee.

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