The more people know about Common Core, the less they know about Common Core

Today marks the release of the second half of the PACE/USC Rossier poll on education, our annual barometer on all things education policy in California [1]. This half focuses on two issues near and dear to my heart: Common Core and testing. Over the coming days and weeks I’ll be parsing out some interesting tidbits I’ve uncovered in analyzing results from this year’s poll.

The first finding worth mentioning has to do with Common Core support and knowledge. We’ve all read arguments like “The more people know about Common Core, the less they like it”. For instance, we see that claim from NPR, Republican legislators, and hackish tea party faux-news sites. This claim is generally based on the finding from several polls that people who say they know more about the standards are less likely to support it (or more generally, the trend that reported knowledge has increased over time, as has opposition). It turns out, however, that this may not be as true as you think.

To test knowledge of Common Core, we first asked people to tell us how much they know about the Common Core (a lot, some, a little, nothing at all). Then, we asked them a series of factual and opinion questions about the standards, to test whether they really did know as much as they said they did. The results were quite illuminating.

It turns out that people who said they knew a lot about Common Core were actually the most likely group to report misconceptions about the standards, and the group that had the highest level of net misconceptions (misconceptions – correct conceptions). For instance, 51.5% of people who said they knew “a lot” about Common Core, incorrectly said it was false that Common Core included only math and ELA standards. In contrast, just 31.7% of this group correctly answered this statement (for a net misconception index of -20). For people who only reported knowing a little about the standards, their net misconceptions were just -11 (33% misconception, 22% correct conception).

Another area on which Common Core-“knowledgable” people were more likely to be incorrect was in agreeing that Common Core required more testing than previous state standards. 57% of this group wrongly said this was true, while just 31% correctly said it was false (net misconceptions -26). All groups had net misconceptions on this item, but the margin was -19 for the “some” knowledge group, -16 for the “a little” group, and -11 for the “none” group.

In terms of raw proportions of misinformed individuals, the “a lot” of knowledge group is also the most misinformed group about the Obama administration’s role in creating the standards and the federal government’s role in requiring adoption.

In short, yes, individuals who say they know more about the standards are less likely to support the standards. But, as it turns out, that’s not because they actually know more (they don’t). Rather, it’s likely because they “know” things that are false and that are almost certainly driving their opposition.

So the next time you see someone claiming that “the more people know about Common Core, the less they like it,” feel free to correct them.

[1] Part 1 of this year’s poll was already released–it focused on Local Control Funding and overall attitudes toward education in California. You can read more about it here.


Gathering textbook adoption data part 2 (or: even when it should be easy, it ain’t)

A few posts ago I wrote about the challenges in getting a study of school textbook adoptions off the ground. Suffice it to say there are many. This post continues in that thread (half of it is just me complaining, the other half is pointing out the absurdity of the whole thing, so if you feel like you’ve already got the idea, by all means skip this one).

California is one state that makes textbook adoption data public, bucking the national trend. This is a result of the Eliezer Williams, et al., vs. State of California, et al. case, where a group of San Francisco students sued the state, convincing the court that state agencies had failed to provide public school students with equal access to instructional materials, safe and decent school facilities, and qualified teachers. As a consequence of this court case, California schools are required to provide information on these issues in an annual School Accountability Report Card (SARC). The SARCs are publicly available and can be downloaded here.

This is great! Statewide, school-level textbook data right there for the taking.

Well, not so fast. For starters, with the exception of about 15% of schools that use a standard form, the rest turn in their SARCs in PDF form. And the state doesn’t keep a database on those 85% (obviously). So the only way to get the information off the SARCs is to do it manually, by copying from PDFs [1]. Thus, over the course of the last year, with the support of an anonymous funder, we’ve been pulling these data together.

As it turns out, even when you can pull the data from the SARCs, there are at least three major problems:

  • Large numbers of schools that simply don’t have a SARC in a given year. Apparently there must be some kind of exemption, because this would seem to violate the court ruling otherwise.
  • For schools those that do have a SARC:
    • Textbook data that are missing completely.
      • Or that are missing key elements, such as the grades in which they are used and the years of adoption.
    • Listed textbook titles that are so vague (e.g., “Algebra 1”, when the state adopts multiple books with that title) or unclear (e.g., “McGraw Hill”, when that company publishes numerous textbooks) as to be somewhat useless.

As a consequence, like in the NSF study, we’ll be reaching out to all districts with non-complete data via email or phone to fill in the gaps.

Of course the data will never be perfect, and they’re better than is available anywhere else. But if the purpose of the court ruling is to provide some measure of public accountability through the clear reporting of this kind of information, it’s not clear to me that the SARCs are currently fulfilling that role. Perhaps the state doesn’t care to or doesn’t have the manpower to enforce the ruling. That’s unfortunate, not because it makes this research more challenging, but because it deprives disadvantaged students of the remedy that the court has decided they are due.

[1] For reference, there are around 1000 districts and 10000 schools in California.