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Poll Finds Little Support for Federal Role in Education

Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with the current federal role in public education, according to a poll released Wednesday.

Just 15 percent of respondents in a Gallup poll said the federal government – as opposed to state governments or local school boards – should have the greatest role in deciding what is taught in public schools.

Further, ratings for President Barack Obama’s handling of education policy were also down: 27 percent gave him either an “A” or a “B,” as compared to 41 percent who gave him those grades in 2011. His support remained high among Democrats, with 61 percent giving him an A or B, but dropped precipitously among Republicans: none gave him an A, and just 3 percent gave him a B.

The Gallup Group and Phi Delta Kappa, an international professional group for teachers and other educators, conducted the telephone poll of about 1,000 Americans in May and June. It was the 46th year of the poll.  

Much of the opposition stemmed from the Common Core standards and the federal government’s role in implementing them.

Sixty percent of respondents opposed the standards, including 62 percent of parents of children in public school and 76 percent of Republicans.

“It’s pretty apparent that Common Core has become a polarizing term,” Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said on a call with press Tuesday previewing the poll.

Among those opposed, 62 percent said the fact that “the federal government initiated the Common Core State Standards” was either a very or somewhat important factor in their opposition. Further, 68 percent cited the fact that “the Common Core State Standards will result in a national curriculum and national tests” as a very or somewhat important reason for their opposition.

The nonprofit Council of Chief State School Officers group came up with standards, a set of benchmarks of what students should know at each grade level in reading and math as opposed to a set curriculum.

The federal government did contribute funding to two testing consortia to develop the standardized tests children in many states will take. The Education Department has made the adoption of what it calls “college- and career-ready standards” a requirement for waivers of accountability standards under the No Child Left Behind education law (PL 107-110) or as a way to boost applications for Race to the Top grants.

“The rush to implement No Child Left Behind waiver requirements,” which require adoption of the standards, and, often, teacher evaluations based at least in part on students’ test scores, “has led the public to connect the Common Core with somewhat a federal overreach into public education,” Holliday said.

Common Core supporters, battling opposition from both conservative activist groups and teachers’ unions, are now trying to rally support from higher education leaders, former Republican governors and the business community. Three states – Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina – have dropped out of the Common Core since the start of the year, and litigation is pending in Louisiana.

Despite the opposition to the federal work with the Common Core, more respondents cited teachers’ opposition (76 percent) and limitations on teachers’ discretion in the classroom (77 percent) as very or somewhat important factors for their opposition.

Michael Feuer, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University, said the struggle between high standards and teacher autonomy is not a new one.

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