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The more people say they know about the Common Core, the less they actually do

A Colorado protest against Common Core.
A Colorado protest against Common Core.
Cyrus McCrimmon/Denver Post via Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

The Common Core standards have been around for more than five years. Students in dozens of states are taking new tests to see whether they're able to live up to those standards. And even still, lots of Americans know almost nothing about it.

A new poll from PublicMind at Fairleigh Dickinson University found that just 17 percent of Americans approve of Common Core and 40 percent disapprove — and 42 percent still haven't made up their minds. Paradoxically, the more people have heard about Common Core, the more likely they are to misunderstand what the standards are actually about.

The poll found 77 percent of people who said they have heard "a lot" about Common Core didn't know basic facts about the standards, saying they included at least one of four concepts: the American Revolution, evolution, global warming, and sex education. In fact, the Common Core standards are limited to math and language arts.

People who had heard "nothing at all" about the Common Core — and were presumably just guessing in response to the pollster's questions — were actually more likely to say, correctly, that the Common Core doesn't include any of those topics.

What people thought was in Common Core, even it was wrong, affected whether they thought the standards were a good idea. Democrats who wrongly think the Common Core includes sex ed, revolutionary history, evolution, and global warming are more likely to approve the standards than Democrats who know it doesn't. That suggests that some people were basing their approval of the standards on wrong information — and that they like the standards because they thought they supported their worldview.

The poll found that more Americans approve of a federal attempt to create education standards (40 percent) than approve of Common Core (17 percent). In a summary of the poll, PublicMind suggests that this means the problem is with Common Core itself — not the concept of standards. But it seems more likely to indicate that "Common Core" has become an essentially meaningless phrase that stands in for a broader political worldview.