SALT LAKE CITY — A plurality of likely Utah voters oppose the Common Core State Standards, but only 1 in 5 can accurately identify what they are, according to a poll released Monday by UtahPolicy.com.
The poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, surveyed 408 likely voters and found that 41 percent of participants opposed the Common Core compared with 29 percent who support the standards.
The remaining 30 percent responded that they were either neutral or "didn't know" when asked whether they support or oppose the Common Core, meaning the voters who either support or have no opinion of the state standards outnumber the voters who oppose them.
"I would say the best way to put it is that Utahns are split about this issue," said Bryan Schott, managing editor of UtahPolicy.com. "They’re really not sure how they feel about it. They’re broken up into a number of camps, and when we asked them what Common Core was, they really couldn’t answer."
The Common Core State Standards are a series of educational benchmarks aimed at preparing students for higher education by defining the skills in math and English that should be mastered at each grade level.
Utah adopted the Common Core in 2010 along with the majority of the nation, but backlash has required participating states to defend their adoption, and in some instances implementation has been put on hold or abandoned outright.
But the UtahPolicy.com poll suggests that many voters continue to be unclear on what exactly the Common Core is and how Utah came to be involved with the standards.
One-fifth of participants accurately identified the Common Core as a series of standards voluntarily adopted by the State School Board and developed by a consortium of state leaders and educators.
"A lot of them thought the feds were involved, and only 21 percent really could give us the correct answer that it was put forward by the nation’s governors and education experts first," Schott said.
The most common response, 29 percent, was that the standards were forced on Utah by the federal government, and an additional 19 percent believed the standards were voluntarily adopted by the state but developed by federal officials.
Seven percent of participants believed the Common Core was developed by Utah education leaders, and 17 percent responded "don't know" when asked which statement best described the standards.
Sydnee Dickson, interim deputy state superintendent, said the poll results align with the experience of state education officials who for years have fielded criticism related to the Common Core.
Opponents have often received a lot of misinformation from a variety of sources, Dickson said, and when educators are able to explain what the standards are and that the State School Board has been setting statewide standards since 1984, the conversation typically changes.
"It’s rarely about the standards. In fact, most people have not read the standards," she said. "The information that we’ve tried to share is just the correct information about where they came from and how they were developed and who they were developed by."
Oak Norton, one of the organizers of the group Utahns Against Common Core, said the poll results demonstrate that more needs to be done to provide accurate information to the public.
"The State Office (of Education) is partly to blame for that because they have been basically touting the same story since the beginning, which is inaccurate and does not portray reality as to where Common Core came from," Norton said.
But he added that the relatively low familiarity with the standards is something that anti-Common Core groups have been able to use to their advantage because it allows them to educate and inform parents who have not already made up their minds based on false information.
"As more people become informed, more people oppose Common Core because they see that it is destroying local control of education," Norton said. "It is shifting decision-making away form the local level, even the state level, to the federal level."
Schott said he was surprised by the low number of poll participants who were familiar with the Common Core considering the ongoing discussion by lawmakers and the recent push by Gov. Gary Herbert to review the state's adoption of the standards.
"That tells me that there is a very vocal group that may not be a majority, but they’re driving the conversation on this," he said.
Utah's lawmakers likely understand the background of the Common Core better than the average voter, Schott said, but they still have to respond to the views of their constituents.
"When you’ve got a loud group of constituents telling a lawmaker, ‘I don’t like this. I don’t like this,’ it’s going to get his attention because those are the people who put him in office and keep him there," he said.
Though Common Core opponents may be more vocal, Dickson said there are still many people in the state who support the new standards.
In particular, she said the majority of Utah's public school educators recognize the Common Core as an improvement over the state's previous standards.
"There are a lot of supporters, and the greatest supporters are these who are actually using the standards in their classrooms," Dickson said. "The intention is to help kids be ready for their future, and I think teachers who are using these standards, by and large, know that."
The poll also asked participants who should have the primary responsibility of both setting achievement standards and determining how to reach those standards, with the most popular response in each case — 42 percent and 56 percent, respectively — being a combination of teachers, parents and local school district administrators.
The Utah Constitution grants the State School Board power to establish statewide education standards, but local school district administrators have traditionally been empowered to set curriculum and policies for reaching those standards.
"Surprisingly, the Legislature even came in behind the federal government," Schott said. "So Utahns don’t want the Legislature meddling, or I guess the word they use up on the hill is ‘micromanaging’ schools. They don’t want them setting these standards for schools. They don’t want them to tell schools how to meet these standards."