Common Core not understood by many, survey finds

The town hall meetings have been crowded. The rhetoric has been heated. But the number of people who are familiar with Common Core is few, according an annual statewide survey to be released Monday.

Among its many findings, the 2014 Louisiana Survey, conducted by the Public Policy Research Lab at the LSU Manship School of Journalism, also shows that three out of four of the state’s residents want to see the state spend more on higher education and are willing to pay a penny more in sales taxes to make that happen.

But Common Core is a controversy that has dominated the headlines recently. The Louisiana House Education Committee scheduled all-day hearings this week to consider a lot of bills that would revamp or do away with Common Core, the stricter and consistent academic standards for public schools that have been adopted by Louisiana and 44 other states.

The survey showed that 49 percent of the 1,095 people questioned between Feb. 4 and Feb. 24 had little, if any, familiarity with Common Core.

That’s about right, says Brigitte Nieland, vice president of education policy for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. LABI, the Baton Rouge-based lobbyists for the business community, argues that Common Core, which sets learning goals on standard curricula, is necessary to help Louisiana students keep pace with children from other states and countries.

Opposition is intense in some areas of the state, such as the north shore and Acadiana, but not so much elsewhere. LABI’s officials have been attending the town hall meetings hosted by opponents for about year.

“I am not exaggerating when I say it’s about the same 30 people who show up at all these events,” Nieland said Saturday. “This survey confirms our belief that if these education standards, had not they become politicized, would be adopted easily.”

State Rep. Brett Geymann opposes Common Core but says the LSU poll pretty much mirrors what he finds in working on changing it.

“The biggest hurdle has been people getting their hands around what it means and what it does,” Geymann said Saturday. “What we find is that they don’t fully understand it and when they do, when we explain to them what it actually does, then they come around and see the problems with it.”

Geymann is sponsoring legislation that creates a panel of local parents, teachers, college deans, principals, superintendents, state officials and teacher union representatives to help set school curricula and standards for local districts.

Opponents say the standards amount to too much federal intervention without enough local input into what children learn in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Fifty-eight percent of college-educated residents in the household knew about Common Core, while only 32 percent of those with a high school education did, according to the LSU survey.

The biggest similarity among those who were versed in Common Core is that they had a child attending public schools — 65 percent of respondents. Fifty-one percent of the respondents with a child in a private school were very familiar or somewhat familiar with the standards.

The Louisiana residents included in the annual survey match the state population’s demographics, such as age, race, education, economic status and residence. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The Advocate obtained a copy of the survey, which will be officially released Monday, from a university employee.

LSU researchers asked 98 questions to gauge the positions of Louisiana residents on a wide range of issues from marijuana for personal use (New Orleans residents are most supportive) to gay marriage (support increased 3 percent from last year to 42 percent) to a statewide ban on assault weapons (54 percent oppose).

Seventy six percent of the respondents say they want to see increased spending on higher education, the survey stated. They put higher education in second place behind K-12 education spending. Seventy-one percent of the residents say they would favor paying an extra penny of sales tax for every $4 spent, if that money went toward higher education. Twenty-seven percent opposed such a proposal.

“While we see differences in levels of support across demographic categories, support never falls below 50 percent,” the report states.

Barry Erwin, president of the Baton Rouge-based Council for A Better Louisiana, says he thinks those findings are more a reflection of the angst caused by years of budget cutting to public colleges and universities, rather than a movement to pass a tax for higher education.

“They’re saying we’re willing to step it up in some way,” Erwin said Saturday. “Practically speaking you won’t see a penny sales tax.”