Did Slanted Questions Skew Latest NBC Common Core Poll?

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A new NBC poll shows that 50 percent of the parents surveyed favor the Common Core national standards (61% of Democrats but only 26% of Republicans).  These results contrast with a Gallup poll from last fall that showed only 33 percent of parents with a positive view of Common Core, as opposed to 35 percent with a negative view (32% unsure).  How to explain the discrepancy?

Obviously, the phrasing of poll questions can substantially affect the response. “Do you favor Common Core,” preceded or followed by a description of the standards such as “rigorous standards designed to improve your child’s academic performance,” will most likely elicit a different response than would the same question connected to a less rosy (but more truthful) description.

The problem is that we don’t know how the NBC poll questions were phrased (Gallup simply asked whether the respondent, from what he knew of Common Core, favored the standards).  This lack of transparency apparently violates American Association of Public Opinion Research standards, which require release of the entire questionnaire along with the research methodology. (This is especially problematic given that the poll results are being used for political purposes.) But despite the secrecy about the questions, we have clues to their probable bias.

For one thing, we can watch the brief “What Is Common Core?” video that NBC helpfully provided with its poll results. The reporter on the video packed as many slanted talking points as she could manage into 30 seconds: Common Core “is not a curriculum”; it “raises academic standards nationwide”; it includes “emphasis on critical-thinking and problem-solving.” All of this might sound good to busy parents who haven’t had time to research the issue. So if this slant was reflected in the poll questions, that could explain how NBC manage to bump the “favorable” number even to a puny 50.

Another clue comes at the end of the NBC report, where we see that it was co-sponsored by Pearson. Pearson, of course, is the mega-publisher that has been in bed with the Common Core developers from the beginning of the initiative and is poised to make millions (at least) from this educational transformation in curriculum and assessments. Indeed, a Pearson blogger pronounced herself “excited” by the results of the poll.

The final clue about the possible slant is that since 2010, NBC’s Education Nation, which produced the report along with Pearson, has received over $4.35 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – the primary financier of the Common Core standards. What we have, then, is an opaque report based on undisclosed questions funded by organizations that have a tremendous stake in the success of Common Core.

So there’s substantial reason to doubt the reliability of the NBC numbers. But even if they were accurate, they show that only 26 percent of Republicans favor the national standards. Governors Bush and Kasich, take note.

Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with American Principles in Action.