Common Core? Agency Fees? No Thanks!

Yesterday the 10th annual Education Next survey of American opinion on K-12 education came out, and right away Jason Bedrick deftly distilled the school choice findings. I want to quickly discuss two other, ripped-from-the-headlines subjects: opinion on the Common Core national curriculum standards, and agency fees charged to teachers who don’t want to join a union.

As perhaps reflected in the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—the recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—many Americans across the ideological spectrum are none too pleased with the Common Core, which the ESSA goes so far as to mention by name as off limits to further federal coercion. According to the survey, federal politicians read the tea leaves correctly when they took off against the Core. Despite the survey using a wording likely to bias respondents in favor of the Core—saying it will be used “to hold schools accountable for their performance”—the general public was evenly split: 42 percent supportive and 42 percent against. Even more telling has been the Core’s trajectory since first being addressed in the 2012 survey. The trend data do not include people who were neutral on the Core, but among those who offered opinions for or against, support plummeted from 90 percent to just 50 percent.

That said, the survey’s overall message is not entirely hopeful if you aren’t fond of centralized standards and testing. Among other things, 55 percent of the general public supports generic, identical state standards in reading and math used “to hold public schools accountable for their performance.” Of course, that wording makes it impossible to know if respondents are mainly reacting to uniform standards, accountability, or both, but the uniformity inclination does not bode well for fans of local control of public schools. Then again, the public opinion trajectory is similar to what we saw when the Common Core was mentioned by name: support dropped from 92 percent of people who offered an opinion in 2012, to 66 percent today.

When it comes to public opinion, the Common Core is a sinking ship. But it’s not yet on the ocean floor.

The other results that jumped out at me, especially given the unfortunate demise of the Friedrichs Supreme Court case and ongoing, brazen union politicking, were on  “agency fees,” funds that teachers in many states have to supply unions even if they do not wish to be members, supposedly to cover their “fair share” of contract negotiations. Only 35 percent of the general public supported such compelled fees, versus 44 percent who opposed them. Even more telling, among all the subgroups of respondents the pollsters broke out, only one—Democrats—expressed greater support than opposition. And among the subgroups were teachers themselves, who opposed agency fees 47 percent to 43 percent!

Hopefully what this reflects is a lot of Americans perceiving the fundamental injustice of forcing people to associate with a union, and of requiring them to pay for speech that is inherently political.

There’s a lot more worth exploring in the survey, so check it all out! And if you are going to be in Washington, DC, on September 16—or you have a computer such as, say, the one you are using right now—you can watch me discuss the poll with several other, much smarter folks, including the pollsters themselves. Should be fun!