PDK Poll Joins the Call to Keep the Bar High

From Jim Cowen, Executive Director of the Collaborative for Student Success

While Americans may disagree over the exact purpose of a strong education, they roundly agree that educators should challenge all students to develop skills necessary for success after high school, whatever path they choose.

Results from Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International’s annual public opinion poll make clear parents support—and expect—rigorous education standards that emphasize critical thinking and real-world application. More than four out of five parents believe it is “extremely” or “very” important for schools to prepare their kids to think critically across subject areas, and just seven percent think academic expectations are set too high.

Viewed with the findings from an annual Education Next survey released earlier this month—which show solid support for high academic standards—the polling sends a clear message to state policymakers: Keep the bar high for all students.

The Common Core Legacy: Rigor and Comparability

When states began to implement rigorous, high academic guidelines in math and English established through the Common Core State Standards, they did so based on principle, not brand. The commitment of the Governor, state education leaders and educators was driven by the fundamental belief that high expectations, coupled with meaningful assessments, would improve student outcomes.

Now, six years later, the discussion has come full circle. States have weighed the evidence, moved past semantics and doubled down on their pledge to raise classroom expectations. In that regard, Common Core has achieved its purpose. Most states have implemented high standards, matched those expectations with high-quality assessments, and, in doing so, established greater comparability than ever before. In fact, only Oklahoma has reverted back to inferior academic standards. And, as I wrote before, leaders that put their full support behind implementation, and provide educators the resources and professional development to effectively reach those new goals, have consistently seen student performance improve.

Keeping the Bar High, Policymakers Will Do Right By Parents

Again and again, polling has demonstrated parents care little about terminology. Instead, their attention is focused on whether learning goals will prepare their children to succeed at high levels of learning, and ultimately to step into college or the workforce. A full two-thirds of the public favor college- and career-ready education standards that are consistent from state to state, according to Education Next, and 78% of parents say that new standards either increased or had no negative effect on how their student is challenged academically.

Schools can build on this progress by opening better lines of communication with parents. Nearly half of parents with few opportunities to provide feedback to their schools thought standards were too low, the PDK survey finds. Conversely, parents that were able to provide input to their schools were more than twice as likely (52 percent versus 24 percent) to believe their schools’ academic standards prepare students well for post-secondary success.

Along with evidence that suggests educators are hungry for professional development, the PDK results indicate state and local administrators can’t afford to ignore parents and teachers. Officials must continue to bring them into the fold, listen and respond to their concerns, and use their guidance to fully ensure high standards meet students’ needs.

Americans Support Measuring Progress and Student Learning

The “opt-out” movement may have gathered a lot of attention over the past two years, but by and large parents aren’t buying it. While 42 percent in the poll support the option to excuse their kids from standardized tests, there is no clear indication that any of these parents would choose to do so. In fact, the majority (59 percent according to PDK, 70 percent according to Education Next) actually oppose opting out of annual state assessments. Support for high-quality assessment peaks even higher among black respondents, according to the PDK poll, with 67 percent opposing opt-out efforts.

Even though the public recognizes the value of high-quality assessments, some state and local leaders have sought to appease critics by pursing independent tests. That’s proven a costly political calculation. Overwhelmingly, states that took the “go it alone” path have incurred significant expenses and testing disruptions, and are very likely to end up with weaker exams. The PDK poll, and others like it, reaffirms that education officials have every reason to avoid political theatre and stand up for honest, high-quality assessments.

What’s Next: High Standards Tied to Real-World Learning

Common Core State Standards were always intended as a floor, not a ceiling, for student achievement. By every measure, they have achieved that objective: States have implemented rigorous standards, they have begun to administer assessments that measure student achievement to those targets, and there is greater comparability among states and districts. Most states are now moving on, putting their own stamp on their standards and tailoring academic expectations to ensure they meet student needs.

Early results indicate that those efforts are moving states in the right direction. But if policymakers had any misgivings, public attitudes should provide all the reassurance they need. Parents strongly support high standards and high-quality assessments, and they want to their voices heard in order to ensure their schools’ expectations accommodate their children’s needs.

The evidence speaks for itself: Policymakers should continue to raise the bar for students to be certain that, when they leave high school, they are prepared for college, the workforce, or any other path they choose.