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Learning Curve

Is it time to rename the Common Core?

Jonah Newman Aug 25, 2014

Marketing professionals know that the key to improving lousy sales or a bad image is sometimes as simple as a new name or snazzier packaging “rebranding,” as it’s known in the biz.

But what about an unpopular public policy, like, say, the Common Core?  Experts think the Obama-backed education standards for reading, writing and math may be in line for a do-over.

Two recent opinion polls showed that public support for the standards, which have been adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia, is slipping. But just how much can depend on how you talk about it: Use the name, and support drops.  

When the education-policy journal Education Next, for instance, asked people two very similar questions about the Common Core,  but didn’t use the name “Common Core”  in one of them, support for the standards jumped from 53 to 69 percent.

Partisan differences, which have turned the Core into a political punching bag, also disappeared. While only 43 percent of Republicans said they support the standards when asked about the “Common Core,” 68 percent said they support them when the name was removed from the question—on par with the percent of Democrats who supported the standards.

“Most Americans and most educators agree with the concept of more rigorous college and career ready standards,” said Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday, a strong proponent of the standards. “Where we started losing public support for Common Core is that the term ‘Common Core’ has become polarized.”


Obamacare had a similar problem.  People liked a lot of the components, like the ability to keep a child on your insurance policy until he or she is 26 and no longer allowing pre-existing conditions to disqualify someone from being insured.

A November 2013 poll showed that slightly more people approved of the health care reform law when it was referred to by its official name, the Affordable Care Act, than when it was referred to as “Obamacare.”

As with Obamacare, opposition to the Common Core standards may stem, in part, from misconceptions about what exactly they comprise. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in March 2013 found that 40 percent of people had an unfavorable view of the health care law. The same proportion of people believed—incorrectly—that the law allowed a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care.

Similarly, about 70 percent of the respondents in the Education Next poll thought, wrongly, that the Common Core would allow the federal government to collect detailed data on individual students’ test scores.

Half of respondents held the misconception that the Common Core was a federal program that all states were required to adopt. More than one-third thought that states using the Common Core couldn’t choose their own textbooks or class materials.

“A lot of folks see the common core as federal overreach,” said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which helped devise the standards. “Clearly we have to get our message out that these are just standards and they aren’t telling teachers what to teach.”

So would changing the name really make a difference?

“The name is the name. I don’t think that’s what will necessarily do it,” Minnich said.

But Holliday, who is also the current president of the CCSSO, said he thinks changing the name is inevitable.

“I think the name is probably going to have to be changed in the future,” he said.

So what’s his proposal for a new, improved Common Core brand?

“We should change it to ‘College and Career Ready Standards,’” he said. “Who doesn’t agree that a kid ought to graduate from high school ready for college and career?”

Not exactly snappy.  But in this case, a boring brand might be better than an unpopular one.

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