SALT LAKE CITY — A majority of Democrats and a plurality of Republicans say Utah should stay the course on the Common Core State Standards, according to the latest Utah Policy.com/KSL Insider Survey.
The survey, which regularly polls a group of roughly 250 lawmakers, lobbyists and policymakers on political issues, found that 88 percent of Democratic insiders and 49 percent of Republican insiders think the state should continue using the standards, which outline the minimum English and mathematics skills a student should learn at each grade level.
"I was surprised that the support for Common Core among our Republican insiders was so high," UtahPolicy.com managing editor Bryan Schott said. "I was expecting maybe one-third but not almost one-half."
But readers who participated in the online survey were overwhelmingly opposed to the standards, which are seen by some as a federal intrusion into local control of education.
Education officials have long maintained that the standards preserve curriculum and classroom decisions at the local level. But the lingering controversy recently prompted Gov. Gary Herbert to direct the Utah Attorney General's Office to conduct a review of Utah's commitments under the Common Core.
Schott said the controversial topic generated abnormally high traffic for the reader portion of the Insider Survey, which he attributed in part to the efforts of anti-Common Core advocacy groups to rally the participation of their members.
He said more than 6,500 votes were cast on the survey and added that the bulk of the participants are likely not regular readers of UtahPolicy.com.
I was surprised that the support for Common Core among our Republican insiders was so high. I was expecting maybe one-third but not almost one-half.
"Clearly there are people who are very interested in this and especially the opponents are very vocal and they’re very good at social media and very good at pushing these things out and that’s why we saw the traffic that we did," Schott said. "They were there and they wanted to make their opinions known."
Cherilyn Eagar, president of the American Leadership Fund and a former GOP congressional candidate, said she used social media to encourage her friends and followers to take part in the survey.
She said the results from Utah's political insiders reflect the general lack of understanding among the state's policymakers in regards to the Common Core.
"I just encourage more people to learn more about it and can very well assure people that if they do, we have both Democrats and Republicans who are concerned when they learn more," she said.
Eagar said her opposition to the Common Core is less a response to the content of the standards themselves as it is a reaction to some of the consequences born out of the state's adoption of national standards.
She said she and other parents worry about student data being inappropriately shared — though data collection is a requirement under No Child Left Behind, and not the Common Core — and that the new standards have led to an increase in testing that is deleterious to student learning.
"The bipartisan concerns from both parents and teachers are really about the testing and testing and more testing," she said. "Evidence is showing that this is creating far too much stress in young children."
Schott said he worded the survey question to ask participants for their opinion on the Common Core, rather than asking them to speculate on what Utah will do with the Common Core, because he wanted to prompt a more direct reaction.
He said the survey gives lawmakers and lobbyists an opportunity to candidly voice their opinion on an issue without the threat of blowback from voters and constituents.
"It’s not scientific but I think it is a unique snapshot of just how our policymakers are thinking about an issue," Schott said.
Along with the survey results, Schott posted a selection of comments submitted by participants. The comments are kept anonymous and are not delineated between insiders and readers, but show a weariness to the protracted nature of the debate.
"Those who really understand (the standards) and want to see improvements to education seem supportive but the vocal opposition makes it hard to stay focused," wrote one participant.
Other comments were critical of Herbert's decision to review the standards, suggesting that he was acting out of a desire to appease hard-line opponents.
"This review is nothing more than the governor pandering to his right-wing base," one comment read. "He is getting nervous as the angry rhetoric is heating up among the conspiracy theorists."
Schott said the survey generated one of the largest responses he has seen, which he expected considering the volatile nature of the Common Core debate.
"Sometimes in this new media landscape you have to be an unrepentant troll," he said. "The number of comments we had from our insiders was around 70, but the number of comments I had from our readers was 5,000."
Eagar said she's pleased with the governor's decision to review the Common Core. She also said the next step for opponents will be a continued effort to educate parents on issues like data collection and excessive testing.
"There’s a strong effort to encourage parents to opt out of the testing," she said. "That’s been building for quite a while now."