Refuting common Common Core misconceptions

Eight years after their adoption by the vast majority of states, public misconceptions about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) still abound. Even our president seems confused about what exactly the standards are, how they were adopted, and what the federal government can and can’t do to abolish or impose them on states. Given their pervasiveness, is it possible to correct common public misconceptions about Common Core? And to what extent might changing public support for education policies ultimately aid in their implementation?

A new study released via Brookings’ Evidence Speaks series last month explores these issues by employing the fairly simple intervention strategy of a “refutation text,” which comes in various lengths and types and is “written for the purpose of changing widely held misconceptions.” The study sought to answer three key questions: First, what impact does a refutation text have on respondents’ correct conceptions and misconceptions regarding the CCSS? Second, to what extent does it reduce the relationship of political views with correct conceptions and misconceptions? And third, are effects only immediate, or do they persist over a week?

Using a sample of six hundred respondents garnered via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, researchers Stephen Aguilar, Morgan Polikoff, and Gale Sinatra, all of USC’s Rossier School of Education, surveyed respondents about their overall support for the CCSS, their sources of information on the standards, and common CCSS misconceptions, such as whether the CCSS were developed by the Obama administration and whether Common Core prevents states from adding content to the standards. They then provided half of respondents with a brief refutation text correcting common misconceptions before asking them the same series of questions again. The other half of respondents, comprising the study’s “control group,” were provided excerpts from a 2015 Education Week article overviewing the CCSS (a “placebo”) in place of the refutation text.

The study’s results promisingly suggest that treatment (i.e., receiving the refutation text) “significantly reduced misconceptions and increased correct conceptions” when compared to the study’s randomly assigned control group, though both groups saw improvements. Exposure to the refutation text also improved respondents’ overall attitudes towards the CCSS and appeared to annul the relationship between political views and CCSS misconceptions. When researchers re-surveyed the same participants one week later, they found effects on participants’ conceptions and misconceptions largely persisted over that time.

The politics and misconceptions surrounding Common Core took many advocates by surprise following their creation in 2010, and it’s unfortunate and downright shocking that many of these misconceptions continue today. Although much more research needs to be done on the use of refutation texts in the education realm—such as whether effects persist for longer than a week and whether results can be replicated with non-self-selecting survey respondents—this study encouragingly suggests that they may be one tool with which to address common public misconceptions about education policies and reforms. It’s also worth noting that this study’s effects likely would have been even larger if the control group had instead received no information, rather than excerpts from an online article on the topic.

SOURCE: Stephen J. Aguilar, Morgan S. Polikoff, Gale M. Sinatra, “When public opinion on policy is driven by misconceptions, refute them,” Brookings (January 2018).