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Washington • Many Americans are confused about the Common Core State Standards, according to a new poll that finds widespread misperceptions that the academic standards which cover only math and reading extend to topics such as sex education, evolution, global warming and the American Revolution.
A 55 percent majority said the Common Core covers at least two subjects that it does not actually cover, according to the survey that Fairleigh Dickinson University conducted and funded. Misperceptions were widespread, including among both supporters and opponents of the program and peaking among those who say they are paying the most attention to the standards.
The Common Core is a set of guidelines that describe what children should learn and be able to do in math and reading from kindergarten through 12th grade. They began as a bipartisan, state-led effort and do not contain classroom curricula: States and school districts decide how to teach the skills and knowledge that the Common Core describes.
The poll findings show that advocates for the Common Core face a major public relations challenge as they seek to bolster support for the national academic standards, which have been adopted in more than 40 states but have become a target for some conservatives and many parents across the country.
"People are receiving bad information," said Blair Mann, a spokeswoman for the Collaborative for Student Success, a pro-Common Core group that is funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the new standards. "There are a million different Web sites that you can go to that have the 'truth' about the Common Core that are just perpetuating these myths."
Mann blamed politicians such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, both Republicans with presidential aspirations, for spreading misinformation for political gain.
Paul's political action committee sent a fundraising email last month criticizing the standards as "anti-American propaganda, revisionist history that ignores the faith of our Founders." Jindal also suggested in a recent speech about the Common Core that the standards address U.S. history lessons.
"What happens when American history is not the American history that you and I learned about, but rather it becomes a history of grievances, of victimhood?" Jindal said.
Asked to explain, Shannon Bates Dirmann, a spokeswoman for Jindal said: "Gov. Jindal wasn't talking about current curriculum, but what type of curriculum to expect if the federal government continues to control what our children learn from Washington. President Barack Obama and bureaucrats in D.C. have proven over the last several years that they do not believe in American exceptionalism, and if they continue to garner control over K-12 education that view could be passed to our children."
Paul has said he is a proponent of state and local control when it comes to educational standards.
"Common Core is a prime example of federal overreach into academic standards which have been traditionally set by the states and localities," said Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Paul. "As educators, parents and other experts are finding out, the standards of Common Core are just the tip of the iceberg in a much larger federal education agenda. It would be dishonest to say that the Common Core State Standards do not inform curricula, textbooks, and assessments. A distorted and problematic view of American history is evident in Common Core aligned textbooks and the readings it recommends and omits."
The issue could play a role in the 2016 presidential primaries, separating candidates like Jindal, Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who recently changed from supporting the Core to saying he has "grave concerns" about it from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a longtime advocate for the Core .