Survey Shows Pennsylvanians Support Rigorous Statewide Academic Standards

Oct 23, 2012, 16:52 ET from Pennsylvania Business Council Education Foundation

Fewer than one in three Pennsylvania voters in a new poll would give public schools in the state an "A" or "B" grade, but two out of three agree that implementing tougher standards that would be common across the 50 states would improve educational performance.

HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct. 23, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a survey of 600 registered voters conducted as students were preparing to return to school from the summer holiday, less than one-third of those surveyed (32 percent) gave an "A" or "B" (excellent or above average) to Pennsylvania's public schools. Two out of five Pennsylvania voters surveyed gave Commonwealth schools a "C" (for average) grade.   

The poll was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Business Council Education Foundation and conducted by The Tarrance Group, a national polling firm.

Even though many surveyed think schools are doing a fair to excellent job, almost half (48 percent) believe public schools in the state have gotten worse in the past 10 years.  The survey underscores the public's desire to improve Pennsylvania education.

In fact, better than four of five (83 percent) of those surveyed agreed with the statement, "The same standards should be taught in every part of the state."  And although only 20 percent of voters said they had ever heard about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative launched in Pennsylvania and 45 other states through the National Governors Association, the idea, once explained, was supported strongly (67 percent).

Those surveyed also strongly supported the potential benefits resulting from a more rigorous public school curriculum that would result from implementing CCSS at every grade level in Pennsylvania.  A total of 68 percent said a more rigorous curriculum would make students better citizens; 76 percent agreed students would be better prepared to get a first job; 71 percent believed it would help make them life-long learners and 64 percent believed they would be better prepared for college.

Better than one in five surveyed (22 percent) said the biggest advantage for having CCSS at every grade level was that it would help ensure that all high school graduates have the knowledge and skills necessary to enter the workforce.  Almost as many people (19 percent) noted that it would ensure that all graduates have mastered knowledge required to begin a successful college career.  About one in six surveyed (16 percent) thought that the biggest advantage of having statewide standards at every grade level was that students and teachers would know what is acceptable and what is expected.

One of the key features of Common Core State Standards is that all participating states would voluntarily align their learning requirements with other states.  Voters participating in the survey saw value in this, with 70 percent stating that it was important to them that Pennsylvania's educational system compares favorably with the education programs of other states.  Similarly, 71 percent of participants want Pennsylvania's educational system to compare favorably with education in other countries. 

Most participants (55 percent) said they believed Pennsylvania's educational system compared favorably with other states with about one in five (20 percent) said they believed Pennsylvania schools were better than those of other states.  Respondents weren't so sure about how Pennsylvania schools ranked worldwide.  A total of 16 percent said they felt Pennsylvania schools were "strongly better" or "somewhat better" than other nations; 25 percent said they thought Pennsylvania schools are about the same.  But, 42 percent said they felt Pennsylvania public schools were worse than those in other nations.

Another key component of the Common Core initiative is a set of exams that would be shared by many states — the Common State Assessment (CSA).  The federal No Child Left Behind law first required uniform exams to chart progress toward proficiency and Pennsylvania created the PSSA exams.  Soon, Pennsylvania will begin to replace the PSSAs with new assessments known as the Keystone Exams.  An overwhelming 70 percent of survey respondents agreed with the statement, "Every student in the state should have to pass a common exam to make certain the same core material is being learned."

Survey respondents also shared their belief that more rigorous academic standards and proof of proficiency through common assessments would reduce the amount of remedial education needed by college and other post-secondary students.  Sixty-two percent of respondents said that average recent graduates of a public school in Pennsylvania might need "some" remedial training after graduating from high school and 19 percent said recent graduates require "a lot" of remediation.

About one in three surveyed said they saw a strong role for business men and women in public schools to "serve as mentors for students."  Others said the best way for businesses to be involved in education would be in "helping to set curriculum and standards" (16 percent), donating money to local teachers and schools (11 percent) and donating equipment to local teachers and schools (11 percent). 

The Tarrance Group conducted the survey among 600 registered voters via live telephone interviews between Aug. 13 and Aug. 16.  Each interview lasted 22 minutes and calls completed included 20 percent cell phone users.  The estimated margin of error in a survey of this type is plus or minute 4.1 percent.

For supporting materials including survey results go to

For a recording of the 10 AM press conference, go to:

SOURCE Pennsylvania Business Council Education Foundation