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As School Begins, Common-Core Tensions Flare

It's safe to say that, as the new school year begins, the Common Core State Standards remain just a little bit of a touchy subject in some school communities. To wit: According to the political news site Yellowhammer, teachers in Huntsville, Ala., have come under fire for distributing "pro common core" handouts at an elementary school open house last week.

The handouts, designed by the local chamber of commerce, addressed a number of apparent misconceptions about the standards that have been circulated by opponents of the framework, including the oft-heard charge that schools' curricula will be controlled by the federal government.

Some parents who attended the open house accused the teachers who gave out the handouts of spreading political propaganda while on the job. "It's a blatant disregard of ethics," said one parent.

A local school board member defended the teachers. "This is a curriculum issue, not a political issue," Jennie Robinson told Yellowhammer. "The flyers represent an effort to inform parents about state standards and curriculum issues."

The common standards have been the subject of a particularly heated debate in Alabama. Earlier this year, Republicans lawmakers in the state, spurred by conservative activists concerned about possible curriculum mandates and infringments on local control, mounted numerous legislative attempts to prevent the state from implementing the standards. Those attempts failed in part due to pressure from state education officials and business leaders.

Michael Sibley, a spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Education, said that the department had no role in the Huntsville school open house incident but that he sympathized with the teachers' plight. "We have been pushing back against the barrage of misinformation that has been put out there about Common Core," he said. "Many teachers feel like this is an exciting new way of learning and teaching that benefits the students of this state and will make them college and career ready -- prepared to go into the workforce with some type of employable skill."

According to AL.com, the anti-common-core group Alabamians United for Excellence in Education has countered that the teachers' handouts were a blatantly political attempt to sway parents' opinions. The group has also charged that school officials throughout the state have sought, in effect, to place a gag order on teachers who might be critical of the standards.

Alabama's Superintendent of Education Tommy Brice, a key supporter of the common standards in the state, characterized both charges as false.

Should be an interesting school year ...

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