Guest Post: A Rebuttal To Dr. Atkinson’s ‘State of Education’


The following is a guest column sent to me by a concerned NC Citizen.





This week the NC State Superintendent, Dr. June Atkinson, delivered a stealth “State of Education” message to us all.


Perhaps you missed it (like me), because Supt Atkinson’s message was not a speech, and —  from what we can tell —  was not delivered to the Governor or General Assembly.


Nor was it covered by the media. The real media, that is, like TV stations or newspapers.


Nor was her message posted anywhere on the NC Department of Public Instruction website, which is curious considering she presumably delivered the message as a State employee, in the performance of her State duties, while being paid by NC taxpayers.


Instead, Dr. Atkinson oddly delivered her message via a private website owned by “EducationNC“, an astroturf group funded by variety of NC corporations (predominately SAS and the Goodnights, it seems) and non-profits (like the Smith Reynolds Foundation). A major contributor is the “Low Wealth Schools Consortium”, an amorphous entity with no website, but which ironically contributes at least $100,000 to EducationNC. Low wealth indeed.


Apparently, Dr. Atkinson’s major policy message on the “State of Education” in NC was delivered to just one person, a young “researcher and legislative reporter” for EducationNC named Alex Granados. He certainly looks like a cheerful, friendly audience of, well, one. Thankfully, he apparently knows how to Tweet, otherwise we would have missed Dr. Atkinson’s very important policy message.


Dr. Atkinson’s stealth “State of Education” message addresses two main points: the Governor’s budget and Common Core. We recommend you read it carefully because without doing so it is difficult to discern the glaring omissions in Dr. Atkinson’s speech…er…message.


First, she begins with a (steel) magnolia-scented attack on the Governor and NCGA, asserting that a 10% budget cut to her DPI bureaucracy and a 2% cut to local school districts central office budgets will undermine the education of NC school children by depriving them of “leadership.” Unfortunately, Dr. Atkinson doesn’t say exactly how Educrats in Raleigh or local district middle managers “lead”, or how they contribute to actually teaching children. She simply complains that she and her staff are being ‘punished for success.’


Second, the timing of the Superintendent’s message is suspect. She (and EducationNC) chose to post this very important policy message on March 16th, the same day the Academic Standards Review Commission (ASRC) was hearing from two nationally renown critics of Common Core.


Perhaps it was just a coincidence that Supt Atkinson launched her latest pro-Common Core propaganda on the same day the ASRC heard from out-of-state experts. But it lends the impression that she was clearly scared of the impact Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. James Milgram would have on the ASRC. Both served on the national Common Core validation committee, both refused to approve Common Core, and both were prominently featured in the Common Core documentary “Building the Machine“, a film every NC parent should watch.


Dr. Atkinson then launched into a series of well-worn, disingenuous strawman arguments to support Common Core:


1) Atkinson: “I’m troubled by people saying that we just need to get rid of the standards,” she said. “Especially when that thrust is based on erroneous information, such as Obama made us do it.”


REALITY: While some critics have incorrectly blamed solely President Obama for Common Core, there is currently a well-reported backlash by conservatives against former Governor Jeb Bush, a Republican, for his unwavering support for Common Core. A Google search of Jeb Bush and Common Core yields over one million hits, including over 50,000 news articles. So, Supt Atkinson’s assertion appears to be simply a cynical attempt to garner support for Common Core from Obama voters who are likely unaware of the firestorm against Common Core faced by Republican Jeb Bush.


2) Atkinson: “I find it very very hypocritical for some people to say, for other states to say, we need to get rid of the Common Core,” she said. “My recommendation would be why don’t you stick to your own state, because this is a state right’s issue.”


REALITY: Dr. Atkinson, while apparently trying to motivate native North Carolinians by restarting the Civil War with the “state’s rights” strawman, conveniently ignores that there is heated opposition to Common Core by many real North Carolinians, and by their elected officials who reside in the NC General Assembly and passed legislation to replace Common Core in 2014.


REALITY: Without naming them, Dr. Atkinson was clearly targeting the two out-of-state education standards experts appearing before the Academic Standards Review Commission on March 16. What she failed to say was that they were appearing at the invitation of the ASRC, and had previously been invited by many other States that have reconsidered their rubber stamp acceptance of Common Core. (Notwithstanding Dr. Atkinson’s fear of an invasion of carpet-bagging Yankee educators, the ASRC graciously heard from these two elderly (and unarmed) national experts and engaged them in a vigorous Q&A after their prepared remarks.)


REALITY: Dr. Atkinson, while subtly criticizing out-of-state opponents of Common Core, apparently has no problem with out-of-state Common Core proponents, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and various for-profit education companies, spreading money throughout the State to buy Common Core’s acceptance.


3) Atkinson: “She said the issue has been painted as one of federal overreach, which she says is far from the truth. The federal government didn’t make North Carolina do anything. The State Board of Education — a state Constitutional body, she points out — adopted them.”


REALITY: Dr. Atkinson curiously implies that because the State BOE is a NC constitutional body, that its 2010 unilateral decision to adopt Common Core (which was developed outside of NC by a private company hired by two lobbying groups, and funded with $200 million from Bill Gates) somehow instantly made Common Core a uniquely North Carolina standard. Dr. Atkinson apparently does not apply this same standard to the North Carolina General Assembly, also a NC constitutional body, whose decision to eliminate and replace Common Core is one she seems to have not fully accepted.


REALITY: Dr. Atkinson also fails to mention that the well-documented strategy of Common Core’s advocates was to use the massive income tax shortfall in the States caused by the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, combined with the offer of federal Department of Education grants, as a lever to blackmail financially desperate States into accepting the unfinished and untested Common Core standards. This strategy worked in 46 of 50 States. NC received $ 499 million in Race To the Top Funds to accept and implement Common Core. Dr. Atkinson implies that this federal money did not influence the BOE’s decision to approve Common Core. Right.




Dr. Atkinson conveniently omitted in her stealth “State of Education” message mention that the other organization she heads — the CCSSO, a national lobbying group in Washington, DC,  co-owns the Common Core standards, and was given $90 million (?) by Bill Gates to implement Common Core.  She failed to state that the CCSSO is a prominent advocate of Common Core, and that she as its President leads that effort.


So, there is a fundamental conflict of interest between Superintendent Atkinson’s role as a NC state employee charged with doing what is right for NC schoolchildren and her role as a lobbyist for an out-of-state organization that is funded by private sector education company donors.


So the real State’s Rights issue revealed by Dr. Atkinson’s stealth “State of Education” message is whether NC taxpayers have a right to a State School Superintendent who works solely for our children, and not as a spokes-model for private sector companies that fund, and will massively profit from, her pro-Common Core advocacy.


It is Dr. Atkinson’s fundamental conflict of interest that defines the current State of Education in NC, and is the cause for the citizen civil war against the bureaucracy she runs.


As her message on the private EducationNC website indicates, Superintendent Atkinson is not a failed leader of NC schools. Student performance has improved during her tenure, although it was from a low starting point. Additionally, she has embraceda draft proposal by the State Board of Education to significantly reduce the number and alter the type of testing done in public schools.


However, Dr. Atkinson continues to stubbornly defend Common Core standards that are based on three willful falsehoods that have been repeatedly disproved over the past five years: that they were “State led and developed”, “internationally benchmarked”, and “college and career ready.” Stubbornly defending a policy based on lies doesn’t help Dr. Atkinson’s credibility, nor does communicating with her constituents via a website owned by corporations that profit from her decisions as a State employee.


So despite her accomplishments Dr. Atkinson’s stealth message on the “State of Education” in NC reveals her as corporate-backed monopolistic bureaucrat defending a broken 19th century school model. While technology, online learning, and charter schools proliferate, Dr. Atkinson ignores these changes and continues to embrace a prison model of education based on seat-time and Common Core testing.


Dr. Atkinson’s stubborn unwillingness to change may be why her department’s budget is getting cut by the governor and state legislature. Further, it may be why the General Assembly has proposed a constitutional amendment to have the governor appoint the State school superintendent, with the approval of the legislature, instead of having an elected superintendent who spends her energy defending her bureaucracy instead of improving teaching and learning in public schools.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a reporter currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_ Tips:
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