Under the Dome

Atkinson defends data-dump response to Lt. Gov. Forest’s questions

State Schools Supt. June Atkinson says her voluminous response to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest's written questions last summer about the state's Common Core standards for English and Math education wasn't a data-dump version of "get lost," but rather a proper, detailed reply commensurate with the nature and volume of questions.

Forest, a vocal opponent of the standards, said he was simply trying to get answers to what he described as 67 questions, and got buried under Atkinson's reply: 12 boxes of documents containing about 40,000 sheets of paper, referrals to 134 websites, more than 320 separate reports, a blog post and a thumb drive, and a cover sheet that didn't directly answer anything.

Tuesday, during the first meeting of a joint legislative committee that's scrutinizing Common Core, Rep. Larry G. Pittman, a Cabarrus County Republican told Atkinson – a Democrat – that the way she responded to Forest had struck him as evasive, dismissive, condescending and disrespectful, and that she should produce proper, concise answers before the committee's next meeting.

Atkinson responded that her answers to Forest were as concise as they should be.

"It was my intent to share with him, because I knew that the lieutenant governor was new to the state board of education, to answer his questions in a thorough manner and give him two ways of being able to see the answer to those questions," Atkinson said. "One was to provide him with websites; two was to provide him with documentation."

She noted that there really hadn't been just 67 questions, but rather 237 of them, counting sub-questions, that took Forest 20 pages to list. For example, she said, he asked where the Department of Public Instruction had held meetings dealing with the Common Core, then also sought the minutes, agendas and comments from those who attended.

There were hundreds of such meetings, she said.

"It was my intent to answers his questions thoroughly, to ensure that he had the information he needed, and unfortunately in order to do that I needed to send him those pieces of paper," she said.

"There were some questions that he asked about why did Pennsylvania do this, why did New York do this, why did (U.S.) Secretary (of Education Arne) Duncan provide waivers, and I did not answer those questions and I told him in the letter why I did not, because I did not know why," she said.

"But I think that it was my intent to provide him all the information that he requested … He's a member of the council of state, I am too, and I showed him the same respect that I would want him to show me had I sent him a 20-page letter."