Reviewing Kentucky’s education Power Structure: David Adkisson

Reviewing Kentucky’s Education Power Structure: David Adkisson

David Adkisson
David Adkisson

There is a reason why Kentucky was the first state to adopt and implement the Common Core State Standards.  As noted in an earlier article, Kentucky’s power structure consists of Gene Wilhoit, Terry Holliday, Felicia Smith, Steve Beshear, David Adkisson, Vicki Phillips, etc., along with a bureaucratic framework that rivals most any other state.  And the timing was right as well.
In 2009 the Kentucky General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1. This legislation mandated new academic standards focused on the “critical knowledge, skills and capacities needed for success in the global economy.”  The Senate Bill 1 steering committee supported collaboration with the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), then led by former Kentucky Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit, in the Common Core Standards project.  In February of 2010, Governor Steve Beshear and the Commissioner of Education, Terry Holliday, adopted the Common Core State Standards (although not yet completed and without our elected legislators’ involvement).
David Adkisson, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, is the important third leg of this three-legged stool (along with Gene Wilhoit and Terry Holliday) that makes up the main power structure for the support and implementation of the Common Core State Standards in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
A graduate of Georgetown College, David Adkisson earned a Masters in Ethics from Harvard University in 1975.  He began his career with the Chamber of Commerce, Owensboro, KY, first as a project manager and then as the executive vice president. At age 34, David was elected mayor of Owensboro and re-elected four years later.
During his 20 years of service in Kentucky, David Adkisson held several statewide leadership posts including chairman of the Kentucky Advocates for Higher Education, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Executives (KCCE), co-founder of Leadership Kentucky and chairman of the Kentucky Center for Public Issues.
In 1999, David Adkisson was named the president of the Birmingham, Alabama Chamber of Commerce.  After nearly six years at that post he came back to Kentucky as the President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.  In 2007, he spearheaded and created a strategic plan for the State called the “New Agenda for Kentucky”, and the Chamber assembled a panel of Kentucky’s top CEOs to conduct a major study of higher education.
The actions of the next couple of years set the stage for how Kentucky ended up with Common Core (Kentucky Core Academic Standards) and why Kentucky was the first state to adopt such standards and assessments.

•    A summer meeting in 2008, set up by Gene Wilhoit, a former Kentucky Commissioner of Education and then current Executive Director of the CCSSO, and David Coleman, an emerging evangelist in the standards movement who would become the so-called “architect of Common Core”, met with Bill and Melinda Gates asking them to fund their efforts in revamping U.S. education policy.   Weeks passed, finally Wihoit received a call, Gates was all in.  Not only did the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards, with over $200 Million, the Foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.
•    February 17, 2009 President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law.  This legislation included $4.35 Billion in “Race to the Top” grants to entice states to file for these much needed funds, which soon included the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and their assessments, Statewide Longitudinal Data System, etc.
•    Coincidentally, in early 2009, Kentucky’s Senate Bill 1 calls for major changes in its educational standards, testing, accountability and professional development.  Governor Beshear signs the bill into law on March 26, 2009.
•    April 2009, the development of the standards began and were overseen by the CCSSO and the NGA.
•    In July of 2009, Terry Holliday, Ph.D., was selected as Kentucky’s fifth Commissioner of Education.
•    Wilhoit, Executive Director of the CCSSO, working with Commissioner Holliday and 40+ other chief state school officers, convinced them to adopt the Common Core State Standards.
•    February 2010, Kentucky is the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards.  This is before the draft of the grade-by-grade standards was released for public comment on March 10th, and the final set of standards were not released until June 2nd of 2010.

Now that Governor Beshear, Commissioner Holliday and the DOE had adopted the Common Core (Kentucky Core Academic Standards) without legislative or public hearings, they needed a major partner to develop a campaign to build support for this action.  To the rescue, David Adkisson, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

With $476,553 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s foundation produced a seven-minute video about the value and impact of the Common Core, a tool kit to guide employers in how to talk about its benefits with their employees, a list of key facts that could be stuffed into paycheck envelopes, and other promotional materials written by consultants.  The Chamber also created a coalition on more than five dozen company executives across the state who lent their names to ads placed in business publications that supported the Common Core.

David Adkisson boasted, “The notion that the business community was behind this, those seeds were planted across the state, and that reaped a nice harvest in terms of public opinion.”

Adkisson and Commissioner Holliday built strong support for the Common Core, using millions of dollars of outside money and with little knowledge of what was actually in the Common Core,

Over time, more than $15 Million in Gates money was directed both to the state – to train teachers in Common Core practices and purchase classroom materials – and to on-the-ground advocacy and business groups to help build public support.  What was also very helpful, the Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (since 2007) is Vicki Phillips, who grew up in Kentucky, went to Western Kentucky University, served seven years as the Assistant Chief Executive to the Kentucky Commissioner of Education, and still has close ties with the power structure in Kentucky’s education circles.

“Without the Gates money,” Commissioner Holliday added, “we wouldn’t have been able to do this.”

Perpetuating this action is The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky (The Fund) and its board of Directors which includes David Adkisson, Gene Wilhoit, Terry Holliday, Senator Mike Wilson, along with other business and academic leaders.  Its mission is to “recruit, coordinate, and support expertise and resources to inspire and scale innovation and excellence in Kentucky’s public schools, resulting in a better future for all of our children”.

With the initial tests scores from this new Common Core curriculum being disappointingly down, the state now claims how well everything is working and moving our students forward to be college- and career-ready.  Yet, if you look at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Leaders & Laggards” for the 2014 Report Card on the State of Kentucky, you’ll see a somewhat different story:

•    Academic Achievement – Grade C (down from Grade A in 2007)
•    Academic Achievement for Low-Income and Minority Students – Grade C
•    Return on Investment – Grade C
•    Truth in Advertising: Student Proficiency – Grade C
•    Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness – Grade C
•    21st Century Teaching Force – Grade C
•    Parental Options – Grade F
•    Data Quality – Grade A
•    Technology – Grade D
•    International Competiveness – Grade D
•    Fiscal Responsibility – Grade F

So, has the Kentucky Department of Education under Commissioner Terry Holliday and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce led by President and CEO David Adkisson, and all this outside money, sold Kentuckians that Common Core is what is needed to move Kentucky forward in the new global economy?  I think not.

More and more Kentuckians, as they understand what, why and who is fueling this Common Core initiative, will rise up and demand that they be heard by our elected legislators.  But what good are public hearings if no actions are taken, or if the votes are negated?

Case in point:

•    A public hearing was held on March 13, 2014 before the Senate Education Committee where substantive arguments against Common Core were made by academic experts, yet Commissioner Terry Holliday, with side-kick Kentucky Chamber President David Adkisson, praised the standards.  Chair Senator Mike Wilson decided to take no action.

•    Or, the public hearing on September 11, 2013 before the Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee to consider adopting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), where the subcommittee voted 5 to 1 saying these science standards were “deficient”, Commissioner Holliday goes running to the Governor and Governor Beshear decides to use his executive privilege and negated the vote and made the NGSS law of the state.

We must demand to be heard.  Kentuckians throughout the state need to get involved and contact your state representatives and senators and voice your opposition to the Common Core (Kentucky Core Academic Standards), its aligned assessments and the insidious data collection on our students and their families.

Wayne M. Meyer, AIA
A Concerned Father / Grandfather

A 40+ Year Professional, contact:
Read the other two articles on Gene Wilhoit and Terry Holliday:

Sources for this article:
•    Lyndsey Layton’s Washington Post article, June 7, 2014,
•    U.S. Chamber’s and “Leaders & Laggards” Kentucky’s Report Card

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