Reviewing Kentucky’s Education Power Structure: Vicki Phillips

Reviewing Kentucky’s Education Power Structure: Vicki Phillips

Vicki Phillips

There is a reason why Kentucky was the first state to adopt and implement the Common Core State Standards.  As noted in earlier articles, Kentucky’s power structure consists of Gene Wilhoit, Terry Holliday, Steve Beshear, David Adkisson, and Vicki Phillips, 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 and Executive Director of the CCSSO, Gene Wilhoit, in the Common Core State Standards project.  In February of 2010, Governor Steve Beshear and the Kentucky Department of Education, with Education Commissioner, Terry Holliday, adopted the Common Core State Standards (although not yet completed and without our elected legislators’ involvement).

What made the adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Kentucky work so well, was and still is, the major financial assistance provided by Vicki Phillips, Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since 2007.

Vicki Phillips grew up in in the small, poor, but well-named rural Kentucky town called Falls of Rough.  Not expected to amount to much, a high school friend of hers persuaded her to go to college.  She received her Bachelor’s and her Master’s from Western Kentucky University and her Doctor of Education from the University of Lincoln in England (2002).  She has worked as a teacher, served seven years as Assistant Chief Executive to the Kentucky Commissioner of Education; Superintendent of Schools in Lancaster, PA (1998-2003); Chief State School Officer for PA (2003-2004); Superintendent of Schools in Portland, OR (2004-2007); and then the Director of Education, College-Ready for the Gates Foundation.  She is still very close with her colleagues in Kentucky and has issued grants of more than $30 Million (2009-2014) to fund many of their programs.  She and Gene Wilhoit are both active as keynote speakers at numerous education conferences.

As Director of Education, College-Ready for the Gates Foundation, she has coordinated with the NGA and the CCSSO and with the Gates funding has offered consulting assistance to states for their Race to the Top applications, which in turn has led to 40+ states adopting the Common Core State Standards, its aligned assessments, data collection, teacher evaluations, etc. 

A look back at her perceived successes, while serving as the Superintendent of Portland schools, may provide some insight to her filling the position at the Gates Foundation.  While the superintendent position in the famously progressive, consensus-driven city, she closed six schools, merged nearly two dozen others through K-8 conversions, pushed to standardize the district’s curriculum, and championed new controversial measures for testing the district’s 46,000 children without much concern about the effects on the neighborhoods and schools.  A local newspaper nicknamed her “Hurricane Vicki”.

Yet Portland’s business leaders called Phillips a strong leader in a time of crisis.  With a diminishing school population and tight school budgets, she was, in their eyes, a “Rising Star”.  “She’s decisive, she’s fact-based, she’s inclusive, she listens, and she’s not afraid to change her mind when the facts tell her to change her mind,” said Sandra McDonough, President and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance.

Many teachers, however, saw Phillips’ efforts as “top-down” and disingenuously urgent.  “Her vision of an ideal school system was one with a powerful centralized office that was always reacting to problems with new mandates-sometimes, it felt, capricious,” says Karl Meiner, a high school English teacher in the district.

Even more teachers worried that the effects of her reforms would be a wholesale dumbing down of Portland’s schools.  Teachers warned against “cookie cutter” schools as Phillips pushed for what she called equity and the teachers called sameness.  “Once she knew what she wanted to do, she just did it no matter what,” says Hyung Nam, a Portland high school social studies teacher. 

Being ambitious, attuned to the concerns of business, with a legacy of top-down decisions, and standardization offered with a rhetoric of equity, Vicki Phillips, in August of 2007, became the Director of Education, College-Ready program of the Gates Foundation, with a purse of $3.4 Billion, a sum far greater than the discretionary funds in the U.S. Department of Education’s 2008 budget.

Phillips is a force to be reckoned with: “Truly, because money talks so loudly in this country, it makes her, by default, the nation’s Director of Education, in control of $3 billion smackers.” says education activist, Susan Ohanian. 

So, with the national stature of Vicki Phillips, her access to unbelievable amounts of funds, and being a home-grown product, makes her a major player in the power structure here in Kentucky.  Between Governor Beshear, Commissioner Terry Holliday, Gene Wihoit, currently the Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Education at UK, David Adkisson, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and their dear friend Vicki Phillips, is there anything this power structure cannot do, whether it is in the best interest of Kentucky’s children, or otherwise? 


Wayne M. Meyer, AIA

A Father and Grandfather                                                                                                                          A 40+ Year Professional                                                                       


(Read about the other power structure members in the KACC Archives)


Terry Donoghue

Homeschooling in Kentucky, A Way Around Common Core?

558672_396436553707436_410238846_nI’ve been a Kentucky homeschooling mom since before homeschooling was the cool thing to do.  Homeschooling, like motherhood, isn’t for wimps.  And it isn’t necessarily a way around Common Core.

The College Board’s current President, David Coleman, is one of the chief architects behind Common Core, and of course, all SAT, AP, and college planning done via the College Board are keyed to Common Core.  You can read all about David Coleman here, here, and via our own video here. If you really enjoy the feeling of the hair standing up on the back of your neck, just do a Google search on Mr. Coleman.

The point here is that most homeschool families participate in testing for college entrance.  So, just to be clear, homeschooling is not a work around for Common Core. And homeschooling families should be working alongside public and private school families to rid the Commonwealth of Common Core, as a way of standing in the gap for families who cannot homeschool or the voiceless in the school system who cannot fight Common Core.

So, why homeschool in Kentucky at all? There are a myriad of reasons homeschooling is a good choice for families.  Personalized education, parental oversight of school materials, religious reasons, children are able to learn at their own pace, etc.  And study after study has shown that homeschooling works and works well.

It does take time and effort. It requires a lot of the parent or parents, and even extended family.  But, personally, I have found it worth it.  I’ve homeschooled all four of my children with stellar results.

But, this article is for those who would like to know what it takes to homeschool in Kentucky.

Kentucky is a great place to homeschool, as we are considered private schools and governed in the same way those private schools are.

In order to have a bonafide homeschool in Kentucky, you must adhere to the Best Practice document found here.   This includes notification of your intent to homeschool your child given to the local school district, certain subjects that need to be covered, and attendance records kept.  This important document and agreement also cover when, where, and why the State can intercede in your homeschool and is a document every homeschool family should be familiar with and keep a printed copy on file at home.

A legal analysis of homeschooling in Kentucky can be found here.

Other suggestions for homeschooling in Kentucky:

1. Join CHEK, which is our statewide homeschooling advocacy group.  A Christian organization, CHEK supports the rights of ALL parents to direct the education of their children through homeschooling.

2. Join HSLDA. A small monthly, or affordable yearly fee provide you with legal insurance for your homeschool.

3. To understand homeschooling and Common core, some excellent articles: IAHE statement on Common Core Joy Pullman and HSLDA, CHEK and Common Core.

And finally, for every homeschooler or those considering homeschooling, this site will direct you to Common Core free homeschooling materials with statements from homeschool curriculum providers, The Homeschool Resource Roadmap.

Homeschooling can, and is done with excellence.  Kentucky children deserve the best possible education that can be provided, and for my family and countless others, the best teacher turned out to be Mom.

I’m happy to field questions about homeschooling via the comment box.

Gina Glenn, Homeschooling Mom, and CHEK social media coordinator


Recanvas Confirmed! Matt Bevin Wins Republican Gubernatorial Primary

Matt Bevins for Governor
Matt Bevins for Governor

Kentuckians Against Common Core is please to announce their support for Republican candidate, Matt Bevin in the race for Governor of Kentucky.

Matt Bevin has consistently supported efforts to repeal Common Core in Kentucky.  In our efforts to defeat Common Core in Kentucky, we need a Governor on our side.

Democrat candidate, Jack Conway, is a strong supporter of Common Core in Kentucky and refused to answer our survey sent earlier this year.

You can read the response from Matt Bevin here.

You can visit Mr. Bevin’s website here.


Common Core Ties to Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia

– – Tuesday, April 7, 2015

“Where did Common Core come from?” is a question I often hear from parents  as I travel the country speaking about the Islamic infiltration of America.

Because in 2014-15 America, public school students via Common Core are:



No, most Kentucky KPREP scores are not that close to NAEP scores

from Dick Innes of Bluegrass Institute

The Kentucky Department of Education sent out News Release 15-051 yesterday, which contains some inaccurate information about how the state’s KPREP test compares to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). While the release claims “Kentucky Among Handful of States with Reliable Test Scores,” that might be stretching things.

To begin, the term “Reliable” has specific meaning when we are talking about tests. This gets technical, but you can read about the formal meaning of test reliability here if you want. In any event – unless I missed something – the news release does not seem to refer to any formal determination of test reliability for Kentucky’s Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress tests (KPREP). In fact, I don’t know if any formal reliability studies have been completed for KPREP. Perhaps the media staff at the department just made an unfortunate selection of terms, but the news release needs a correction.

There are more problems because claims in this release are math-challenged.

Read more.

Kentucky teachers on Common Core problems someone might not want you to hear about

from: Dick Innes of Bluegrass Institute


We’ve heard from Frankfort (and even the Wall Street Journal) that Kentucky’s teachers are not speaking out much about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) problems. Well, maybe we are not hearing about our teachers’ issues because someone doesn’t want us to hear what’s being said.

A case in point: take a look at this comment from Page 15 in a never-released report from the American Institutes of Research (AIR):

One TL (Teacher Leader) in Kentucky described LDC (Literacy Design Collaborative) training provided by the state as piecemeal:

I hate to speak negatively of our state because I do think they have done some very positive things. But I also think that [it is bad to] just give pockets of information here, here, and here and not give the full training on something­ just giving you a taste of it to where you are not getting the full implementation of certain things- I think that causes problems. And I know that has caused issues…in my school with the LDC [tool] because I am, like, “That is not a module. You gave your kids a question, and they had to write about it. That is not a module.” But [the teachers say] “that is what they told us.”

Read more on his blog here.

Our Response to KDE and Holliday’s Threats on Opting Out of High Stakes Testing


The mission of Kentuckians Against Common Core is clear: repeal it. Those involved in the organization share this view and are working diligently toward this goal. Now parents have begun asking tough questions and demanding their constitutional rights as guardians of their children —protected under the Fourteenth Amendment— be respected and upheld with regard to their education. Unfortunately, many school administrators and Kentucky Department of Education officials view themselves as the ultimate authority over Kentucky’s kids and are often at odds with parents seeking to protect their children from inappropriate content, inferior curriculum and excessive testing. KACC is working to educate the public on what Common Core is all about, why the “opt out” movement is growing, and what is really going on in Frankfort.

“It is not our right to tell parents what to do education-wise,” said KACC’s Terry Donoghue, “and it is not up to the Kentucky Department of Education or Terry Holliday to tell them their kids have to take all those standardized tests.” Holliday, who has served as Kentucky’s education commissioner since 2009, has been under fire from anti-Common Core groups for telling parents they do not have the ability to opt their children out of state testing. Parents have been doing just that in other states, New York being a prime example. According to an April 14, 2015 article in the New York Post, “Parents across the city and state drew a thick line in the sand Tuesday, boycotting high-stakes standardized tests that they blame for unnecessary student anxiety and unfair teacher evaluations. Vowing to shatter last year’s opt-out numbers, Common Core test opponents organized a social media campaign and got the backing of the state teachers union to encourage students to put down their pencils. Anecdotal evidence suggests they succeeded. The number of students statewide who balked at taking Tuesday’s English exam for third- to eighth- graders will likely surpass last year’s 60,000.”

But in the Commonwealth the KDE continues to mandate that the testing is not optional and parents have no right to keep their children from participating. “This whole thing is about money,” said Donoghue. Kentucky was the first state to sign-on to the so-called standards, and in doing so became eligible for federal grant money as part of the “Race to the Top” program. From the feds to Pearson Education, who handles the KPREP testing, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who have contributed extensive grant money, millions of dollars have been poured into Common Core as a means to undermine individual state authority—guaranteed under the Tenth Amendment—to oversee the education of our children. “We went to Louisville to protest Common Core for Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s visit. Terry Holliday ran away, but Duncan talked with us briefly. Nothing new, just the same old stuff. I wanted to ask Holliday if it hadn’t been for the money, would we have Common Core?” Donoghue reflected on the untested, unproven “standards” adding, “Even Holliday has said we are over-testing, but keeps supporting it. And Bill Gates said it might be ten years before we know if it works. Ten years? How can we do that to our kids?”

Beyond the unseemly money-for-goods angle, there is another aspect to Common Core that goes against the very fabric of our Constitution and the liberty it provides our citizens. The whole premise of CC is to create a cookie cutter, federally funded, top-down education system that necessarily diminishes parental involvement and allows control and power to operate via political ideological fiat. This is at best grievous, at worst intolerable. Concerned parent Carrie Cox recently sent a letter to Todd Allen, Assistant General Counsel at the Kentucky Department of Education, expressing great uneasiness with the attitude of the KDE with regard to parental rights, and the very real risk some of their Common Core dealings may pose to Kentucky’s military families. In her press release Cox stated “Allen argued that a parents 14th Amendment rights are limited to their choice of public or private education. Staunch opponents of this view hold that the Due Process clause of the 14th amendment has been upheld multiple times by the Supreme Court with the understanding that the child is the property of the parent, not the property of the state. That argument aside, some military families are objecting on the grounds that Pearson Education, who currently holds the contract for the KPREP testing has ties to terrorist organizations. When asked about their ties to terrorist; Pearson Education’s spokesperson, Chief Executive Officer, Marjorie Scardino said, “We did meet with one of their financial representatives, a European….We are a public company in a free market and we don’t choose our shareholders they choose us. The basic premise is, this is one of those glitches in the free market system. Unfortunately we can’t tell a share holder to get off our register.” (

But we can tell Pearson to get out of our state. “Our long-range goal is to get rid of Common Core and the excessive testing,” said Donoghue. And at the center of that fight are Kentucky’s parents. KACC is not in the business of telling anyone what to do when it comes to the education of their children, as we firmly believe that inherent and constitutional right belongs solely to the parents. But we are in the business of educating the public on what is happening with Common Core and providing information for individuals interested in taking up the fight. Below are links to both the KACC web page and the United Opt out Movement. Learn all you can, and decide for yourself what will be the next best step.

Candidates Respond to KACC Common Core Questionnaire


KACC has refrained from endorsing any candidate in the Primary, but provides the following information for you to be an informed voter in the upcoming Primary, Tuesday, May 19, 2015.

All candidates had equal opportunity to respond, and we greatly thank the candidate who make the time and effort to do so.

Following is the email questions that were sent, and the responses (or lack of) from the candidates.

“Kentuckians Against Common Core would like to ensure that our readers and supporters have the information they need to make informed decisions regarding their vote for Governor in the upcoming primary races. Therefore, we are sending all registered candidates for this year’s Governor’s race a questionnaire regarding their stance on Common Core. We ask that you answer the questionnaire, keeping your response between 300-400 words, return to us by email no later than May 1st. We will send out all response to our followers in our weekly newsletter. If a candidate decides not to respond to our questionnaire, we will let our readers know that as well. ”

“The questions are: 1) What is your position on Common Core, 2) what actions will you take as Governor to have Common Core repealed in KY, 3) what steps would you take to repeal Common Core if the legislators are against having CC repealed, 4) what standards would you use to replace the Common Core standards, and 5) in light of the recent articles on Pearson Education…what would you do as Governor to eliminate standardized testing.”


Kentuckians Against Common Core received no response to our email questions from the following candidates.  We will include their email addresses so that as individuals you may ask the candidates who did not respond directly.

Those candidates are:

Jack Conway (D): No response.

Geoff Young (D):  No response.

James Comer (R): No response., Facebook page.

Will T. Scott (R): No response.  No shareable contact information.

Hal Heiner’s (R) No response. Facebook page. Twitter.

Matt Bevins (R) responds:

1) What is your position on Common Core?
 I am adamantly opposed. Common Core is a massive federal overreach designed to nationalize education. It is an affront to parental authority and local control. The future of our great Commonwealth depends on the strength of Kentucky’s families, families where parents are the first and final authority over their child’s academic and moral education.

2) What actions will you take as Governor to have Common Core repealed in KY?
 As a top priority of my administration, I would call on the legislature to put forth a complete repeal of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), that includes the standards, the testing, teacher evaluations and data collecting programs. In the immediate term, issuing an Executive Order to cease and desist the program would provide the much needed relief that Kentucky’s children and families deserve.
3) What steps would you take to repeal Common Core if the legislators are against having CC repealed?
Governing is about leadership, principled leadership. If elected as the state’s top executive, I enter office as an outsider, not encumbered by the influence of past political favors. That freedom would allow my state budget to reflect and respect the citizens and taxpayers of Kentucky, and provide the tool to defund Common Core. This would also provide cover for legislators to change their position if there’s an unwavering new direction.

4) What standards would you use to replace the Common Core standards?
Our fifty state federalist system has provided for fifty labs of innovation. I have no doubt that Kentucky can pull from our experience and look to what’s worked in other states, and put in place high quality standards that will serve our children well without compromising our state sovereignty over education. The solutions are not complicated once we remove the bureaucracy and institute education policy that serves children, rather than special interests and political agendas.

5) In light of the recent articles on Pearson Education…what would you do as Governor o eliminate standardized testing?
The testing issues are a result of multiple factors; tests for value added dimensions for school and teacher evaluations, tests developed and controlled outside Kentucky, tests designed to garner non-academic data and the list goes on.  I would call for a state-level test, designed to measure academic achievement, which would provide important feedback to parents and distracts, inform state policy, and satisfy the federal requirement of No Child Left Behind. One standardized test, once a year. It’s time to get back to learning.

You may contact Candidate Bevins at:  Facebook Twitter





An Educated Response to Opting Out and Pearson’s Involvement in Common Core

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

Do parents have the right to opt their children out of high-stakes testing? One Boone County, Kentucky parent points out that we not only have the right, we have the responsibility!

Read her letter :