Tennessee Education Commissioner Huffman Steps Down

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Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is stepping down after three and a half years on the job.

In an announcement, Governor Bill Haslam said that Huffman had decided to not join him in his second term and was leaving for the private sector.

The governor praised Huffman’s work, saying, “improving education in Tennessee has been a top priority for our administration, and having someone of Kevin’s caliber to lead the charge during this time of significant progress has made a difference.”

Last year, several complaints were concerning Huffman from almost a third of local superintendents who said that the former Teach for America executive afforded professional educators with little respect concerning their views, calling into question his leadership style.

The year before saw teachers up in arms when he tried to convince the State Board of Education to link teacher certification with yearly evaluations.  The measure was initially approved but later denied.  Afterwards, lawmakers passed a law banning it.

Huffman was successful, however, in his attempt to let local school systems change teachers’ pay schedules, as well as in his efforts to tie teacher tenure to evaluations.

In June, a letter was written by 15 conservative GOP lawmakers requesting the removal of Huffman from office, citing issues from school administrators and teachers, as well as concerns over his resistance to ending the use of Common Core education standards within the state.

Earlier this year it was decided to postpone the tests for a year.  The administration is now looking for another test vendor and new standards.

Jim Wrye, chief lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, who had clashed with Huffman on several issues, said his leaving was no surprise.

“I assumed when all those directors of schools signed that letter in essence saying all his policies were wrong and they had little confidence in his leadership, that his tenure as state commissioner was going to be over,” he said.

However, many do not agree with the critics concerning Huffman’s time in office.

In a statement, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education said that Huffman “has been a leader in education in Tennessee during a challenging yet rewarding time — challenging because our state has made important changes that haven’t always been easy; rewarding because during his tenure Tennessee made historic progress toward the goal of all students graduating high school prepared for college and the workforce.”

In 2013, the National Assessment of Education Progress, the nation’s report card, reported the largest gains in fourth and eighth grade reading and math in the country to have been made in Tennessee.  This year, the state saw its largest gains made on the ACT since all high school students had begun to take the exam.

As for why he’s leaving now, Huffman said “I  think you get to the end of a term and it’s just the appropriate inflection point. … I try to go 100 percent every day … but that’s pretty draining.”