Tennessee’s Lightning Rod Education Commissioner Steps Down, Citing Toll Of The Job
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said he was brought to Tennessee to be a "change agent." He has defended Common Core standards, stayed the course on stepped-up teacher evaluations and unsuccessfully defended the state's participation in Common Core testing. Credit: TN Photo Services

Tennessee’s Lightning Rod Education Commissioner Steps Down, Citing Toll Of The Job

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said he was brought to Tennessee to be a "change agent." He has defended Common Core standards, stayed the course on stepped-up teacher evaluations and unsuccessfully defended the state's participation in Common Core testing. Credit: TN Photo Services
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said he was brought to Tennessee to be a “change agent.” He has defended Common Core standards, stayed the course on stepped-up teacher evaluations and unsuccessfully defended the state’s participation in Common Core testing. Credit: TN Photo Services

Governor Bill Haslam is going to have to find a new education commissioner for his second term. Kevin Huffman, who has often found himself at the center of controversy, is calling it quits after four years.

The former Teach for America executive says he doesn’t have another job lined up. He jokes about whether there could even be “greener pastures” than working for the state of Tennessee. Huffman says this a good “reflection point.”

“I feel like I can only commit to a job if I am really going to give it 100 percent and have my foot on the gas. It’s the only way I know how to do it,” Huffman told WPLN. “Just thinking about the toll of the last years and the difficulty of the job, I think it’s a good time for me to pass the baton.”

Educators can vouch for Huffman’s full-throttle approach. Both teachers and superintendents have clashed with his reform-minded style. Huffman says he doesn’t mind stirring the pot, so long as students benefit.

“Some people would like to measure based on whether or not it is quiet. Some people like to measure success based on whether or not adults working in the system are comfortable. We have always made no bones about saying we are going to measure success based on whether kids learned more.”

ACT scores are up. Under Huffman’s tenure, Tennessee also became the fastest improving state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP, considered the gold standard of assessments and virtually impossible to game.

Huffman is getting pats on the back for a job well-done from his boss, as well as education advocates aligned with Haslam, like the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

Others are couching their farewell wishes.

“Though we often disagreed, we thank Commissioner Huffman for his service,” says House minority leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), who adds that the education conversation needs to be “reset.”

“Tennessee will never see real, lasting change until we stop blaming teachers and start addressing root problems,” he said in a statement. “Our schools are underfunded, our teachers are underpaid and we aren’t talking about poverty and parental involvement.”

Blake Farmer

Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.
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