Tag Archives: Kevin Huffman

New TN education commissioner likes teachers

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has a message for the state’s teachers: You’re valued.

That might seem intuitive, but teachers say it offers a refreshing contrast to her predecessor, Kevin Huffman. He left the state Education Department under fire last year for his aggressive approach to education reform. He was especially criticized for how he handled teachers, especially when he tried to tie their licenses to standardized test scores.

McQueen says she wants teachers to help determine how the state measures what they do.

“It’s extraordinarily important to make sure that teacher voice is being heard as we analyze the policy decisions that have been made over the last several years, and start planning for the future,” she said during a visit this month to a Nashville high school. “We value them.”

The new commissioner, who took office in January, recently launched a statewide effort to visit with 10,000 teachers by the end of the 2015-16 school year.

McQueen’s so-called “Classroom Chronicles Tour” is among several efforts by state officials to show appreciation for teachers and involve them in decision-making.

When McQueen took over, the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said it hoped her leadership style would be different from her predecessor’s.

Disdain for Huffman wasn’t limited to teachers. Nearly half of the state’s superintendents signed a petition stating Huffman had “no interest in a dialogue” with local school leaders as he made policy changes.

So far, they seem pleased with McQueen, who has taught teachers, as well as elementary and middle school.
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New education commissioner backs Common Core — except, maybe not at her current workplace

The state’s new education commissioner, Candice McQueen, is a strong supporter of Common Core standards, reports WPLN – except not necessarily at the private school she oversees.

She praises the rigor and the benefits to having Tennessee kids on the same page as students in 44 states. So when McQueen assumed a new role over Lipscomb’s private K-12 academy, parents were concerned Common Core would follow her to campus, according to an open letter sent to families.

“Because of my role as the dean of the university’s College of Education some of you have expressed concerns about my appointment and the direction Lipscomb Academy will take as it relates to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).”

McQueen wrote that she Common Core has not been adopted and that she has “not been in any formal discussions” about changing standards at the school, though she has asked faculty to familiarize themselves with the math and English standards.

And McQueen doesn’t plan to stop advocating for Common Core, according to the letter.

“I will continue to be part of the ongoing CCSS conversation. However, this should not be extrapolated to indicate or predict the adoption of CCSS at Lipscomb Academy.”

Asked by WPLN why Common Core wouldn’t be used at her school, McQueen referred back to her letter.

“We make decisions about what’s going to be best within the context of our community,” she said. “I would say that’s absolutely what we’re going to do now and for the future.”

Lipscomb would be unusual if it went to Common Core. Most of Nashville’s private schools blend state and national standards and don’t use the same standardized tests as public schools.

Note: WPLN’s post has excerpts from her letter.

Some possible Huffman successors

So who will Gov. Bill Haslam choose to replace departing Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman? The Tennessean lists some possibilities.

The most discussed is Deputy Tennessee Education Commissioner Kathleen Airhart, a former Putnam County director of schools who was appointed to her position in 2011. She is seen as non-controversial selection.

Another promotion from within the department could be Stephen Smith, assistant commissioner of policy and legislation and the go-to person for lawmakers on policy matters. Jumping the deputy commissioner would be unusual, however.

Two long-shot possibilities are Jamie Woodson, a former state senator and current president and CEO of the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education, which has pushed for Common Core, and Candice McQueen, dean of Lipscomb University’s College of Education. Both, however, be leaving good work situations.

…On Friday, the governor’s Chief of Staff, Mark Cate, attended the Tennessee Organization of Superintendents’ already-scheduled board meeting. He reached out to the group on the search process. In an unheard of move more than a year ago, nearly 60 of its members signed a letter criticizing Huffman’s leadership.

Wayne Miller, the group’s executive director, said superintendents want someone who can “work collaboratively and not re-actively.” He sees pluses in finding a homegrown commissioner.

Note: The anonymous blog Rocky Top Politics, which has been devoted to bashing Huffman regularly and routinely, threw out another possibility even before he announced his resignation: Kingsport School Superintendent Dr. Lyle Ailshie.

Huffman: Controversy was expected, not a factor in stepping down

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Education Department Commissioner Kevin Huffman said Thursday that the scrutiny he received during his nearly four turbulent years at the helm of the state’s schools didn’t influence his decision to leave for the private sector.

Huffman, whose departure was announced by Gov. Bill Haslam, has been a lightning rod whose policies and strong advocacy for Common Core standards made him a target for conservatives and teachers’ groups.

Huffman told The Associated Press he knew what he was getting into when he took the job.

“The governor brought me here as a change agent,” he said. “And I knew full well that coming here and having an agenda of changing some of the things that had always been done was going to create some noise and some controversy, it just sort of comes with the territory.”

In June, a letter signed by 15 Republican lawmakers demanded Huffman’s resignation, citing complaints from school administrators, teachers and students about his leadership style as his department implemented a series of changes in K-12 education.

State Rep. Rick Womick of Murfreesboro was among those who signed the letter. Womick said Thursday that he’s willing to work with the next education commissioner, but remains firm on certain issues, such as the ultimate repeal of the state’s Common Core standards.

“If we’re going to go down the same path of not repealing common core, then there’s going to be issues with that,” Womick said.
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Columnist: Primary campaigns indicate Haslam facing an ugly legislative session

Anger stirred in Republican legislative primary campaigns this year has set the stage for 2015 legislative session that “isn’t going to be pretty for Gov. Bill Haslam,” opines Frank Cagle. And he says the governor has two cabinet members, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Chief of Staff Mark Cate, who aren’t helping things.

An excerpt:
If you look at the campaign ads and mailers you can pretty well conclude that not only will Common Core not be extended, it’s likely going to be killed, buried, dug up and killed again. When conservative Republican House members campaign on killing “Obamacore” it should give you some idea of the mood of the House—and the electorate.

The people trying to divert money from public education also spent a lot of money during the election season, but the voucher lobby may also get hammered. Despite all the rhetoric about using vouchers to help poor kids go to a private school there is a growing horrified belief among conservative legislators that some of the money will be going to (gasp) Muslim schools.

…Unless he is replaced, Huffman will be the target of attacks by legislators, who might not want to get ugly with the governor, but can beat up his commissioner with impunity. Huffman has no allies beyond the Chamber of Commerce and the vultures trying to siphon off public education money.

I don’t know if anybody could save Haslam’s education reform package but the one person we know who can’t is Huffman.

Not all the contentious issues will be education. The projected budget is likely to be tight. Revenues have not been robust. A surge in sales tax during the Christmas season may help, but Haslam has already predicted a lean budget. But the Republicans have cut taxes consistently since taking over and they want to phase out the Hall Income Tax on interest income.

If there is one person less popular with legislators than Huffman it is Haslam chief of staff and liaison with the Legislature Mark Cate. He has been identified by conservatives as the Haslam point person for the “Advance Tennessee” PAC that tried to get House conservatives beat.

Haslam might be better served to find a legislative liaison with political savvy, trusted by the Legislature, and who can talk—and more importantly, listen—to legislators.

O’Hara steps down as assistant state education commissioner,

Erin O’Hara, assistant commissioner for data and research at the Tennessee Department of Education for the past three years, is stepping down from the position, reports The Tennessean.

O’Hara, whose tenure working in state government goes back nine years to Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration, on Tuesday notified her team about her upcoming departure, effective next month.

Her role is typically a behind-the-scenes one, but she was thrust into the public spotlight during the state’s delayed release of standardized test results in May. That resulted in the department issuing waivers to exempt districts from tying TCAP test scores to report card grades.

Education officials blamed the delay on a process known as post-equating, in which tests were compared to those from previous years to ensure validity. Nevertheless, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman was roundly criticized for the headache it created for local districts.

On her exit, O’Hara did not reference that episode…. “People may speculate about it, and that’s fine,” O’Hara said. “But it was very much my decision and it was very personal. It was about me, my family and my kids and about what I want to do with my life.”

Some of the state’s lowest-performing schools doing better

News release from state Department of Education:
NASHVILLE— The Tennessee Department of Education today announced the newest round of Priority and Focus Schools, as well as school-level TCAP results.

Tennessee’s accountability system identifies three types of schools, as required by the U.S. Department of Education: Priority, Focus, and Reward Schools. Priority and Focus Schools are named every three years, and the first designation was in 2012. Priority Schools are the 5 percent of schools across the state with the lowest overall performance. Focus Schools are 10 percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, regardless of overall performance. A complete list of 2014 Reward Schools (those with the highest overall performance or growth) will be released on Thursday, Aug. 21.

All three school-level accountability lists are preliminary, pending final approval by the State Board of Education on Aug. 26.

With the announcement of this year’s Priority Schools also comes an investment from the state of more than $7 million to support districts in turning around these lowest performing schools. Most of this money will go toward a competitive planning grant for districts that have Priority Schools. These districts will have one year to plan before their schools receive mandatory intervention, such as inclusion in the Achievement School District or a district-led “Innovation Zone.” The state is also building an intensive, regional support team to help Focus Schools close achievement gaps.

“For the past several years, our state has been focused both on improving overall performance of all kids in Tennessee, while closing achievement gaps between historically low-performing groups of students and their peers; our school accountability system aligns with these goals,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “We’ve also made a significant financial investment in our lowest performing, or Priority Schools, and we’re starting to see signs of hope that this investment is paying off.”

After being named Priority and Focus Schools in 2012, the previously targeted schools made gains such as:

· Since being named Priority Schools in 2012, the 13 Shelby County schools in the district’s Innovation Zone have significantly outpaced the state’s growth in math and reading.

· The majority of Priority schools across the state outpaced the average state growth in elementary, middle, and high schools.

· Nearly 80 percent of Focus Schools had a smaller achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and their peers than the state as a whole, after two years of work.

Huffman said he was pleased with the results from the first cohort, and hoped to see the newest round of Priority and Focus Schools continue to move students forward.

“This is hard work, but results from the first round of Priority and Focus Schools show us that it’s doable. We’ve seen signs of hope and that’s why we believe it is critical to continue investing in these schools,” Huffman said. “We know it is unacceptable to have entire schools where less than 20 percent of the students are proficient in reading and math, and we must, therefore, work aggressively to help turn them around.”

To see a full list of Focus and Priority Schools visit HERE.

To see district-level Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program scores, visit HERE.

To see value-added growth scores for districts and schools, visit HERE.

Common Core a topic in Haslam-Huffman secret meetings with select educators

Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes has given the Johnson City Press a rundown on discussions during a recent closed-door meeting of seven selected educators with Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman – one of several such secret sessions held around the state.

Dykes said Common Core State Standards, Response to Instruction and Intervention and the postponed Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test were prominent discussions at the invitation-only meeting July 25.

The private gathering brought a group of teachers, state representatives and a school board member, who weren’t invited to participate, to the central office parking lot before Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s arrival to ask them for openness in the implementation of new state education policies.

“Most of the educators in that room felt the professional development associated with Common Core were very good, they also valued the demands and standards, especially associated with the high expectations,” Dykes said of the meeting attendees’ responses to the new standards rolled out during the past three school years. “They thought it prepared students better for math, but they were somewhat concerned that the subject of reading was a bit more challenging.”

But not all feedback was positive, the director said.

When the topic turned to the new assessment designed to gauge the attainment of the new education benchmarks and the resources made available to districts by the state for needed technology upgrades, Dykes said there were more concerns than compliments.

“Most of the educators said the assessment was overwhelming, it was absolutely frustrating,” Dykes said. “They also had concerns about the amount of time that was spent on testing, how much time was taken away from the classroom.”

The teachers in the meeting asked the state politicians for sample copies of the PARCC tests to help them better understand what would be required of students, but Dykes said Huffman cited security concerns, as some of the questions on the assessment are reused.

Huffman: OK on admitting virtual school kids this year, but closure next year without improvement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s Virtual Academy will be able to admit new students this year, but it has been ordered to close next year unless it shows significant improvement.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman issued the mandate after he said Union County officials did not notify parents about an agreement that would have stopped the academy from taking 626 new students this year. The Union County School Board contracts with the for-profit K12 Inc. to operate the Virtual Academy in Tennessee.

Huffman told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1pJoGXf) it would have been a burden on parents and students to have to make a last-minute change. Classes begin on Monday.

Instead of moving forward with an agreement reached late last month that would have stopped the school from taking on new students, Huffman ordered to academy to close at the end of the school year unless student test scores show dramatic gains.

Huffman said a turnaround is unlikely.

“This school is closed at the end of the coming school year,” Huffman said. “The decision has been made . Parents should find different options for their children for the next school year.

“If somehow this school manages to defy the odds of its past performance and get adequate results, we would of course rescind that decision. That just makes sense. But there is nothing in their data from the first three years that would indicate to me they are going to be able to achieve that level of performance.”

Union County Schools Superintendent Jimmy Carter says there’s a “plan in place” to improve outcomes and he thinks the Virtual Academy will remain open.

He said first-year students have struggled, but students in their second and third years have met benchmarks.

“I’m happy with the way everything turned out,” Carter said. “I’m happy we’re going to be able to serve those kids.”

Parent Angie Stadinger said she also was pleased with the outcome and shares Carter’s confidence that the academy will have better results this year.

“All along, I’ve said it’s about the children,” Stadinger said. “As a parent and an educator, we have the right to choose what’s good for our children. We are ready as a school to show the growth that the governor and the commissioner want to see.”

Huffman on deciding whether to close ‘disappointing’ virtual school

In a standoff over a struggling statewide cyberschool, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says he weighed pulling the plug on the school altogether.

Instead, at his urging, the next incoming class of new students at Tennessee Virtual Academy won’t be admitted — an action that has nevertheless put an education chief known for favoring school choice under unfamiliar fire from national reform groups.

The move to “un-enroll” 626 incoming students marks the boldest action yet in what has been a turbulent three years for the online virtual school operated by the for-profit K12 Inc., which has produced woeful test scores every year in Tennessee since a change in law paved the way for its 2011 arrival.

Because of the school’s third straight year of poor results in student growth, the commissioner had the authority to direct the closure of the school. Huffman chose a less harsh option, recommending that the Union County School Board, which contracts K12 to operate in Tennessee, stop admitting students for the time being.

The board obliged on Thursday, voting to request a waiver from the state to cancel enrollment of students it had recently accepted. Tennessee Virtual Academy’s some 1,200 existing students, who live across the state and take coursework from home, will remain part of the school.

Why not close it outright? Huffman noted Tennessee Virtual Academy students have shown improvement in years two and three, and that the challenges rest primarily with first-year students.

…The Washington-based Center for Education Reform issued a statement saying it “strongly condemns” the directive of Huffman. “It’s an outrage that these 626 legally enrolled students are now being forcefully turned away, just two weeks before the start of the school year,” said Kara Kerwin, the organization’s president.

In slowing down the growth of the Tennessee Virtual Academy, Huffman has had to take aim at an option he has supported exploring. In addition to low test marks, the school also has had high attrition, meaning kids have often gone back to their local districts with low proficiency marks.

“I believe that it’s important to try things like virtual education,” he said. “That’s why, at some level, it’s been disappointing to me to see the results.”

As for the Union County school system, Huffman called it “irresponsible” and “disappointing” for it to initially accept new students for this fall, alleging the board was alerted of its “Level 1 status” on June 15. Results from the 2013-14 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program for individual districts are to be publicly released next week.