Tag Archives: Kevin Huffman

State moves to stop new enrollment at Union County virtual school

The Union County school system has until Friday to tell the state its decision on whether it plans to enroll an additional 626 students into the Tennessee Virtual Academy in the coming school year, according to documents obtained by the News Sentinel.

In a letter to schools Superintendent Jimmy Carter, Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s education commissioner, recommended the district “consider limiting enrollment … to those students previously attending the school” for the public online school because for the third consecutive year students in the program have shown low achievement in testing.

“As we have discussed, a close examination of the data shows the school’s challenges rest primarily with the school’s ability to demonstrate effectiveness with first-year students,” Huffman said.

“While the school has improved its performance with students attending the school for multiple years, it has not yet demonstrated the capability to have a positive educational impact on new students, which creates a mutual concern and I believe leads both of us to consider the best options for the district, the school and its students going forward.”

In 2011, the Union County Schools contracted with K12 Inc. to create the academy — the state’s first online public school — for students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade across the state. K12 Inc., a national provider of online school programs, provides the curriculum.

…Huffman told Carter in his July 22 letter that the school district can seek a waiver, but it is “imperative” that the decision is made as soon as possible so school system can communicate with the students and parents that could be affected.

On Wednesday, Carter said he appreciated Huffman taking the time to work with the district on the issue and the state giving the district options instead of just telling them what was going to happen.

“I just want to be careful not to put our board in a position to do something that could be challenged in court,” he said. “As far as the back and forth on the letters, they sound more stern than our conversations did. Honestly, he’s very direct in what he says and I appreciate that … you don’t leave wondering exactly what he wants from you.”

Petition drive launched in support of Huffman

While there have been calls for his ouster, embattled state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is now getting a show of support, reports The Tennessean.

An online petition with more than 300 signatures as of Monday afternoon formed last week in support of Huffman’s leadership. (Note: The petition is HERE.)

An email from education reform advocate Kate Ezell, the first to sign the petition and a former development consultant at the Tennessee Charter School Incubator, says the plan is to collect 500 signatures before releasing it to the public and social media.

“Tennessee is the fastest improving state in the country in education, moving from 46th to 38th nationally, which has made it surprising to hear the criticism that Kevin has received,” the petition reads. “Improving schools is hard — but important — work.

“As a result of Commissioner Huffman’s efforts, our state is deeply involved in conversations about fostering innovation and improvement for the sake of all children in Tennessee.”

Among names on the petition are several founders of publicly financed, privately operated charter schools in Nashville, including Ravi Gupta of RePublic Schools and Todd Dickson of Valor Collegiate Academy. It also includes charter philanthropists such as Townes Duncan and John Eason as well as leaders of the Tennessee Charter School Center.

On Williamson County super’s spats with Huffman

Williamson County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney has been openly fighting with state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman for two years now, reports The Tennessean, and has achieved some success.

With the help of a legal team and Williamson County’s state representatives, Looney wrote and saw passed a state law that basically outlines his district’s achievement, declares it “high performing” and exempts it from the state’s teacher evaluation policy and other mandates.

And while it may appear odd for one hired superintendent to routinely face off with the state’s top education official, Looney boasts a hefty fact to back him up: Williamson County Schools’ perennial spot at the top of Tennessee performance lists, a ranking that he says won’t change when the annual statewide data release occurs at the end of July.

Time and again, he has complained that Huffman is not a communicator and desperately needs to talk to educators in the field. Huffman spent two years in the classroom with Teach for America before eventually ascending to a position as the nonprofit’s vice president for public affairs.

“I think the commissioner is an extremely intelligent man, much more intelligent than I am,” Looney, 51, said last week, but it requires experience to understand the real impact of policy.

Huffman declined an interview request, issuing an emailed statement that begins by complimenting Looney’s handling of Williamson County.

“When there are issues that impact kids in Williamson County, I call Dr. Looney directly, as I did earlier this week and have done a number of times this year,” he wrote. “I don’t communicate with superintendents through the media.”

…But Looney also has run afoul of at least one local group — tea party-affiliated Republicans.

They have their issues with Huffman, too. Fifteen lawmakers, most tea party-affiliated but none from Williamson County, signed a letter calling for Huffman’s ouster last month. The letter cites complaints about Huffman’s leadership style, but the same group has attempted to delay implementation of national Common Core standards, which Huffman supports.

So does Looney, although he’s quick to say they should be considered the minimum and to point out that Williamson’s are far higher.

AG says Huffman could legally waive use of test scores in student grading

State Attorney General Bob Cooper has opined that Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman was within his rights to free school districts from plugging standardized test scores into students’ final grades, reports Andrea Zelinski.

The conclusion blows a hole in arguments by tea party Republicans who say Huffman overstepped his bounds when he waived districts from following the state law in light of his department’s delay finalizing test scores.

The legislature approved a state law this year allowing the commissioner to waive state laws or rules that “inhibits or hinders” a school district’s ability to meet goals or follow its mission. But the law banned the commissioner from waiving “federal and state student assessment and accountability,” which Cooper concluded has little to do with plugging Tennessee Comprehensive Achievement Program test results into students’ take home grades.

The TCAP exams themselves cannot be waived because the state’s “assessment” (of student performance and progress) and “accountability” (the evaluation of the school and district performance) programs rely primarily on the result of the tests, according to the opinion issued Wednesday.

“While final course grades certainly determine a student’s academic performance within his or her school, they appear not to determine student or school performance at the state level,” and thus are not linked to state or federal assessments or accountability requirements which cannot be waived, according to the document.

Note: Text of the opinion is HERE.

State Board of Ed shifts gears on teacher testing for licenses

The Tennessee State Board of Education cut ties Monday with a highly controversial policy that would have allowed poor student growth on tests to be a reason to pull teachers’ professional licenses, reports The Tennessean.

In its place, commissioners advanced an alternative plan on first reading that would instead provide easier paths for Tennessee’s highest graded teachers.

That proposal, set for a final vote in July after clearing the state board unanimously Monday, would let teachers who earn a high score of “5” on annual state-mandated teacher evaluations over consecutive years earn up to 20 of the required 60 professional development credits needed to renew professional licenses.

Fifteen development credits would be on the table for teachers who earn a “4,” and 10 credits for those who net a “3.” Teachers could also get credit for attending professional development seminars, taking college-level coursework and earning National Board Certification.

Though billed by state education officials as a move to streamline the licensure process for high-performing teachers, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman suggested that while it satisfies a new state law, the plan does little to ensure quality instructors. He said he doesn’t want people to be “confused” that the revamped proposal guarantees all teachers who are renewing their license are performing at high levels.

Huffman: Legislators calling for his removal disappointing, distracting

The state’s education commissioner says he found a push from a band of Republicans demanding the governor give him the boot both disappointing and an ill-timed distraction, reports Andrea Zelinski.

But Huffman remained mum on whether he would seek out a second term in the governor’s cabinet or look for opportunities elsewhere.

“Anytime you get critics like that, you have to take it seriously. My focus is on doing my job, and my focus is on trying to get ready for next school year. And I think things that are distractions from getting ready for next school year don’t really help anybody,” he said.

“You don’t make decisions based on whether people are criticizing you or not. You make decisions based on whether the work is going well and whether you feel like you can make a contribution,” Huffman told reporters Thursday after sitting on a national panel at Vanderbilt University focused on how Tennessee is bridging students from high school to college and into the workforce. “The reality is there are a whole lot of people who feel pretty good about how the work is going. I hear from a lot of those folks, too.”

More on the huffing and puffing over Huffman

From the Chattanooga Times-Free Press:
Gov. Bill Haslam says he measures his education chief, Kevin Huffman, by how well Tennessee students are doing, and based on that the boss appears happy.

“I think you always start with how are we doing in helping Tennessee students learn more,” Haslam told reporters Monday in response to a question on what measurements he used to rate Huffman. “And again, when you look back and say we made more progress than any state ever, that has to be the criteria.”

“The criteria should always be what’s the right thing for students,” Haslam added, “because we don’t have a year to waste.”

The governor was referring to last year’s National Assessment of Education Progress scores which showed Tennessee fourth- and eighth-graders made the most gains among any state in math and reading scores. Students in Washington, D.C., made the most gains.

…”I understand that Commissioner Huffman is controversial,” Haslam said. “I also understand we’re doing a lot of different things in education.”

From TNReport:
House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin and Calendar and Rules Committee Chairman Bill Dunn of Knoxville each told TNReport that they believe it’s unjustified at this time to be demanding the head of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief education official.

The Department of Education released a statement last week saying that the letter-signing GOP lawmakers’ accusations of illegal or improper activities by the department were “baseless,””categorically untrue” and “completely inaccurate.”

…While Casada and Dunn acknowledged there’s plenty of room for disagreement with, or criticism of, Commissioner Huffman and the Education Department, they said the Republican administration deserves some political latitude from GOP lawmakers, at least in absence of a full inquiry into issues surrounding the TCAP controversy.

Dunn noted that the Tennessee Comptroller has already been asked by two Republican lawmakers to investigate whether any laws were violated by the Education Department when officials last month OK’d delaying release of Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results, which are usually included in students’ end-of-the-year report cards.

Lawmakers ought to at least wait to see the results of that audit before they start making specific demands on the Haslam administration, Dunn said.
From The Tennessean:
An aide to the Tennessee Department of Education chief provided little insight when asked how long Huffman, who arrived in Tennessee three years ago, would stay in his position after 15 Republican lawmakers, most tea party-affiliated, called for his resignation in a stinging letter to Haslam last week.

“The commissioner is focused on getting ready for the coming school year, which is an important year for Tennessee students,” education spokeswoman Ashley Ball said. She did not address a question about whether Huffman planned to serve in a potential second term.

…There are those who predict Huffman, who has family in Nashville, may desire to stay in Tennessee — not back down — to prove the skeptics wrong. Criticism, some education reformers say, is just part of the drill with making big policy changes. Others believe the right opportunity would have to sway him.

Huffman, a favorite of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is a virtual rock star in the education world, a figure watched closely because of the new ground he broke by making the jump from Teach for America to a state education agency.

He’s one of a handful of state education commissioners who are part of the reform group Chiefs for Change launched by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, in a statement last week, said she’s proud of Haslam’s accomplishments in education reform and that the state is on the right path.

Haslam: No ‘immediate removal’ of Huffman; no decision on next year’s cabinet

Gov. Bill Haslam says he will ignore for this year a call for “immediate removal” of Kevin Huffman as commissioner of education from 15 Republican legislators, but has made no decision on keeping Huffman or any other cabinet members for a second term if reelected in November.

Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, one of the lawmakers signing the letter, told the Nashville Post that if Huffman remains next year he will face continuing criticism from legislators and, “We may even file legislation demanding his removal.”

“Everything’s still on the table. It’s up to the governor right now. The ball’s in his court, we’ll see what he does,” said Womick, who had been a leading critic of Common Core standards.

Haslam, who returned from a “trade mission” trip to Japan and South Korea on Friday, said in a brief interview Saturday that he was “really disappointed” with the letter. In his absence on the trip, a spokesman called it a “political stunt,” but Haslam declined to agree – or disagree — with that label Saturday when questioned on it.

“I was disappointed in the sense that we had said, ‘Let’s sit down and talk about it,’ and they said they’re rather send a letter instead,” he said. “There are better ways to deal with things than send a letter and a press release.”

The governor said he has confidence in Huffman and wants him to remain part of the administration through Haslam’s first term, which ends in January. After that?

“As I’ve said before, it’s too early to say what the cabinet will look like,’ he said. “We’ll sit down and talk with everybody, if and when we get elected.”

Haslam’s administration had released very little public information about his week-long trip to Asia. On Saturday he gave a bit more information and said he is optimistic that it will lead to new Asian business expansion in Tennessee.

“The proof is in the pudding, but I’ll tell you what: I thought we had a lot of great meetings with several companies,” he said.

Haslam said meetings included a reception at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo with more than 90 businesses represented and discussions with officials of both All Nippon Airways and Japan Air Lines, who are considering a launch of direct services between Nashville and Tokyo.

The governor and his wife, Crissy, were in Bell Buckle to act as “king and queen” of the “RC Kingdom” at the Bedford County town’s annual RC Cola and Moonpie Festival.

Haslam adminstration calls Huffman ouster letter ‘a political stunt’

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam’s office is dismissing as a “political stunt” a letter signed by 15 Republican lawmakers demanding the resignation of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

The letter dated Thursday cites complaints from school administrators, teachers and students about Huffman’s leadership style as his department implements a series of changes in K-12 education.

“Commissioner Huffman has overstepped his authority and failed to serve in the best interest of the citizens of this state,” the letter said. “Anything short of his immediate removal will be unacceptable.”

The lawmakers signing the letter are strongly identified with the tea party wing of the party — including Rep. Joe Carr of Murfreesboro, who is challenging incumbent Lamar Alexander for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in August.
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Republican legislators call for resignation of education commissioner

A group of GOP legislators have signed a letter calling for the immediate resignation of embattled Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, reports Andrea Zelinski. The letter cites last month’s delay in test scores as raising questions about the integrity of the department.

The letter (with 15 names attached, one signature lacking) accuses the commissioner of “misguided leadership,” and “dereliction of duty,” as well as potentially violating state law by waiving a requirement that teachers factor standardized test scores in final grades after the state was late turning the test results over to districts. (Note: link to the letter HERE.)

“While we do not doubt your motivation or desire to see improvements in the education of all Tennesseans, we realize that we cannot begin to craft an honest solution to our education problems without first recognizing an even bigger problem: a complete lack of trust in the Tennessee Department of Education that now encompasses this state,” read the letter dated Thursday.

The legislators argue the state’s delay could mean the department is trying to “conceal the disastrous results of this years TCAP test scores” and opening up the ability for the department to manipulate the results.

A spokesman for the governor’s office said it is disappointed in the letter after having met with several of the undersigned legislators this week.

…The letter is signed by 14 Republican members, largely in the House of Representatives which has been more vocal in criticizing the commissioner. They include Reps. Rick Womick (Rockvale), Joe Carr (Lascassas), Tilman Goins (Morristown), Courtney Rogers (Hendersonville), Andy Holt (Dresden), Terri Lynn Weaver (Lancaster), Mike Sparks (Smyrna), Micah Van Huss (Jonesborough), Jeremy Durham (Franklin), Mark Pody (Lebanon), Sheila Butt (Columbia), Judd Matheny (Tullahoma), Debra Moody (Covington, and Sen. Frank Nicely (Strawberry Plain). Sen. Joey Hensley’s name (from Hohenwald) is also listed, but with no signature.

Note: If you count Hensley, the total is 15 legislators.