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Kevin Huffman Leaving Post as Tennessee K-12 Chief

Kevin Huffman will depart his position as Tennessee commissioner of education, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Nov. 13, according to a report in The Tennessean newspaper.

Huffman will leave his position as the top K-12 official in the state for a job in the private sector, the article said. Haslam, a Republican, hasn't yet decided on who will replace Huffman. The newspaper didn't offer details of Huffman's new job in its initial report.

In a statement, the governor comended Huffman's work. In his own statement, Huffman said he was "... convinced that the state is on the cusp of even more significant breakthroughs as the reforms in our K-12 system link with the opportunity of the Tennessee Promise." (Tennessee Promise is a state mentoring and scholarship program that in 2015 will provide two years of tuition-free education at community colleges and technical schools to certain students.)

Huffman was appointed education commissioner by Haslam in April 2011. He had worked as a teacher in Houston, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and at Teach for America. He oversaw dramatic changes to the K-12 system in Tennessee, including its shift to the Common Core State Standards and new teacher evaluations. Last year, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Tennessee was "leading the nation" in terms of positive K-12 policy changes. The state turned in some of the biggest gains in the most recent NAEP.

But Huffman's time in the Volunteer State has been difficult recently. Last year, a group of 60 local superintendents in the state formally asked Haslam to curb some of Huffman's work, which they said treated local officials like obstacles instead of partners. He's also clashed with teachers' unions about the implementation of the common core. The Tennessee Education Association sued the state over its evaluation system earlier this year, and support among teachers for the standards dropped significantly from 2013 to 2014.

And in a move that Huffman opposed, the state delayed and ultimately dropped the common-core-aligned (and federally funded) assessment designed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. 

More recently, Haslam announced that the state will open up the common core for a review and public comments. While the governor insists that he still supports the standards, his willingness to gather more input from critics could mean that the standards will be at least altered in some way down the road. (A bill to stop the standards in Tennessee failed in the legislature this year.)

Huffman is a member of Chiefs for Change, a group affiliated with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education that supports school choice and the use of test scores in teacher evaluations and school accountability, among other policies. 

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