Haslam Keeps Backing ‘Controversial’ Ed Chief While Pledging To Hear Out Critics

Governor Bill Haslam swears in Kevin Huffman as education commissioner in April 2011. Credit: TN Photo Services via Flickr

Governor Bill Haslam swears in Kevin Huffman as education commissioner in April 2011. Credit: TN Photo Services via Flickr

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam won’t be firing his education commissioner, despite the chorus of conservative legislators asking him to in a letter last week. But his endorsement of Kevin Huffman has lost some spark after a year of high-profile complaints.

Returning from a weeklong trade mission in Japan and Korea, Governor Haslam pointed out that under Huffman’s tenure, Tennessee has shown the fastest improvement of any state.

“I understand that Commissioner Huffman is controversial. I also understand we’re doing a lot of difficult things in education. And we want to make sure we as an administration are listening well. When teachers have concerns, when superintendents have concerns, when legislators have concerns, we’re going to listen because it’s that important that we get it right. It doesn’t have to just be our way. But it is important that we get it right and that we use empirical data to see how well we’re doing.”

Haslam has backed his education chief through a number of angry letters, including one signed by most of the state’s superintendents.

A year ago, when an online petition was circulating for Huffman to resign, Haslam was more unequivocal. “I’ll put it this way,” Haslam said last July. “If I was going out to hire an education commissioner again today, I would hire Kevin Huffman.”

Asked now if Huffman will be around for the governor’s presumed second term, Haslam said it’s “too early” to talk about his next cabinet.

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