Thu04242014

Greater Metro

Local teachers’ group at odds with Education Commissioner.

kevin huffman-400
Keith-Williams-400

"Enough is enough."

With Memphis-Shelby County Education Association President Keith Williams supplying that catchphrase, the M-SCEA this week issued a unanimous vote of no confidence in Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

The action came at Tuesday's monthly meeting of the association's Representative Assembly, and served as another nail in the coffin that Huffman critics are trying to bury him in.

"Since his appointment by Gov. Bill Haslam as Tennessee's Commissioner of Education in April 2011, Commissioner Huffman has shown only a lack of respect and contempt for Tennessee's teachers, our unions and our system of public education," said Williams.

That certainly is a far different view of Huffman's performance than the one held by Haslam and the spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Education.

"In the past several years, tens of thousands of additional Tennessee students are on grade level in math, reading, and science. The commissioner is committed to improving academic achievement and doing what is best for children in Tennessee," Kelli Gauthier, director of Communications for the state Department of Education, wrote Wednesday in an e-mailed response to an inquiry by The New Tri-State Defender.

The vote by M-SCEA comes about a month after nearly 60 superintendents signed off on a letter that painted Huffman as an education commissioner who "considers school teachers, principals and superintendents impediments to school improvement rather than partners." That move prompted a letter from Haslam to school superintendents.

Noting that the state was at a critical juncture with key reform elements, Haslam cautioned against getting sidetracked. There was a need, Haslam wrote, for a "fresh approach to communications" with Huffman.

"With his continual words of praise and support, Gov. Haslam seems to be extremely happy with the commissioner's efforts to destroy public education in the state and especially in Shelby County and to continue demoralizing attacks on dedicated education professionals," M-SCEA President Williams said in statement circulated after Tuesday's no-confidence vote.

"Tennessee and its students will depend on educators to clean up the mess and to repair the damage already inflicted by the policies of Commissioner Huffman, his department and the unelected state school board. Commissioner Huffman is trying to hijack our profession, and we're joining the superintendents and education associations across the state in fighting back."

According to Williams and M-SCEA, Huffman – while framing his initiatives as "education reform" – has:

• Promoted unfair, invalid teacher and principal evaluations,

• Lowered most of the base teacher salary schedule while converting the state's teacher salaries to a pay-for-test scores system, and

• Threatened teachers' licenses based on error-prone, inaccurate data.

"In Shelby County especially, Commissioner Huffman has urged school closures and state takeovers of local schools even though local I-Zone initiatives have had more academic success," said Williams. "He has failed to provide any additional funds for the transition as has been done in other districts that merged."

True education reform, said Williams, ensures that education professionals and unions are at the table, creating solutions to achievement gaps, designing reliable evaluation systems that improve teacher and student performance, and dealing with other education issues.

"The best way to reform public education is to make sure we all respect, fund and support the hard work of our education professionals who are dedicated to the children of our state and who, unlike Commissioner Huffman, are licensed to teach in our state."

(This story reflects reporting by TSD freelancer Kelly Martin)