By Ben Velderman
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is under heavy fire from critics over a new teacher salary plan that bases raises on job performance.
They’re also upset at Huffman for supporting charter school expansion and tougher tenure rules for teachers.
The critics are using social media to try to pressure Gov. Bill Haslam to fire Huffman, his hand-chosen education leader.
But their campaign seems to be failing.
On Monday, Haslam defended Huffman and credited him with the substantial progress Tennessee’s K-12 students have made over the past few years.
“If you look at the states that are making the most progress in education, Tennessee is at the top of that list, and Kevin gets a lot of credit for it,” the Republican governor said, according to TimesFreePress.com.
The pay plan – which was approved by the state Board of Education in June – “eliminates a decades-old salary schedule that financially rewards teachers only for advanced degrees and years of service,” The Tennessean reports. “By 2014-15, local school districts must include other variables, such as performance pay or extra money for a teacher who accepts a hard-to-fill position.”
But according to another media out, Huffman has said schools can keep the existing salary schedules in place, and that the state’s intent is only to allow local districts to use merit pay and other performance incentives if they choose.
Perhaps the media’s confusion about the new policy is contributing to the “Fire Huffman” movement.
One factor that’s certainly fueling the anti-Huffman sentiment is his former job with Teach for America, a nonprofit that trains top college graduates to serve as teachers in needy and disadvantaged schools.
Teacher unions are threatened by TFA’s commitment to quality and its disinterest in labor union politics.
Huffman’s former role as a top TFA executive is a major reason his critics are taking to Facebook and an online petition site to demand his dismissal. The Tennessee Education Association claims it has no role in the protest.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat who is one of Huffman’s most vocal critics, said the pay plan “is just the latest in a three-year prolonged attack on the teaching profession.”
State Board of Education Chairman Fielding Rolston doesn’t understand why Huffman is being attacked when it was the board’s decision to enact the new pay schedule.
“I think we’ve made it abundantly clear we asked him to do this,” Rolston told The Tennessean.