As a first and second grade teacher in a bilingual classroom in Houston, Kevin Huffman (Houston ’92) saw his students’ families striving for the American Dream, yet running up against obstacles such as poverty, immigration status, and ineffective schools. The experience shaped what has become a lifelong focus: improving students’ odds by improving their academic achievement.
In 2011, Huffman was appointed commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, putting him at the head of 136 districts, more than 65,000 teachers, and nearly 1 million students. In short form, he reoriented the department to focus on student outcomes over bureaucratic compliance. He launched the nation’s first statewide teacher evaluation system, including a student growth component, and created the Achievement School District to turn around the lowest-performing five percent of schools in the state. His team developed high-quality professional development around Common Core Standards, ultimately training 40,000 teachers and 2,500 school leaders. Results of Huffman’s efforts have been astounding. In November 2013, the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed Tennessee students’ growth to be tied with Washington, D.C. (measured as a state), for fastest in the nation—including very strong growth among African American students. And not only that: The two states showed the greatest-ever growth over a single testing cycle. The NAEP results align with three years of growth on Tennessee’s state assessment—particularly in STEM subjects. Since 2010, 91,000 more students are on grade level in math, and 52,000 more students are on grade level in science.
Today, Huffman is an independent consultant and a Fellow with the New America Foundation. Huffman has written opinion columns for a range of publications, including as a regular contributor to the Washington Post. He is currently writing a book about his experiences in Tennessee. Huffman graduated from Swarthmore College and from the New York University School of Law. He has served on the Board of Trustees of the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Board of Regents, and the Boards of Directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and Chiefs for Change.
Huffman is currently serving as the Interim Chief External Affairs Officer at Teach For America.