NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam says he measures his education chief, Kevin Huffman, by how well Tennessee students are doing, and based on that the boss appears happy.
"I think you always start with how are we doing in helping Tennessee students learn more," Haslam told reporters Monday in response to a question on what measurements he used to rate Huffman. "And again, when you look back and say we made more progress than any state ever, that has to be the criteria."
"The criteria should always be what's the right thing for students," Haslam added, "because we don't have a year to waste."
The governor was referring to last year's National Assessment of Education Progress scores which showed Tennessee fourth- and eighth-graders made the most gains among any state in math and reading scores. Students in Washington, D.C., made the most gains.
Last week, a group of 14 tea party Republican state legislators, unhappy over new Common Core education standards and accompanying testing, wrote a letter to Haslam in which they called on Huffman to resign or Haslam fire him.
A substantial group of local school superintendents are unhappy with Huffman. So are teachers' groups such as the Tennessee Education Association and Professional Educators of Tennessee.
"I understand that Commissioner Huffman is controversial," Haslam said. "I also understand we're doing a lot of different things in education."
The governor said he wants "to make certain that we as an administration are listening well when teachers have concerns, when superintendents have concerns, when legislators have concerns ... because it's that important that we get it right. It doesn't have to just be our way. But we have to get it right. It is important we get it right and we use empirical data to see how well we're doing."
In his first comments with reporters since returning from a business recruitment trip last week to Japan and South Korea, Haslam also said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker's proposed federal gas and diesel tax increase to keep the nation's highway and transit needs healthy would help Tennessee.
"Whether that's the right thing or not, Congress will have to debate that out," Haslam said. "Would that help Tennessee, sure it would."
Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., last week unveiled a proposal to raise the 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gas tax and 24.4-cents-a-gallon diesel tax by 12 cents each over two years, with the rates indexed to keep up with inflation.
At the same time, the plan calls for making permanent a number of temporary federal income tax deductions including one that allows Tennesseans to deduct their state and local sales taxes on their federal returns.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.