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What’s the Turnover for State Education Chiefs in Recent Years?

By Andrew Ujifusa — November 14, 2014 2 min read
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The impending departure of Kevin Huffman as Tennessee’s education commissioner highlights the issue of turnover among state K-12 chiefs, who in some cases don’t stick around for many years to see through key policy initiatives.

I decided to count up the number of states that have changed superintendents of public schools since I began working at Education Week in March 2012. After going over all 50 states, I’ve concluded that in the subsequent 33 months, 29 states have replaced their state K-12 chiefs at least once, or are officially scheduled to replace their state K-12 chiefs due to last week’s elections or for other reasons.

I’m including Tennessee in that tally, even though Huffman (who was appointed in 2011) hasn’t been officially replaced yet, as well as Wyoming, where state Superintendent Cindy Hill was out for several months and then reclaimed her job after a bitter court case. Hill will be supplanted in January by fellow Republican Jillian Balow, who won election to the position on Nov. 4. I didn’t include Michigan, where state chief Mike Flanagan announced some time ago that he plans to retire in June 2015, because there’s still a significant amount of time before he leaves. The state board just appointed a search firm in Iowa to find Flanagan’s replacement. Incidentally, on Nov. 12, Flanagan’s department made big testing news as Michigan transitions to new common-core assessments.

• Since March 2012, Florida has had three state K-12 commissioners in Gerard Robinson, Tony Bennett, and Pam Stewart, the current commissioner. Both Robinson (who was appointed in 2011) and Bennett lasted less than 18 months on the job.

• The superintendents who were elected in 2010 haven’t proven to be a durable bunch. Among them, only Tom Torlakson in California won re-election in 2014. Tom Luna of Idaho and Mick Zais of South Carolina chose not to run again, while current Superintendent John Huppenthal in Arizona and Janet Barresi in Oklahoma lost GOP primaries in their re-election campaigns. Hill of Wyoming and John Barge of Georgia lost bids to be the Republican candidates for governor in their states.

Since 2010, however, Randy Dorn in Washington state and Tony Evers in Wisconsin have won re-election bids and are still at their respective positions.

• Among the nation’s five largest states by student enrollment (California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas), Torlakson in California, as well as Chris Koch in Illinois (appointed 2006) and John King in New York (appointed 2011), have provided stability at the top.

• So who’s the longest-serving state superintendent now in office? By my reckoning, it’s Flanagan of Michigan, who took over in May 2005. But as I mentioned above, his tenure is about to end. Who’s slated to take over the distinction after Flanagan leaves? It’s June Atkinson of North Carolina, who was elected in 2004 but didn’t take office until August 2005. She’s been re-elected in 2008 and 2012.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.