Gov. Greg Abbott tapped longtime Dallas Independent School District Board of Trustee Mike Morath as the state’s next Education Commissioner to oversee the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for the state’s 1,200 school districts and charters, a decision already receiving mixed reviews.
Since 2011, Morath has sat on the board of Dallas ISD, the second largest district in the state and 14th in the nation. In a statement, Morath said he intends to bring “a focus on improving student outcomes” and to support teachers. Praised and criticized for his pro-school choice charter school position, Morath champions merit pay, and wants to transform education through data. Privacy and collecting and tracking student data are issues paramount to the grassroots.
In November, the Governor appointed Morath to the public education Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Acountability. In a press release, Abbott described Morath as a “change-agent” who led reforms that helped propel Dallas public schools to achieve greater student and operational outcomes.
“The State of Texas is exceptional, and our education system must be too,” Abbott said. “…Mike Morath will not accept the status quo in our schools. He is committed to innovative solutions that will empower Texas principals, teachers, and students to strive for the highest in education excellence. Mike Morath has led climbs up Mount Rainier and climbed the 20,305-foot Island Peak near Mount Everest. Now he will help Texas education reach new heights.”
Ironically, the TEA released its 2016-17 Public Education Grant (PEG) list on Monday. The yearly roster identifies low performing schools based on poor test scores or unacceptable ratings. Last year, Breitbart Texas reported the TEA’s dismal findings–1,199 failing campuses servicing more than 736,000 students statewide. This year’s news is worse–1,532 campuses are affected and Morath’s Dallas district had 91 failing schools. Last year, it had 71.
Although the Governor described Morath as a “proven education reformer,” not everyone agrees. Breitbart Texas spoke to Terri DuBose, State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) committee woman from Senate District 19, who expressed disenchantment with the Governor’s choice.
“It continues to be so disheartening to have the grassroots ignored when they give input,” said DuBose. She supported conservative favorite Charlie Garza, a former State Board of Education (SBOE) and past SREC member, educator, and decorated U.S. military veteran. DuBose felt Garza embodied the characteristics public education needed.
“It just makes you ponder if grassroots input is really listened to?” she questioned. “It does seem to be a trend that the grassroots’ voices do seem to fall on deaf ears.”
Garza posted on Facebook about Morath’s appointment: “Dallas ISD has one of the highest failure rates and one of the highest turnover rates among teachers. Today Governor Abbott selects one of the Board members from Dallas to become Commissioner of Education.” Later, he told Breitbart Texas he felt Abbott appointed a school board member with “little to no knowledge of education and tried to justify that experience equal to or better than service on the State Board of Education. It is laughable to say that the two are comparable.”
The Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT) was not pleased but for different reasons. KERA-TV reported that President Louis Malfaro criticized Morath for attempting to turn the district into home rule charter, which AFT opposes. Malfaro asserted that Morath “has often been at odds with Dallas teachers, parents, and much of the community over matters of educational policy.”
Breitbart Texas reported on a handful of the tumultuous Dallas ISD scandals that happened on Morath’s watch and under the district’s former Superintendent Mike Miles, who resigned this summer. One involved a high school athletic director and another was a convoluted fracas with a school board member.
Conversely, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick called Morath “a great choice.” Breitbart Texas spoke to SBOE chair Donna Bahorich who pointed out she appreciates Morath’s out-of-the-box thinking. “With his working for four years in a very challenging district is also, I think, good because you want a commissioner that understands the major challenges so many of our kids that live in poverty are coming from.” To the critics, she said to consider taking a “wait and see” approach.
Current Commissioner Michael Williams resigns on January 1, 2016. He said that Morath’s experiences as a school board member and as “an innovative business leader” will serve him well as commissioner.
Morath heads an eponymous investment firm, and has a finance background. Previously, he headed up Minute Menu Systems, an information systems firm that helped manage a federal $2.5 billion-a year child nutrition program. A product of Texas public schools, he taught computer science briefly at his alma mater, Garland High School. He holds a B.B.A. from George Washington University, where he graduated summa cum laude
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.