What kind of state education commissioner will Mike Morath be? Based on his record as a self-styled “reformer” in Dallas ISD, the best response for an educator right now is to expect the worst and hope you are wrong.
The type of alleged “reform” that Morath advocated in Dallas was an abuse of the term. True reform is change for the better, not change simply for change’s sake and certainly not the type of change, supported by Morath, that has roiled the ranks of Dallas educators with only minimal, if any, benefit for the vast majority of Dallas school children.
Morath was a strong supporter of former Superintendent Mike Miles, a dictatorial “reformer” who resigned earlier this year after disrespecting and alienating teachers, removing an elected school board member (not Morath) from a district campus and paying big salaries to controversial and inept administrators.
Morath supported the effort – also backed by former Enron trader John Arnold – to transform Dallas ISD into a “home rule” school district that could have operated without important state educational standards or employment protections for school employees. Fortunately, a local citizens commission killed that bad idea before it could get off the ground.
Morath also was instrumental in Dallas ISD’s adoption of a teacher evaluation system partly tied to test scores. This is an unfair and counterproductive way to evaluate and compensate teachers. It also flies in the face of growing professional, public and political opinion against high-stakes testing – from educators, a growing number of parents and large majorities of members of Congress of both parties.
Just last week, Congress completed action on a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces the test-heavy failure known as No Child Left Behind. In so doing, Congress removed the federal link between test scores and accountability and left it up to the states and local school districts to decide what weight to give test scores in determining student success.
Under the new law, Texas now has the opportunity to measure student success with more meaningful options, including graduation and college admittance rates, pre-AP courses, course grades and teacher observations.
Morath, who will succeed Michael Williams next month, is tied to the failure of high-stakes testing and out-of-step with the type of reform that educators and students really need, the type of positive change that would replace teaching-to-the-test with meaningful classroom learning.
We can only hope that Morath will use his new appointment and the new federal law to quit thinking top-down and begin working with teachers and parents to move away from testing and toward more-meaningful ways to promote and measure student success