Texas Governor Greg Abbott has named Dallas Independent School District Trustee Mike Morath the new Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
Morath has served on the board of trustees since he was elected to the position in 2011. As the Education Commissioner, he will oversee the TEA, as well as the 1,200 school districts in the state and charter schools.
Abbott referred to Morath as a “change agent” during his time on the school board and said he believes he will bring an innovative spirit to the position of commissioner. “The state of Texas is exceptional, and our education system must be too,” Abbott said in a statement.
Morath used his time on the school board to push for tougher evaluation methods for teachers, choice schools without academic or performance-based admissions and looked to change the approach toward early childhood education used within the district. He strongly supported the idea to make Dallas a home-rule charter school district, writes Stephen Young for The Dallas Observer.
Although Morath did not respond to interview requests, he said in remarks issued by Abbott’s office that he believes he will bring “a focus on improving student outcomes” to the position. He went on to say that he will support teachers in the state as they continue to improve upon their skills. He added that his goal is to make Texas the number one school system in the country, writes Robert Garrett for The Dallas Morning News.
The 38-year-old excels academically, having graduated from George Washington University in Washington, DC in only two and a half years.
Upon returning to Dallas after his graduation, he created the tech company Minute Menu Systems that produced software in order to aid in the management of a $2.5 billion per year federal child nutrition program.
Morath has since sold his company and is currently chairman of Morath Investments.
Although his non-traditional background made a number of school groups skeptical, he has won over some critics. University of Texas education professor Walter Stroup, a well-known critic of high-stakes testing, had recently exchanged emails with Morath and was pleasantly surprised to find him to be interested.
“It could be just what we need, to have a commissioner willing to roll up his sleeves and dig into what the numbers can tell us relative to the inner workings of the state’s accountability system,” Stroup said.
But others are not so trusting of Morath. A number of education groups say they need to know his thoughts on testing, charter schools, and school choice options. Rob D’Amico, a spokesman for the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers, added that he hopes Morath will put public schools first.
Michael MacNaughton of the watchdog group Dallas Friends of Public Education said that Morath needs to realize students in the state are more than just a page of data, adding that students in the state need to learn how to think critically and not just to “fill bubbles on state tests.”