Mike Morath got the nod Monday to be the next Texas education commissioner.
Morath made his name as a member of the Dallas school board. He supported the reforms of former superintendent Mike Miles, and he was a leader in last year’s failed effort to use the home-rule process to remake the Dallas Independent School District.
Morath says he’ll get to know the Texas Education Agency staff over the next few months. He will talk to superintendents, teachers, and lawmakers to refine his priorities. He already has three.
One priority: “Supporting teachers, helping teachers and teaching quality within the state to improve, using the agency as a technical resource to support school systems to do that," he says.
Morath's second priority: Implementing new accountability laws to give districts and schools ratings of “A” through “F." He likes the approach pushed by his predecessor, Michael Williams, saying it’s better than the current pass-fail system.
Priority No. 3: Make the TEA more efficient.
'Substantial amount of operational change'
That’s what Morath did as an entrepreneur. More than a decade ago, he joined Minute Menu Systems, software that processes child nutrition claims for in-home family care providers. As education commissioner, he says he'll bring the same approach to improving public education.
“It is going to require a substantial amount of operational change in order for us to achieve those goals throughout the course of the system,” Morath says. “I am certainly committed to getting better results for Texas children than the current system provides.”
Morath came up through public schools, graduating from the Garland school district. In fewer than four years, he finished college and came back. Now a 38-year-old married father, Morath has a second child on the way. He wants every Texas kid, not just his, to have what he had.
“The complexity of taking little bundles of energy and in 18 years turning them into self-aware members of the republic -- this is the greatest challenge in which man is engaged,” Morath says.
'All tactics on the table'
“To think that we can do X or Y or Z and accomplish that mission for all of our 5 million brothers and sisters in the Texas public school system, we’re deluding ourselves," Morath says. "It’s an all hands on deck, all tactics on the table kind of pursuit in order to give them the best chance of success in America that we can.”
Morath knows as commissioner, his role is different than it was as a trustee in Dallas ISD.
“In my old role, I was an advocate of a whole host of initiatives. But in my new role, I’m not really an advocate,” Morath says. “I exist to implement legislative policy. I’ll defer the advocacy to the legislators and school board members around the state and I’ll just try to do what the legislature tells me.”
Williams, the outgoing commissioner, commuted between Arlington and Austin. Not Morath, who will move, despite the season.
“There’s nothing like moving a family, a five-month pregnant wife, getting a new job and dealing with the Christmas holidays all at the same,” Morath says dryly. “It’s really a perfect storm of peacefulness at the Morath household.”
That's just a prelude to his new job, which starts with the new year.
What the governor says
“The State of Texas is exceptional, and our education system must be too,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “A proven education reformer, 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.”
What Morath says
"I’m honored by Governor Abbott’s appointment, and for the opportunity to serve our kids with a focus on improving student outcomes,” Morath said in a statement earlier this week. “As a DISD trustee, I watched with amazement the tremendous skill and love our teachers and staff pour into our students every day. I realize that no school system’s students can outperform their teachers, and supporting our teachers to improve teaching quality are essential in our public education system. I look forward to advancing that quality, as well as student outcomes, to ensure Texas becomes the number one school system in the nation.”