State Education Commissioner makes historic visit to Sugar Land
By Michael Sudhalter
Mike Morath became the first sitting Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner to give a speech in Fort Bend County when he addressed the Fort Bend County Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon last Friday.
Morath, a 38-year-old former Dallas ISD board member and former software company CEO, was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in December.
His speech focused on three major areas — supporting educators, achieving great outcomes and delivering maximum service to school systems and schools.
The TEA Commissioner’s role is to enforce education policy that is put forth by the State Legislature.
“The future of our state relies on our ‘angels in the classroom’,” Morath said. “They have 20-to-30 bundles of energy and are tasked with molding their minds and helping them become better citizens.”
From his work in the private sector, Morath said he learned that incentives are key to driving success.
“Outcomes are the essence of accountability systems,” he said.
He strongly supported Dallas ISD’s “Teacher Excellence Initiative”, which compensates teachers based on their teaching performance, student achievement and the results of student perception surveys for a maximum salary of $90,000 per year.
But he’s run into some opposition from teacher’s unions and others.
“A lot of people view it as more of a stick than a carrot,” Morath said.
The program went into effect this year, and the former system based compensation on years of experience and level of education.
“Basing high-stakes employment decisions on unproven methods is a sure-fire way to drive off high-quality teachers our students need,” American Federation of Teachers president Rena Honea told Dallas television station WFAA in 2014.
Morath said he gave up a lucrative career in the software industry to help what he viewed as a Dallas ISD system in need of repair. Now, he hopes to lead a similar effort, state-wide.
He volunteered in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program and was surprised when he found out his 16-year-old “Little Brother” couldn’t read, yet kept advancing from grade to grade.
“I decided that I couldn’t sit by when this was happening to way too many kids,” Morath said.
Morath transitioned from the field of technology to learning as much as possible about education policy before he running unopposed as a Dallas ISD trustee.
He said that education reform is “the most complicated endeavor in which mankind has engaged.”
But Morath said it’s important to ask the difficult questions.
Currently, an all-time high of 41 percent of Texas public school children are “post-secondary ready.”
“What the economy and society demands is a much higher level,” Morath said. “We have to determine if the system is designed for results.
We have to understand the difference between good and great, and how can we make good great.”