Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Conversation with Commissioner Morath and SBOE Chair Bahorich

Those who follow Texas government and public education policy are well aware of two recent appointments by Governor Abbott that will have an impact on the more than 5 million Texas public education students.  On January 6, Bobby J Rigues, founder of the Make Education a Priority (MEaP) grassroots movement, and I met with newly appointed TEA Commissioner Mike Morath and State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich to discuss public education and to share our views with them.

Bobby and I are both advisory advocates for MEaP (along with three other individuals who are passionate about public education) and felt that it was important to understand the priorities and focus of these two individuals.  We are very appreciate that Commissioner Morath and Chairwoman Bahorich found the time to meet with us and to share their perspectives.

So what did we learn?  First and foremost, both are focused on a collaborative effort to work with trustees, school administrators and others involved with public education.  Starting the dialog through this meeting was just the first step for us in bringing about a greater focus to our advocacy efforts.  Incidentally, as we formalize the MEaP structure and make a formal announcement in early February, collaboration with policymakers will be one of our watchwords.

Second, I anticipate a very lively discussion about the concept of “school choice”.  There clearly is positioning by some policymakers to pursue the adoption of school vouchers and other options where they believe students are not being given access to a quality education.  In my opinion, this is running from the problem instead of tackling it head on to bring about positive and constructive change.  (But that’s a discussion for another blog). 

Third, “data drives decisions”.  We spent much of the time with the Commissioner talking about his use of data in making decisions, whether relating to teacher evaluations, selection and adoption of curriculum, or the overall assessment of public schools performance.  I certainly agree with the need and use of data but remain concerned that data is not generally and consistently available to those who make decisions.  As a former trustee, serving my district for ten years, there were times when it was difficult to find the underlying data, but I believe that recognition of the importance of data by the Commissioner will foster positive changes in this area.

The bottom line is that Commissioner Morath and Chairwoman Bahorich are both committed to public education.  And while the way that we get there may not always be in sync with our views, the very fact that they are willing to engage in open discussions is a very positive sign for us.  Now it is up to all of us as education advocates to Make Education a Priority.

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