To the Editor,
An open letter to Governor Abbott:
Your appointee for Education Commissioner, Mike Morath, has consistently failed to perform the duties of his office. In his tenure, ETS has failed to conduct one single STAAR administration without some kind of glitch, problem, or news item. In the latest iteration of this problem, we find out that the 5th grade STAAR test dropped the "F" bomb twice in some versions of the test, a problem which TEA has acknowledged and for which it has apologized.
Mr. Morath sat in a senate confirmation hearing and stated numerous times that every single question and reading passage on the STAAR test is reviewed thoroughly before being included on the test. This means that either his administration has continued its incompetence in STAAR test administration, or that Mr. Morath willfully approved a test for 10- and 11-year olds which included vulgar language.
Furthermore, Mr. Morath's answers to the senate committee were misleading. Out of concern from information that questions and passages on the test were 2-3 grades above level, Mr. Morath was asked over and over by the committee how questions were reviewed for readability during the design phase of the STAAR test. Each time, Mr. Morath answered to the committee that every question was reviewed by grade-level teachers. The problem with that is that grade level teachers are qualified to evaluate grade level in respect to alignment with the TEKS, and with the depth of knowledge required to answer the question. Teachers are NOT, however, trained to simply look at a passage or piece of writing and assign a lexile to it. We depend on charts provided by vendors for that, as that is a very specialized algorithm. What Mr. Morath ACTUALLY said is that TEA does NOT review readability of test questions and passages.
Mr. Morath's approach to schools after Hurricane Harvey was less than helpful. For example, it took heavy pushback by educators to convince TEA that the procedures that were used for Hurricane Katrina were not enough for Hurricane Harvey because we had damaged school buildings, homeless teachers, and children living in tents. Even after considering modifications to his original plan, when asked why anyone in the disaster zone should be administering a STAAR test after a natural disaster of such magnitude, his answer to hundreds of administrators in a meeting at Education Service Center 4 was "If we do not test, they will not teach." Someone with such distrust of professional educators has no business leading them.
Mr. Morath's tenure has also produced a financial audit rating of "F" with willful or negligent failure to provide proper oversight to taxpayer funds through proper bidding processes and other financial issues well-documented by both the legislature and the media. His dealings with SpedX are a prime example of this. The fact that we now owe the federal government $223 million (a number which was also originally misrepresented to the legislature) due to illegal distribution of special education funding is not acceptable.
Based on the demonstrated incompetence of Mr. Morath's leadership, his willful misleading of elected officials, his distrust of the very people he is supposed to lead, and his lack of qualifications as an educator in the first place, I call upon you to remove Mr. Morath as Education Commissioner and seek out a candidate who demonstrates the leadership skills to lead one of the largest public education systems in the world. I also ask that the next individual who you select actually be an educator so that he or she will understand the workings of a public education classroom.
Troy Reynolds, Texans for Public Education Founder