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Texas education commissioner talks teacher shortage, district scores and vouchers in visit to Garland

On Monday, the Texas Education Agency released new district and school accountability scores for the first time in three years.

ROWLETT, Texas — Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, the man overseeing public education in the state, visited Garland ISD on Monday as accountability scores for schools and districts were released.

Morath, a Garland ISD alum, came to James Back Elementary School to celebrate its rise from a B-rated school to an A-rated one.

“We do this because it is good for children,” Morath said in his speech to board members and educators. “It is extremely important that we start this work with high expectation because children will rise to the expectations that we set.”

The new accountability scores are the first set released since 2019. Despite the TEA’s warning of generational learning loss following the 2020-2021 school year, 33% of Texas schools improved scores, and more than 1,000 schools went from a B, C, D or F to an A. Fifteen percent of schools declined in score.

“That’s what made it extraordinary when you have a teaching shortage, plus a sub shortage, plus all the teachers all out because they have COVID and that’s what makes this remarkable,” Garland ISD Superintendent Dr. Ricardo Lopez said.

The obstacle of a teacher shortage hasn’t faded this year. 

It’s gotten worse.

“It’s a competitive market for talent and it’s incumbent upon us to makes this as financially rewarding and as professionally rewarding as we can,” Morath said.

Morath touted a new state law, HB 4545, which requires districts to provide 30 hours of tutoring to students who failed the state’s standardized test, as a reason for the score improvements.

“For the kids that were struggling most, they got more specific attention than perhaps ever before,” Morath said.

Lopez said it has also provided challenges.

“House bill 4545 is very hard to implement,” he said. “We don’t have the people to do it so what do we do? We get innovative.”

Some teachers and administrators have said the STAAR test and state scoring are adding pressure and creating burnout. Morath rejected that idea.

“I absolutely want that information and I use that to support my child at home and in partnership with the school. It’s very important for us to know where our kids are,” Morath said. “Teachers don’t grow on trees. You have to train them.”

That’s not the only policy issue facing schools. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott was in Dallas endorsing a program that would allow parents to take public funds to pay for private school. 

Critics say vouchers would take funding from public schools that are already struggling.

“There’s never been any evidence that that is the way that that works,” Morath responded. “Whatever that school looks like, wherever that school is located, we want it to be as effective as possible at molding eager young minds and meeting the needs of those families.”

Obstacles are a constant in education, but so is the optimism at the start of a new year. This week, students across the state return to classes and teachers begin another year of lobbying for support.

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