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The Q&A: Mike Moses

In this week's Q&A, we interview Mike Moses, former Texas education commissioner and former Dallas ISD superintendent.

Educational advisor and former Texas education commissioner Dr. Mike Moses.

With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:

Mike Moses has been an educator for over thirty years. Currently, he is Distinguished Professor of Educational Administration at the University of North Texas and holder of a chair at that institution named in his honor. He also serves as the senior educational advisor for Raise Your Hand Texas and the Center for Reform of School Systems. He served as the general superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District from 2001 until 2004. From 1999 through 2001, he served as the deputy chancellor for Systems Operations at the Texas Tech University System. He was the Commissioner of Education for the state of Texas from 1995 through 1999. Prior to that service, he was the superintendent of schools in three Texas school districts including Lubbock, LaMarque, and Tatum.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trib+Edu: Since you left office, what are the big changes that you've noticed in education policy?

Mike Moses: I think there’s been a movement away from local control. I think SB 1 in 1995 really did deregulate schools. I think it gave schools a lot of freedom with accountability. I think over the years, that has gradually been eroded.

Part of it is a natural happenstance as a result of new legislators being elected. And part of that is, I think, a desire of some people to control schools. I think it’s really hampered innovation at a time when people don’t see schools being innovative. I think that’s been the big change I’ve noticed in policy. Local control has slowly been eroded a little bit over the last few years and that was the big buzzword when I was in office.

Trib+Edu: How has the role of the TEA itself changed in recent years on implementing policy?

Moses: The agency staff may disagree with this and, with all due respect to them, I would say the agency, I think, has changed in recent years and has become more a regulatory and compliance-driven organization.

Part of that is because of the testing program. Part of that is because of the accountability system. Part of that is because of the piling on to the education code, different requirements and statutes that they have to enforce. And so I think the agency has probably not been able to maintain a position of being seen as service oriented or to give as much technical assistance as the agency may have once been able to give. Part of that is not their fault. Part of it is the code. Part of it is the fact that staffing has been cut there and so forth. But, also, part of it is what they’re called on to do.

Trib+Edu: HB 5 introduced a whole host of changes in education policy, from charter schools to school accountability. In your view, is it a step in the right direction?

Moses: First, I disagree a little bit with the premise. I don’t think school accountability got touched that much. I think school assessment, school testing, got touched a lot. Yes, in my view, it was a step in the right direction. First, I think that we had gotten away from the teaching and learning and we were testing too much at the expense of teaching and learning. I think a course adjustment was necessary and I think it was a right step. Secondly, I think graduation plans needed to be changed. I think that we need to encourage and prepare kids to pursue post-secondary readiness. Notice I didn’t say college readiness, I said post-secondary readiness.

We had zeroed in on college readiness to the expense of our students. Only about 30 percent of the jobs require a college education. Yet we were positioning all the students into a college ready graduation path. And we were losing students. We had too many kids that weren’t graduating, too many kids that were dropping out. And I think this was a course correction that was also needed and I applauded Chairman Aycock and Chairman Patrick for the move in that direction.

Trib+Edu: Are you optimistic that the resolution of school finance litigation will lead to a better, more reliable system of funding public schools?

Moses: I think the resolution of the court case will lead to some improvements. Will they be long lasting? Under our current tax structure? No. They won’t be long lasting because as long as we continue to rely on the property tax, we’re going to have some pretty vast variances in the wealth per child in districts across the state of Texas. … I think there’ll be an improvement. I don’t think it’ll be lasting because we’ll find ourselves back in the same place within four or five years due to the differences in property values.

You’re already hearing people say, “Let’s cut property taxes.” Or, “we’ve got to use some of the Rainy Day Fund,” some of the surplus state dollars to give back to taxpayers and cut property taxes. Well, we rely on two taxes in this state to pay for most government services. One is the sales tax. The other is property tax. If we cut one of those in a big, big way, I would submit it would have to be replaced by something.

Trib+Edu:  Do you think the state’s residents are up for absorbing more in sales taxes to lower property taxes?

Moses: I don’t know. I will say this. Seventy percent of the adult population in Texas does not have school-age children. That 70 percent wonders, why am I paying property taxes? Why are they so high? OK, we’ll reduce those and you’ll pay a higher sales tax. I don’t know whether that 70 percent is up for that or not. That’s going to be a big policy question and a big debate next session.

Trib+Edu: What will be the big policy pushes in the 2015 legislative session?

Moses: Generally, you got to do something about water and transportation.  As educators, we’d like to see education be fairly funded but you can’t ignore water and transportation … I think they’ll find a balance. A lot of it will be determined by if we get a court decision. Even if we get a court decision, we won’t get a Supreme Court decision, I suspect.

But they may decide they want to head off some problems. There’ll be some funding for education. But the big policy pushes will be air, water, education and the funding of those thereof. In education specifically, recovery school districts or achievement school districts, what to do with low performing schools. What kind of recovery school district, what kind of achievement school district do we create.

I think there will be more discussion next session with regard to teacher quality issues. How are we preparing teachers? How are colleges of education doing? What about alternative certification? Is that working right? What do we need to pay teachers? Do we need to pay everybody the same or do we need to have differentiated salaries? And what about this business of using student performance and student test scores in teacher evaluations? I think all of that is going to be pretty ripe for discussion during the next session.

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