The latest from the archives of the games non-elected, appointed people play:

From: Belcher, Kim

Sent: Friday, April 22, 2016 8:44 AM

To: ‘Morath, Mike’ Cc: Lois Kolkhorst;

Subject: RE: inquiry

 Good morning.  Hope you guys are getting some rest there with the little one and that all is well.

 I have to be honest with you.  It pained me to read your response.  The layperson, who has not been an educator, not been a school board member, not been a legislator, can easily research and trace the standards back to the nationalization movement.  Through our networks, we have learned that all of the states have implemented this national framework in some form or fashion. Some call it different things and they have all implemented it by passing it through various channels, like we did with TASA and these other lobbies, but it doesn’t change what it is.

 This morning, I was reading this article,  and was left to wonder why no one will just admit this is what it is.

 There is one and only one fundamental problem with what is happening.  Our states are participating in discussions with the federal government to learn to comply with legislation that is unconstitutional.  Where are all the outspoken so called Conservative Governors that like to exploit the 10th amendment when they are filling up our inboxes with campaign solicitations?  Where are the cowardly lions that sit on our state legislatures that like to tout how they are keeping the feds out of our states?  Where are the State Board chairs that should be the gatekeepers for the classrooms?  Why is there no local elected or appointed body that is supposed to be protecting our teachers and our classrooms standing up to pack this up and send it back where it came from instead of sitting at the table and lapping it up?

 We don’t have to take this and those of you that are charged with keeping it from happening should be using your positions of authority and power to speak up for the citizens of our state and refuse to comply.

 If you aren’t going to do that, please at least don’t placate us.  At least let’s be straightforward with one another and call it like it is.  I may not get my way or what I think is best for our kids, but at home, in our communities, we cannot be as effective at mitigating the damage done to our kids academics if you all are not being honest with the people about the circumstances.

 The left will get their way with infiltrating their ideology into the classroom, the right will get to capitalize on every dollar they can suck up, but in the mean time, the rest of us are left with making sure our kids are educated when they go out into the adult world. The least all of you can do at this point is be honest with us and yourselves.  After all, it is taxpayer money that allows you all to spend your days complicating what used to be a very natural and effective means of creating productive citizens.


From: Morath, Mike []

Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2016 8:39 AM

To: Belcher, Kim

Cc: Lois Kolkhorst;

Subject: RE: inquiry

After talking to staff, it doesn’t appear that Shirley Dickson does any direct work with the agency.  She responded to an RFP that the SBOE issued early in the ELA/R process and provided some training.

 It looks like the documents you emailed were submitted to the SBOE by an outside advocacy group – TASA – as a suggestion for revisions.   I believe the SBOE has seen other suggested frameworks, too.  (I know I have; I can’t speak for all the members of the SBOE).  The ELA/R standards review process by the SBOE started long before I got here, so I don’t know what the SBOE did with suggestions from groups like TASA and others when they started the review.  I do know that I’m really not a fan at all of where the drafts are currently, and I’m hoping the SBOE takes steps to make some major changes in the current draft framework before moving much further.  But I’m a constitutionally sworn officer, and as such my role is limited – the SBOE adopts those standards and directs the work being done; I’m limited to providing advice when asked.

 The work with NAGB that I’m familiar with was largely conferences and governing bodies… agency staff were attending NAGB conferences, and agency staff were participating in NAGB leadership groups.  That is the work I stopped.

 I hope you’re able to get & stay dry.  It’s very sad to hear about the impact of the flooding.  I look forward to meeting soon.


From: Belcher, Kim

Sent: Wednesday, April 20, 2016 8:56 AM

To: Morath, Mike <>

Cc: Lois Kolkhorst <>;

Subject: RE: inquiry

Congratulations on the little one! So happy for your family.

I am working with Ms. Myers on scheduling the meeting. I have been out of pocket for a few days due to the flooding in our area, so I will catch up with her today.

As you will see in the email below from Veselka, TASA passed down the framework directive to the SBOE.  The reference to Shirley Dickson is the connection to NAGB.  She was the NAGB consultant who was the architect for the framework for the ELA/R standards. (her equivalent on the math side was Sybilla Beckmann.)

The ELA/R standards that are currently underway, not yet approved, are being constructed using the NAGB framework.  Has this also been scrapped?  If so, what framework is now being used?

 From: Johnny Veselka <> Sent: Thursday, September 3, 2015 3:52 PM To: Bahorich, Donna Subject: ELA/R Framework Donna, I have attached a copy of the updated ELA/R Framework with alignments to the College and Career Readiness Standards, SAT and ACT, along with a cover letter to the members of the State Board of Education.  The letter describes the ongoing work of members of TASA, TXASCD, and the six literacy organizations since our presentation to the SBOE at your July meeting. As stated previously, the Framework design began with the current TEKS.  The participants considered the expert reviewers’ comments regarding the current TEKS as well as their comments regarding the initial framework that was shared with the Board in July.  To provide the greatest opportunity for student success, the CCRS standards were backward mapped into the framework, which is also aligned with the SAT and ACT standards.  These alignments are noted in the document. I believe this collaboration by experts in the field has resulted in a research-based structure and a beginning point for the review committees that will promote rich discussion among the review committee members while also guaranteeing efficient use of their time.  It focuses on rigorous student achievement goals as recommended by Shirley Dickson and is unanimously supported by these organizations. As we did in July, I wanted to share these documents with you in advance of the Board meeting.  I look forward to visiting with you regarding any questions you may have and hoping it might be possible for you to share this document with the other SBOE members prior to the meeting. Johnny

Texas Association of School Administrators

Thanks for your attention to this.


From: Morath, Mike []

Sent: Monday, April 18, 2016 10:17 AM

To: Belcher, Kim C

c: Lois Kolkhorst; S

Subject: RE: inquiry


 Sorry for the delayed response.  We were blessed with a son last week, so I’ve been a bit slower than normal on responses.  (And I’m now quite sleep deprived, so hopefully my response is coherent).

 Your core question:  can the SBOE vote to change the math standards?  The answer is Yes.  I believe they, as a board, are somewhat hesitant to make wholesale changes because it can be fairly disruptive to educators.  As you experienced with Zach, standards changes can be quite problematic when pushed across a system with 350,000 teachers.  I don’t say this to offer an excuse on their behalf… I believe they can and should make a fairly narrow change to the math standards as soon as possible to remove the process standards (which I think are the most problematic component) while not otherwise making wholesale changes, and that should only be a net positive for our kids and teachers.  But they are a deliberative, elected body, which doesn’t necessarily respond with the same speed as many would like.   Plus, having served on an elected board for the last 4 ½ years, I can say that just because a few on the board are in complete agreement with you doesn’t mean they have the votes from the broader board to get it done.  That was a constant source of frustration for me as a school board member… everything takes so long, and our kids only have one shot at first grade.  Regardless, I have been advocating with many of the members to make the math standards changes, and I believe the chair has put this on the agenda for their next meeting as a discussion item to begin building support from a majority of members.  And while as Commissioner I’m charged by the legislature to administer a large number of public education matters, the adoption of standards are solely the purview of the SBOE.  I have begun working with agency staff, though, to try to ensure the state math tests appropriately focus on right & wrong mathematics questions and answers, and not on these process questions.

 Also, as an fyi, since I’ve taken the helm at the agency, I’ve stopped all agency work with NAGB (at least, all that I’m aware of).  They have no business influencing our staff, and by extension, the elected SBOE members.  I am trying to work as diligently as possible to systemically root out any Common Core-like elements from the policy work here at the agency.  I’ve also been screening candidates to ensure we hire only those who will be opposed to Common Core.

 I look forward to discussing data privacy issues at length when we meet.  This is an item of concern for me as a parent, even though my oldest is still only 2½.  And given my software background, I know exactly how quickly good intentions and profit motives can cause problems in this area.  We have to be ever vigilant to prevent our little bundles of joy from developing some kind of digital fingerprint that silently follows them their whole lives, otherwise limiting them from having the freedom to pursue the path God intended for them.




From: Belcher, Kim

Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2016 8:21 AM

To: Morath, Mike <>

Cc: Lois Kolkhorst <>;

Subject: RE: inquiry

 Thank you for taking the time to clarify these things. First, let me say congratulations on the new baby.  I am so happy for you and your family and will completely understand if I do not hear from you for awhile, but do look forward to scheduling with Ms. Myers.

 You have stated some important points that give me encouragement, but I am still not convinced and need your help with something in particular.

 We have received the documents showing that the NAGB consultants were the architects of the standards framework provided to Texas SBOE. There were handed down to the chairs, first Barbara Cargill, then her successor, Donna Bahorich, through Texas Association of School Administrators.  The documents clearly show that the national standards (which ARE common core, regardless of whether we call them college and career readiness, etc) were backed into our TEKS to structure the framework.  This is federal overreach, plain and simple.

 I can’t find anywhere on record that the SBOE voted to accept or adopt these standards framework. Unfortunately, some of the board members still do not even understand that this is where the framework came from or what the NAEP and NAGB are.  The primary consultants for the math and ELA/R who signed off on the final products, Sybilla Beckmann and Shirley Dickson, while largely unknown to many of our board members, are well know common core promoters and authors.

 Everything about this directive to the SBOE, in my opinion, violates 10th amendment principles.  I believe that the people should have recourse in this. The ball continues to get bounced while no one will stand up and say we are returning the ball and taking responsibility for returning to our own framework and standards.

 We have several parents, educators and experts that have worked closely with Mrs. Bahorich and the SBOE, particularly on the math issues. While she and the board are always patient to listen and add agenda items to quarterly meetings to allow people to vent, it appears that she and the board are powerless to make these changes of their own accord or will.  Mrs. Cargill has made comments to the effect that they would change them if they could. Why can’t they?  That is my most important question today.

 While these are board matters, education is your charge, including the SBOE. It is important that we are able to clarify to the people of Texas whether we are or are not in control of our kids’ educations.

 I also hope that we will get to spend some time in our meeting talking about the technology and data mining.  As a young dad, I am sure this is not likely at the forefront of your concerns at this time, but the time will come for you to decide where your kids will be educated, whether in publicly funded or private schools.  My hope and prayer is that your conscience will guide you when making decisions on behalf of the children in this state as it pertains to their public educations, their futures, their privacy and the rights of their parents to determine which entities should or should not have access to their academic and social/emotional development information.  It is easy to make business decisions when you are disassociated from the people that they impact, but at the end of the day, there is a face and a name behind every decision you make.

 My son’s name is Zach.  Before I realized that the gaps in his learning were created by constant chaos in changing standards and converting to common core curriculum, I wasted a year and a half thinking he had a learning disability.  It was precious time that we can’t get back, but work every day to ensure it will not prevent him from becoming all that he has the potential to be.  When you think of Zach’s name, I hope you will think of all the teachers that accompanied his story along the way, who did their best with what they were given when they didn’t understand the politics that stood behind the decisions that were being forced upon them.  You have the lives of many people in your hands.  What happens to these kids next not only impacts their lives, but the future of our state and nation and whether we lead or follow from this point forward.

 I appreciate that you have been so generous with your time this week and look forward to meeting you, as well.


From: Morath, Mike []

Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2016 4:28 PM

To: Belcher, Kim Cc: Lois Kolkhorst;

Subject: RE: inquiry


 Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.  I’m going to be out of the office for a few days (my wife is giving birth soon), but I will have Paula Myers in my office reach out to put something on the calendar for us as soon as possible.

I wanted to address a few of your points though, cause I feel like there are some misconceptions I need to clear up:

 First, with regard to the math standards:  I’ve met with Dr Milgram and think his criticisms are entirely accurate.  I believe the process standards are a real problem and should be removed.  They are similar to components of standards found in the Common Core and we need to do everything in our power to prevent Common Core from infiltrating Texas because they are ultimately harming the quality of mathematics (and English) education for our kids.  While the adoption of standards are a matter for the SBOE, I’m strongly opposed to Common Core, and I don’t want to see them come to Texas even if by another name.

 Related:  I have major concerns about the current ELAR standards drafts.  The “collaboration” strand in particular has nothing to do with teaching kids how to read and write, and is very Common Core-like.  I’ve tried to raise warning flags about this, but again, this is a matter for the SBOE.

 With regard to your final point about technology:  I couldn’t agree more.  I have seen over and over a rush to adopt the newest technology toy, only to have the impact of hurting the quality of education for our kids.  I’ve made multiple public statements to his effect over the years.

 With regards to the feds:  I have as a matter of policy and practice wholly ignored the federal government. They have no valid role in education… Certainly not one that is supported in the Constitution.  I’m not sure what comments I made that gave the impression that I am interested in doing whatever they ask, because my behavior to date has been essentially the opposite.  I’m interested in local control, where those who are closest to the students make decisions as to what is best, and I will (and I have) aggressively fought federal interference.  Moreover the Constitution clearly delegates education as a matter for the States via the 10th amendment.  Why we have any federal education laws baffles me.

 Also, with regard to Mr West and charters in Kansas City:  I think it’s important to note that these were publicly governed schools, governed by a locally elected school board.  That isn’t always the case, but I thought it worth mentioning, since that was what he was supporting.

 I look forward to meeting face to face soon.


On Apr 12, 2016 8:17 AM, “Belcher, Kim” wrote:

Thank you for your response.

 We have a group of concerned parents and educators that are genuinely concerned about the direction that you are leading the State toward charters, innovation/opportunity/community schools, etc and how those public/private partnerships will shift us to more appointed boards and less elected boards, resulting in less true representation of the people.  We have already experienced diminished representation thanks to the efforts of lobbies like TASA, TASB and their parent organizations.  Mr. West’s drive for charters in Kansas City may have been best for their demographics at that time, but parents/taxpayers here are concerned about losing their opportunity to influence policy at a local level.

 Also at the forefront of our concerns for public schools is the initiative with the Next Generation of Assessment and Accountability.  Real time, any time assessments and the technology to make such a thing possible are concerning on many levels, privacy being only one of those.  We listened intently during your recent hearings, as you often repeated that we will do whatever the federal government tells us to do.  One can only conclude that means that the State will comply with requirements that may not be in the best interests of our children, rather than standing up and pushing back to the feds when they are wrong (assuming that we agree they belong in our kids’ education at all, which I don’t.)

 Most importantly, the greatest problem that is impacting us at this moment, in the classrooms today, is the standards.  The math standards are convoluted, not streamlined, are creating gaps in our children’s learning and are in violation of our Texas Education Code. When the national standards were forced into our TEKS, expert mathematician Dr. James Milgram, advised the SBOE that the immersed standards resulted in confusion for students, some had no purpose, some were backwards, some were at inappropriate age development levels (too advanced or too late) and others were vague.  Dr. Milgram has said that after three years of this type of chaos in math instruction that it will be hard to ever remediate a student that has been long term exposed to it.  We are in the process of witnessing the same merging of national standards and TEKS with the English/Language Arts/ Reading standards, which expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky of the Pioneer Institute has witnessed throughout the country resulting in deficient ELA/R skills in students.  Students already are not equipped to read and write coherently when they leave our school system.  This is only going to further diminish their skills.

While I believe that you are sincere in your efforts to advance the education system, many of us have concerns about whether the beneficiaries of these changes will ultimately be the students of our State.  I am so disappointed to see that the Republican leadership in Texas has simply rolled over for the federal government.  We have only encountered one elected Republican in Texas that has the courage to stand publicly with his or her constituents and say that this is wrong.  Truly disheartening.

 I am certain that we have different philosophies of how to get our kids back to learning, but I do appreciate you extending the olive branch to meet.  I would be grateful for the opportunity to do that.  If you could spare the time, I have a small group of five or six parents and educators that I work closely with that I would like to include if you would be open to that.  Please advise the best way to go about scheduling an appointment with you and Mr. West.  We would be happy to meet in Austin.

 I look forward to the opportunity to meet and would like to leave you with this thought.

 My grandfather went off to World War II as a boy with a high school education.  When he returned, he first plumbed indoor plumbing to his mother’s house, then set off to work for Humble, then Exxon, where he worked for 38 years as an engineer.  He and his co-workers helped to engineer and innovate US refineries on high school math, then taught others to do the same in their own homelands.  Technology is great and while it is rapidly advancing, it may well take us backwards from where we want to be. While these shiny things and big ideas are fun and hold lots of possibilities, we should use them as resources instead of desired end results.  We should never lose site of the fact that the desired end result is an educated mind.

 I look forward to hearing from you on scheduling our meeting.  Thanks again for your response and consideration of these concerns.




From: Morath, Mike []

Sent: Monday, April 11, 2016 5:15 PM

To: Belcher, Kim


Subject: RE: inquiry


Thanks so much for your email.  I can understand why fellow conservatives would raise an eyebrow.  Regardless of his political affiliation, though, his track record of changing school districts to deliver results for kids & taxpayers is somewhat unparalleled.  The Kansas City school system was a shambles when he was first elected:  a hotbed of fraud and financial malfeasance, in addition to being a place where huge numbers of children were simply not taught how to read and write.  He completely transformed that situation, at much personal cost and sacrifice.  He cut off the gravy train to vendors who had gotten sweetheart contracts because of their relationships with prior board members.  He helped fire personnel who can only be described as being abusive to children.  He pushed a suite of reforms that most would clearly identify as common sense conservative reforms, but that no one had ever had the courage to do in Kansas City before, and that certainly made him the target of some nasty attacks along the way.  The list of reforms is actually a bit too long to go over via email, but I’d be more than happy to talk in more detail over the phone, or in person… or if you’d like to meet him, too, I’m happy to arrange some time for the two of you to connect.  Let me know if you’d like to visit (with me or him, in person or over the phone), and we’ll make it happen.  But the moral of the story is:  there are a great deal of children in Kansas City that are far better off because of him, and the taxpayers are as well.

 As to the layer of government:  What I’ve done is actually reduce a layer of government, although I’m sure that’s not how the media has spun it.  I’ve attached an older version of our organizational chart that I inherited, and the current version, for your reference.  The old bureaucracy shows a Chief Deputy Commissioner, and then a Deputy Commissioner of Policy & Programs, and then Associate Commissioners.  It doesn’t show another position, which was Chief of Staff, that was also part of the bureaucracy here at the agency.   I eliminated those three top-level high-paid positions – which functioned as three separate layers between me and our employees – and replaced it with one layer instead.  This brings me closer to the people doing the work.  My objective with this initial set of changes is to ensure we have a team in place who can drive costs down and the quality of support up, as part of a larger cultural transformation to get the agency to serve more effectively as a servant of taxpayers and students.

 Finally, as you’ve requested, I’ve attached job descriptions and pay grades for the positions.  My plan was to announce filling the positions all at once, along with their full bios, sometime in the next two weeks, although it appears that some media stories have already been run on my second hire.  (My first hire was our Deputy Commissioner of Finance, which I announced in January, before finalizing the plans for the reduction in layers at the top).  Regardless, expect some more info on soon.

 Again, happy to discuss concerns any time.  I can only be effective if I get feedback from those closest to our kids, and I greatly appreciate your advocacy.



From: Belcher, Kim

Sent: Monday, April 11, 2016 9:28 AM

To: Commissioner <>

Cc:; Lois Kolkhorst <>


 Good morning, Commissioner Morath.

I must say that I was a little surprised by your appointment to Deputy Commissioner of Governance, given his background as Treasurer of the Missouri Democrat Party and his ties to the rallies during the time of the Ferguson riots.

With that said, I was most troubled to see that we are adding another layer of government between the Commissioner’s position and the people.  It appears that we continue to move the power of the people further and further from their grasp.

 Will you please provide the job description for this position of “Governance,” along with the other four positions, along with the pay grades for each?

 Your assistance is most appreciated.

 Thank you.

 Kim Belcher