Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced on Thursday, October 15th, that he will be stepping down from the position he has held since 2012. A sixteen-year veteran of public service, he cites his family as his primary reason for leaving the position. His public service duties kept him in Austin while his wife lives in Arlington. His weekend commute for all of those sixteen years was more than 200 miles each way.
In his tenure as Education Commissioner, Williams took his job very seriously. Texas’s education system can most generously be described as challenged. The state ranks 39th in the nation in education standards, according to accredited publication Education Week. A major reason cited for that low standing was the poor support for early childhood development, with only about 50% of Texas 3-4 year olds attending any kind of preschool. And by the standards of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, nearly every school district in the state would be labeled as failing.
Williams, never a fan of No Child Left Behind, was behind Texas’s proposal for a new teacher evaluation system. While the federal Education Department rejected that proposal, the evaluation program is in its second pilot year at several Texas school districts and will roll out statewide next year regardless of approval. Williams calls that rejection an “ongoing conversation with the national government” and regrets that he was not able to settle the matter in his tenure.
When asked about his proudest results in his term, he puts improving morale in the Texas Education Agency as his best result. When he was appointed, the agency was still reeling from having its staffing reduced by a full 50% from 1,200 down to 600, and public faith in them was low and discouraging. The year before he took over, lawmakers had reduced the public education budget by $5.4 billion. While he couldn’t singlehandedly cure the ills of the agency, he has in three years managed to restore 200 job positions and has done a lot of “little things” to help the embattled employees feel valued while public opinion batters them, like employee socials and birthday cards.
His resignation will be official on January 1st, 2016. As of yet, there is no one named to replace him. The decision will be made by Governor Abbot.