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Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott Stepping Down

Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott speaks at the TASA midwinter conference in Austin, Texas February 1st, 2011.
Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune
Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott speaks at the TASA midwinter conference in Austin, Texas February 1st, 2011.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott is leaving the post Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to in 2007. 

When Scott steps down on July 2 from the agency that oversees the public education of Texas' nearly 5 million students, he will be the longest serving education commissioner of the past two decades. 

Scott said in a statement that it had been a "privilege" to serve at the agency and noted that he began his career there in 1994 — when his son was one and his daughter was three months old — and they have both now gone on to graduate from Texas public schools. 

"It's time," he said.

Texas was often at the center of national conversations on education matters during his tenure — skirmishing with the Obama administration over Race to the Top and other federal policy and making deep reductions to public education funding. More recently, Scott drew fire over his remarks suggesting Texas needed to reform how it uses standardized testing to hold schools accountable.

During the past legislative session when the state cut public schools by more than $5 billion, Scott often found himself having to both reassure educators that they would be able to make do with fewer resources and ask lawmakers for more funding. Asking what parts of the education budget should be funded, he once told senators during a hearing, was akin to asking "a guy on the operating table whether wants his heart or his lungs back." Texas schools have lost more than 25,000 employees in the year since lawmakers slashed the education budget — and to absorb its ownstate budget cuts the TEA has dropped a third of its staff. 

In January, Scott made waves with a forceful speech at an annual gathering of school administrators in Austin that added fuel to a national conversation on standardized testing — and to speculation that he might soon be leaving his post. He said student testing in the state had become a “perversion of its original intent” and that he looked forward to “reeling it back” in the future. While he said that testing has its place in keeping schools accountable, he called for an accountability system that measured “every other day of a school’s life besides testing day.” (Here is a full version of his remarks.)

Though the speech marked his strongest comments on the subject to date, it was not the first time Scott found himself navigating a controversy on how standardized exam scores factor into state accountability ratings. Last May, the agency  discontinued the use of a mechansim in the ratings called the "Texas Projection Measure" which critics said artificially inflated students' test scores by inaccurately taking into account their future performance. The move came after a year of outcry from lawmakers and a unanimous vote against the measure on the House floor.

Under Scott's watch, Texas also became one of the first states to refuse federal Race to the Top funding, which he said at the time would have imposed too many burdens on schools, including forcing them to adhere to national common core curriculum standards. 

Before his appointment, Scott served as TEA's acting commissioner twice and served four years as chief deputy commissioner, managing daily TEA operations. He previously served as senior policy advisor to Perry and is credited with helping pass and implement the Texas High School Initiative in 2003.

In a press release, Perry praised Scott's performance at the agency.

"Robert’s experience and dedication have left a lasting imprint on our state’s education system and countless Texas children, ensuring a top-notch education for our students and their preparation for success in and out of school," he said, "I’m thankful for his service and wish him all the best in the future.”

Morgan Smith was an editorial intern and columnist at Slate in Washington, D.C., before moving to Austin to enter law school at the University of Texas in 2008. (She has put her degree on hold to join the Tribune's staff.) A native of San Antonio, she has a bachelor's degree in English from Wellesley College.
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