Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sen. Michael Bennet ROCKS!

June 7, 2009


STOP THE PRESSES!!!  I spent two hours with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) on Friday afternoon and he ROCKS!  He's incredibly smart (among other things, he was Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law Journal), highly accomplished in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors (he's already applying his business expertise on the Senate Banking Committee, trying to mitigate, as he puts it, "unintended consequences"), and is a really nice, down-to-earth, high-integrity person.  You don't find this mix very often -- especially in a politician!  I'd strongly support him even if he weren't an innovative leader in education reform -- which he is.


Every education reformer in the country should, if not meet him, at least be very familiar with him because he is already leading a major school reform effort in the Senate and his stature and influence will only grow as he establishes himself -- he's only been in the Senate for four months!  This all depends, of course, on whether he gets elected in Nov. 2010 -- no mean feat, given that he was not elected but rather appointed to fill the seat vacated when Ken Salazar was appointed Secretary of the Interior.  If ends up serving in the Senate for many years, I have no doubt that he will become one of the country's most powerful, energetic and influential advocates of genuine education reform.


Democrats for Education Reform is strongly supporting Sen. Bennet.  Here's the text from the DFER web page.

Education Reformer of the Month, June 2009: Sen. Michael Bennet (Colorado)


Bennet was appointed to the Senate after serving as Superintendent of the Denver Public Schools. He attracted national attention for instituting one of the most innovative merit pay systems in the country (with the teachers union members' support.) He hit the pavement to bring students back into the system, while closing failing schools so that those students would return to a renewed system. During his tenure at DPS, he advised then-candidate Obama on education issues and was a short-list candidate for Secretary of Education. 
Bennet is already a crucial part of the discussion in the Senate and within the Democratic Party about what meaningful education reform will look like. Here's what the Denver Post had to say: "U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet staked out his claim to help shape national education reform … announcing in his maiden speech on the Senate floor that he would draw up comprehensive legislation by year end. The bill could include some of the most critical elements of a national reform agenda supported by the Obama administration and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: merit pay for teachers, voluntary national standards, and evaluations of students' performance as they advance from grade to grade, known as longitudinal tracking."

I've sent out a number of emails about Sen. Bennet over the past couple of years, first about his great work reforming Denver's dreadful schools and then about the exciting (and totally unexpected, even to him) news that he was appointed to the Senate.  Here was the email I sent out upon that announcement:

One of our own is about to became a U.S. Senator!

STOP THE PRESSES -- this is HUGE!  One of our own is about to became a U.S. Senator!  Michael Bennet, the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools and a genuine reformer, has been tapped by the governor of Colorado to replace Ken Salazar, who Obama has nominated to be Secretary of the Interior.  This is TOTALLY unexpected and is AMAZING news for reformers.  Bennet, like Arne Duncan, has been low key so he hasn't gotten as much press (or as much coverage on my blog) as he deserves, but he's done great things to improve Denver's schools, including getting passed one of the nation's first pay-for-performance plan for teachers.  The results are telling: "Last July, for example, Denver posted the biggest increases in math and reading proficiency among the state’s largest districts."  Note that he also supported the Educational Equality Project:

And here was what Andy Rotherham posted on his blog:

Senator Bennet (D-School Reform)

Denver school superintendent Michael Bennet will be appointed (rather his appointment will be announced, natch) to the U.S. Senate tomorrow to fill out the term of Senator Salazar who is joining the Obama Administration as Secretary of the Interior.  Bennet is one of the most thoughtful and effective school superintendents on the scene today.   

One anecdote that says a lot:   When you visit schools with him in Denver and drop in on classrooms the students tend to know his name and recognize him, and Denver is not a small school district with just a few schools.

Not since Strom Thurmond dined…?  In the trivia department, I think the last school superintendent to serve in the Senate was Strom Thurmond.   If that’s wrong someone please correct in the comments. 

Multiple Intelligences: Although given his current job the education angle is getting the attention (I’m guilty, too, just look at the title of this post), in fact Bennet has worked successfully in several public and private venues, he’s an impressive guy.   But, there are obviously high hopes he’ll be a reformer in national office given his track record on the education issue.

Don’t believe everything you read:  This AP story from a few weeks ago has a misleading top - implying that Bennet modified Denver’s differentiated teacher pay plan to increase teacher support - that seems to now be framing some of the bloggy and other reax and coverage of the Bennet story.  In fact, the issue on teacher pay was a long-term redistribution of salaries from some veterans toward newbies that was highly contentious at the time and where Bennet ultimately prevailed by hanging tough under pressure.  More here and here.   It’s true that in the end more teachers voted for the most recent contract than the original pay plan, which is good but more complicated than AP  lets on. 

For further reading, see his bio (on Wikipedia at, a short article about him from last December, when he was one of Obama's finalists for Sec. of Education, and a very long 2007 article in the New Yorker about his work to reform Denver's schools (see links below).  DFER ED Joe Williams was quoted in the article last December:

It's that desire to forge compromise, which Bennet has repeatedly executed for the city and for DPS, that makes him an attractive candidate, said Joe Williams, director of the New York-based Democrats for Education Reform.

Democrats are united in their desire to reform education, he explained, but divided in how fast that change should come.

Washington, D.C., Schools Chief Michelle Rhee, who has closed 21 schools and dismissed 270 teachers since June 2007, is the leading symbol of the "disrupters" camp, Williams said, or those who want change now.

On the other side are the "incrementalists," such as Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor and Obama adviser seen as more traditional and union friendly in her ideas.

"(Bennet) is seen as someone who can inch closer to the disrupters' side but in a way you can work with people on the incremental side," Williams said. "People on either extreme are not likely to move things very far."


Nontraditional achiever

Bennet in running for Cabinet after just 3 years at DPS

By Nancy Mitchell, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)

Published December 12, 2008 at 12:05 a.m. 


Denver Public Schools superintendent Michael Bennet will be named Saturday as the future U.S. Senate replacement for Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar.

Michael Bennet's name often is followed by the phrase "the smartest guy in the room," but it is doubtful even he could have predicted his current status as a contender for the job of U.S. secretary of education.

Three years ago, Bennet, 44, sought the job running Denver Public Schools as a "nontraditional" candidate, which means he admitted he had never spent a day in a school as a teacher or a principal.


A Reporter At Large


Can the students who became a symbol of failed reform be rescued?

by Katherine Boo January 15, 2007 , New Yorker 

Like most juniors at Manual High School, in the impoverished northeast quarter of Denver, Colorado, Norberto Felix-Cruz was Mexican, multiply pierced, and laden with chains. Although he was quiet by nature, he clanked when he walked. On his way to school from the small house he shared with many relatives, he sometimes passed a park with brown grass and a curious sign: “ ’Tis not birth nor wealth nor state, but get up and get which makes any man great.” Norberto wasn’t expecting greatness, however, and he often arrived late. His departures were just as unhurried. Manual’s peacock-blue hallways were peaceful, owing to the presence of armed police officers, and he found them a good place to linger.

As classes let out one afternoon last spring, he was crouched in front of a metal bookcase in Manual’s basement, smoothing and stowing the fat triangle of a folded American flag. This was his duty as battalion commander of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, one of the few elective courses available at Manual, and the only one with negative social status. When the previous commander was discharged—she was pregnant and had started to show—the post had not been hotly contested. Still, Norberto was grateful to J.R.O.T.C. for his appointment, because it had prompted his mother to brag about him for the first time since he shamed his family by picking up a drug charge, freshman year. He was grateful, too, he said, because “J.R.O.T.C. really stands for free food—Country Buffet after Color Guard, all you can eat, and shrimps and wings and chimichangas.” Thanks to these subsidized meals, he had progressed since freshman year from scrawny to nearly imposing, an impression that he enhanced with black work boots, a pencil-line goatee, glittery earrings, and a tendency to walk with his chin down and eyes half-lidded. It was a stride of wary resolve, Norberto hoped, and he adopted it as he made his way from the J.R.O.T.C. office, past the cops, and out to the aluminum bleachers by the track, where some of his classmates were taking the sun.

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