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.

6 Replies to “Senator Bennet (D-School Reform)”

  1. This is fascinating. On the one hand, I hate to lose a level 5 leader from the the urban super pool, but it is amazing that there will be a sitting senator who ran a school district.

    I know we have representatives and senators who are former school board members and teachers, but any administrators?

  2. You learn something new every day. I just posted on the same topic, and I was racking my brain to remember if there ever was a schools superintendent in the U.S. Senate. The public education challenges today are clearly a little different than when Thurmond finished his tenure as superintendent of education for SC’s Edgefield County in 1933!

  3. The only things I know about Bennet are from Katherine Boo’s great New Yorker portrait of him, a student named Noberto, and others who went to Manual H.S. which Bennet closed. I was impressed that he was willing to meet the students, listen, and learn. I was really impressed by his honesty. Boo wrote, “Other ambitious superintendents admit privately that radical reform has
    collateral costs, and that students like Norberto bear them. Compared with pliable second graders, teen-agers are a poor investment.” “More experienced superintendents had failed at reforms less ambitious than [Bennet’]”but Bennet still said “Well, one of these days someone’s going to pull it off, … Besides, I really don’t see how you can hold both propositions to be true: that these urban public schools aren’t fixable and that the America of a decade or two from now is going to be a place where any of us would want to live.”

    Boo concluded with a metaphor which may be the most truthful statement of the effects of accountability that I have read, “Bennet considered the instruments of standardized testing primitive, and their results incomplete. Besides, a single year’s increase could be a fluke-or the fruit of a predecessor’s efforts. Still, if a person held the numbers up to a certain light, after a celebratory bourbon, he might see in them the power of plain and unrelenting expectation.”

    Besdies, Bennet is the un-Rhee who has shown the way towards collaboratively designing performance pay and peer tutoring.

  4. I always wondered if any educators ever moved up the political ladder. So many of us stay away from city and state politics because of the perceived conflict of interest. I wonder if his experience will help influence Washington into making thoughtful reform and educatonall decisions.

  5. After doing a quick search through the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress, I believe you are correct that Thurmond was the last U.S. Senator to serve who had a prior career as a school superintendent. In my search, I was interested to learn that there have been a number of U.S. Senators (though prior to the end of Thurmond’s tenure in the Senate) who served as school superintendents. I think this is a complete list of U.S. Senators who were either local or state superintendents of education:

    James Harlan, U.S. Senator (R-IA) 1855-1865, 1867-1873; superintendent of public instruction

    Henry Pease, U.S. Senator (R-MS) 1874-1875; superintendent of education for LA and MS

    George Shoup, U.S. Senator (R-ID) 1890-1901; superintendent of Lemhi Co. Schools

    William Deboe, U.S. Senator (R-KY) 1897-1903; superintendent of Crittenden Co. Schools

    Thomas Sterling, U.S. Senator (R-SD) 1913-1925; superintendent of Bement, IL schools

    Cyrus Locher, U.S. Senator (D-OH) 1928-1928; superintendent of schools Woodsfield, OH

    John Thomas, U.S. Senator (R-ID) 1928-1933, 1940-1945; superintendent of Phillips Co. Schools in Kansas

    Joseph Rosier, U.S. Senator (D-WV) 1941-1942; superintendent of Harrison Co. Schools

    Karl Earl Mundt, U.S. Senator (R-SD) 1948-1973; superintendent of schools in Bryant, SD

    Albert Gore, U.S. Senator (D-TN) 1953-1971; county superintendent of education, Smith Co.

    James Strom Thurmond, U.S. Senator (D/R-SC) 1956-2003; county superintendent of schools Edgefield Co.

    Oren Long, U.S. Senator (D-HI) 1959-1963; Hawaii superintendent of public instruction

  6. My question is do we need more good senators or more good school chiefs? It seems a shame to lose Duncan and now Bennet (and associated staff) all at once.

    A lot of New Yorkers have been clamoring for Obama (or someone) to come and take Joel Klein away, maybe Paterson should consider appointing him.

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