More Than School Progress At Risk for Bennet

November 2005
New Denver Public Schools Superintedent Michael Bennet outlined his plan to reform Denver's schools on Wednesday, and the reaction yesterday was filled with optimism. From the Rocky Mountain News:
Called The Denver Plan, it would touch nearly every aspect of life in classrooms across the city. It seeks no less than a transformation of how teachers teach, students learn and principals lead in DPS schools. "There are some things in it that I think I agree with and some things I don't agree with, just from my surface reading," said Laurel Trasky, a math teacher at Henry Middle School, "but I have to take time to go through it."... ...Bennet released the draft on the Web on Wednesday after a day of meetings with the media and school board members about its contents. He is planning a series of meetings with community groups to discuss it and, on Thursday night, encouraged feedback. "Tonight we are turning our plan over to Denver," he said, "in whose hands we believe our plan will be brought to life." In addition to The Denver Plan committee, as many as 30 work groups are being created to further explore different issues such as a new districtwide assessment system. Bennet, who ran the city's nearly $750 million budget in his former job as chief of staff to Mayor John Hickenlooper, said the plan is ambitious but manageable. "What we can't do is revert to the status quo because we worry it's going to be too hard or there will be disagreement," he said. "There's going to be disagreement anyway."
Bennet's plan is ambitious, and for someone thought to have higher political aspirations, his future may rest on the results. If Denver Public Schools improve dramatically over the next couple of years, Bennet will be seen as the mastermind and can take that success on the road for a statewide campaign. Education has always been one of the top three most important issues for Colorado voters, and if Bennet can prove an effective leader as DPS chief, he will have the resume to run for governor or U.S. Senate. The downside to his ambitious plan, however, is that there is little gray area involved. If his plan fails -- specifically, if CSAP scores don't rise or, worse, go down in the next couple of years -- any political aspirations Bennet might have had will come to a screeching halt. You can't run for a big political office if your opponents can run ads that say, Under Michael Bennet's leadership, students performed worse in the classroom. That's a tough negative to get out from underneath. None of this is to say that Bennet isn't taking on DPS reform for the purest of reasons. Indeed, by all accounts he is legitimately passionate about making a difference. But the political risk is very real for Bennet, if he does have higher aspirations, and his own future could hinge on the future of his students.