DENVER (CBS4) – Few members of Congress are as passionate about improving education as Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.
As a former superintendent, Bennet knows the problems first hand. CBS4 political specialist Shaun Boyd sat down and talked to him about what he’s doing to change the system.
When making his case for education reform, Bennet loves to talk about the rally that no one would show for.
“If you said, ‘Shaun, we’re going to have a rally tomorrow to keep No Child Left Behind the same,’ I don’t think one person would show up,” Bennet said.
And yet he concedes change and collaboration are never easy, especially in Congress.
“There are days when I wonder if we’re going to be able to pull ourselves together to get it done,” Bennet said.
But he’s not waiting to find out. Bennet, named one of the top education activists of 2011 by Time Magazine, is pushing the biggest reforms in education in years; and he’s got bi-partisan co-sponsors on every bill.
It starts with quality teachers.
“Nothing is more important.”
Almost half of K-12 teachers come from the bottom third of their college classes and leave the profession within five years.
Bennet says there must be incentives and inspiration to recruit and retain the best and brightest. He’s introduced the Presidential Teacher Corp Bill, geared for second career teachers.
“I believe it’s very important we promote alternative pathways into teaching, like teacher residency programs that put somebody who might be a content expert in something into classroom with a master teacher, pay that master teacher more to mentor that person so they can learn the craft of teaching.”
He’s also sponsored a Troops to Teachers bill aimed at soldiers returning from service.
Bennet says if the U.S. really wants good teachers, good principals are needed.
“There is nothing more miserable that a teacher has to deal with than having a lousy principal.”
So he’s introduced legislation born out of his time as Denver’s superintendent. He would meet with the district’s principals almost every day.
“For two hours talking about teaching and learning and leadership — not about who got left on the bus, not about whose boiler was broken, but about the central question … how do you make teaching better?”
His bill would increase training and resources for principals.
At the same time, Bennet is working to decrease regulations and red tape. He’s teamed up with Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander to set up a national task force.
“We’re going to take Colorado and Tennessee as examples and examine the extent to which state and federal regulation don’t talk to each other, but pile up on top of teachers and principals and kids.”
The commission will also overhaul standardized tests.
“We’re testing too much and measuring the wrong stuff.”
It’s not crazy partisan talk, but he will still meet resistance to be sure because bad schools take a backseat to a bad economy. But Bennet says children shouldn’t be the ones who pay.
“No fourth grader in state of Colorado caused the recession we’re in, and they only have one shot at fourth grade — this is it,” he said. “We’re not going to like the country we live in very much if we continue to perpetuate a set of circumstances where only nine out of 100 children that are coming from poverty are graduating with a college degree.
“Even if you don’t believe that there’s a moral obligation to do it, which I do, the effect of that dropout rate is a permanent recession on the United States economy.
Bennet has also introduced a bill which closes a loophole that’s resulted in affluent schools receiving more money and poorer schools receiving less. Many of his proposed reforms are being considered as part of the overhaul of No Child Left Behind.