Education Secretary Post Could Do a Lot Worse than Michael Bennet

According to reliable Rocky Mountain News education reporter Nancy Mitchell, the name of Denver Public Schools superintendent Michael Bennet is being bounced around as a serious candidate to serve as Secretary of Education:

The Newsweek columnist who broke the story of Barack Obama’s presidential bid is betting on Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet as the next U.S. secretary of education.

“I have my money on Bennet,” Jonathan Alter writes in the soon-to-be-printed Dec. 15 issue.

The others on Alter’s short list are Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Arne Duncan and Paul Vallas, head of New Orleans’ public schools.

The usually accessible Bennet is being coy about the column. He declined to comment directly.

Being superintendent of an urban school district is a tough job. From the standpoint of teacher innovation, parental choice, local empowerment, and student opportunity, it’s easy to argue that Michael Bennet has done better than most. The CSAP results that have come in show some small positive gains in DPS, but there is still much work to be done.

As this 2007 New Yorker feature story (Word document) shows, Bennet has worked tirelessly to take on the challenges. He has hit his share of bumps and made a few mistakes along the way, but he has continued to move forward and keep his focus on key reforms – all while avoiding the trap of popular discontent:

Van Schoales, urban education officer for the Denver-based Piton Foundation, said Bennet is one of the few U.S. superintendents able to implement painful changes – such as school closures – and keep his job with an elected school board.

“It’s important to have someone who can be articulate about what needs to happen,” Schoales said, “but do it in a way that doesn’t so alienate teachers and community folks.”

Barack Obama certainly could make a lot of worse appointments than Michael Bennet. Then again, it’s just the prediction of one Newsweek columnist. As of now, Bennett hasn’t even appeared on Fordham’s list of potential education secretary picks.