I've Been Wrong Before, But Michael Bennet Gets It Right This Time

Our own appointed U.S. Senator and former Denver Public Schools superintendent Michael Bennet conducted a recent Q & A on federal education reform with Linda Kulman for Politics Daily. Here’s his answer to one question about incentives not matching objectives in the education system:

We have not updated our theory of human capital, which is a fancy word for saying how do we attract and retain people to public education, since the labor market was one where women had two professional choices: being a nurse or being a teacher. We say to people, “We’d like you to come be a teacher, we imagine that you’re going to teach “Julius Caesar” every year for the next 30 years, we’re going to pay you a really terrible wage compared to what you could make doing almost anything else. … The way most school districts and states pay teachers in this country (is) if you leave any time in the first 20 years, you leave with what you’ve contributed to your retirement system … but if you stay for 30 years, you (get) a pension that’s worth three times what your Social Security is worth.

No matter what else you want to do, you have to stay, (because) you’ve worked all these years just to get to that place. When you think that between 70 to 80 percent of what we spend on K-12 in this country is spent on compensation and this is the way that we spend it, you need to ask yourself, “Are we providing a set of incentives that actually makes sense?”


Okay, I know it’s a rhetorical question, but I couldn’t help it. The thoughtful edublogger over at Swift & Change Able describes Senator Bennet’s comments as “provocative, thoughtful, and outside-the-box. Recommended reading.” Indeed, this kind of lucid big-picture thinking on school system issues was one reason why I did my 5-year-old part to stump for Bennet as Obama’s education secretary.

That didn’t exactly work out. Oh, well. Then when Bennet’s name emerged as a possible U.S. Senate replacement, I said he’d do better to stay in his top job at DPS.

The result? Wrong again. His replacement Tom Boasberg very well may turn out to be an even better, more effective reform-minded superintendent. And while there are other national issues I may not be fond of Bennet’s positions on, seeing him speak out like he did in Politics Daily gives me hope that someone from Colorado in the Beltway majority seems to get education reform.

Well, except for Bennet’s vote against poor D.C. kids and their scholarships. It took me awhile to clean up the Legos after that incident.

I’m still hopeful that Michael Bennet will come around on private school choice someday. Until then, this blog will continue blasting him when he’s wrong on education reform, and give him kudos when he’s largely right. Like in the Politics Daily Q & A.