Michael Bennet Could Do More for Education Reform as DPS Superintendent

The Obama girls have their first day at their new Washington, DC, private school today. And I’m back from vacation, too. I’d be lying to say I’d rather be doing this than playing with Legos or Matchbox cars, but there figures to be a lot of important education policy to discuss in 2009.

Today we start back by wondering what the fallout will be from the big appointment of Denver Public Schools superintendent Michael Bennet to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. From the standpoint of the Senate and federal education reform policy, there’s no doubt this selection represents a net improvement. The optimism of Democrats for Education Reform is justified. Where Bennet stands on many other important issues of the day, however, is not known.

(For a wild and interesting piece of trivia, the last sitting U.S. Senator to have served as a school superintendent was none other than the well-aged and controversial late Strom Thurmond.)

But what will the results be for the students in Colorado’s second largest school district? The Denver Post reports that the DPS board has a challenging situation on its hands, if it seeks to continue Bennet’s reforms and not create disruption by starting over from scratch. Without needed continuity, an ambitious package of school reform – and the success it promises to entail for many Denver students – is at risk.

And the impact may not be limited to Colorado’s largest city. Many of the reforms started and continued in DPS under Bennet’s watch have drawn attention from around the country.

While there is no reason to begrudge Mr. Bennet’s climb to the U.S. Senate, it would be difficult to argue he can make more direct impact on student educational success as one among 100 in Washington, D.C. than as Denver superintendent. Much depends on the succession. It would be sad to see the progress to this point wasted.