Bennet, Education Secretary Make Push for Transformational Change in America's Public Schools

Bennet Highlights Need for More Kids to Go to College, Obtain Skills to Compete for Jobs in the New Economy

Washington, DC - Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado and former Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, today made a push for transformational change in public education that will help prepare our kids to succeed in school, go on to college, and compete in the new economy.

Bennet's push for reform came during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) hearing about the Obama Administration's education priorities featuring testimony from Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Bennet recently stated that the Administration's bold blueprint is a good step forward that will help improve our public education system.

Bennet asked Secretary Duncan how we can begin to fundamentally change public attitudes towards public education and make college a viable choice for all students, regardless of their position on the economic ladder.

"The statistics sometimes are mind-numbing but consider the fact that today a child in poverty in this country stands a roughly one in ten chance of graduating from college," said Bennet. "People sometimes say to me, ‘Michael, not everybody's going to go to college.' And I say, that's true, but I'm not going to be satisfied until it's their choice whether they're going to college. When you look at the jobs being created in this country...I don't see any way of dealing with our economic issues unless we confront our education issues and we're not doing that as a country."

To which Secretary Duncan responded, "There are not good jobs in the legal economy for a high school dropout. None. There are almost no good jobs if you just have a high school diploma. So some form of higher education - four-year universities, two-year community colleges, trade and vocational training - K to 12 has to be a starting point on the education journey and all of our students have to have some form of education beyond that."

From1992 to 2002, the number of jobs for college graduates increased while jobs for those without a college education declined significantly.

Bennet also asked Secretary Duncan about how public schools can do a better job of attracting, supporting and retaining high-quality teachers, which he highlighted as essential to driving student achievement and increasing the number of high school and college graduates in Colorado and across the country.

"I just want to say also that, as you know, I have an abiding interest in working on the question of: how we are going to do a better job of attracting and retaining our teachers in this country," said Bennet. "Notwithstanding all of this evidence. Notwithstanding the chronic shortages we all over the country. Notwithstanding the fact that we're losing half the people from the profession, roughly in the first five years, We have done nothing, essentially to change the way we think about paying people, or training people, or recruiting people, or retaining people, or inspiring people, to be teachers. This is a time for very bold thinking in this country, for our school district, our states, in this country to reimagine the teaching profession as 21st century profession because otherwise all this other stuff is just talk."

Bennet also highlighted how difficult it is to serve as a teacher in America's classrooms and cited the need to provide local school districts the support and flexibility they need to improve student learning and drive better educational outcomes.

"There is not a harder job in the country than being a teacher in an urban or rural school district with children who are living in poverty - there is just not a harder job," said Bennet. " And it would be difficult for me to imagine that we could do a more horrible job supporting their work than we're doing right now."

Bennet also stressed the need to provide teachers with the support they need to drive student achievement. Many of the ideas that he championed in Denver and has pushed for in the Senate are included in the Administration's blueprint for reauthorization including reforms to prepare and support teachers and leaders in high need schools, provide career advancement opportunities for teachers, improve evaluation systems to provide teachers with useful feedback and support to improve their practice, and to reward teachers for teaching in shortage areas, high-need schools or making excellent gains with their students. He has also made preparing principals, especially to be successful in the lowest performing schools a priority, and is pleased to see the Administration's efforts in this area.

The exchange ended with Secretary Duncan conveying his appreciation for Bennet's leadership and expertise on education, saying, "I want to thank you for your leadership and passion. I learned so much from you during your superintendency and I continue to learn from you now. We're thrilled to have you on this committee. It's going to be a great, great partnership."