Watching Curriculum and Academics at DPS under Michael Bennet

Michael Bennet was appointed superintendent of the Denver Public Schools (DPS) on June 27, 2005, and took office on July 1. He came from outside the world of education, having been previously the chief of staff of Denver's mayor Hickenlooper. Immediately there are signs that his tenure is going to show echoes of that of two other prominent outsiders leading a large school district: Alan Bersin in San Diego and Joel Klein in New York City, and so his early tenure is of special interest to New York City HOLD. This web page serves to collect items of interest concerning superintendent Michael Bennet's tenure and curriculum and academics in the Denver public school system.

Contributions from New York City HOLD and Friends

Some advice for Michael Bennet, by Linda Seebach, The Rocky Mountain News, July 5, 2005. A web-only extension of Linda's column of July 2, containing letters by Wayne Bishop, Bas Braams, Doug Reeves, Michael McKeown, Chester Finn, Sandra Stotsky, Erich Martel, Tom Shuford, a DPS teacher, Ellen Hoerle, Barry Garelick, Elizabeth Carson, Martin Kozloff, and Patrick Groff.

Bas Braams: Further advice for incoming superintendent Michael Bennet. Letter to Michael Bennet by Bas Braams, via Linda Seebach, July 4, 2005. ["My challenge for this email is to put you on a track towards recognizing that there are vast, almost unbelievably large, differences in quality among curricular philosophies, and in particular among curricula all intended for the mathematics classroom. (I will leave it to others to address reading and language arts.) That is a big challenge, and time is very short."]

An advice sampler for new DPS chief Bennet, by Linda Seebach, The Rocky Mountain News, July 2, 2005. ["Michael Bennet starts his new job as superintendent of Denver Public Schools with many advantages, and freedom from the debilitating baggage of K-12 orthodoxy is surely one of them. But his first priority has to be choosing a chief academic officer, and if he gets that choice wrong, nothing else he does right will make any difference in the end. So I thought I might usefully solicit some advice on his behalf, and pass it along."]

Bas Braams: Advice for the new superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Letter to columnist Linda Seebach by Bas Braams, July 1, 2005. ["... [S]uperintendent Bennet will need to have his own solid understanding of curriculum issues before evaluating his choices for the CAO position -- or else he is likely to fall into the same trap that captured his NYC and San Diego colleagues. So, while the appointment of a Chief Academic Officer is the most important personnel decision that Mr. Bennet will have to make, his highest priority should be to learn as much as possible as fast as possible about the critical curriculum issues, especially in reading and mathematics."]

Wayne Bishop: Advice for the new superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Letter to columnist Linda Seebach by Wayne Bishop, June 30, 2005. ["...[T]he four most important features for a successful precollegiate school are (in priority order): 1. Classroom culture [...] from Day 1 of kindergarten, 2. Curricula, especially reading and math (again, in priority order), 3. Pedagogy (often inseparable from the two above), 4. Teacher quality. [...] Stressing - and standing firmly behind - classroom respect and order and imposing effective curricula and good assessments are things that top management can do but not replace most teachers."]

Barry Garelick: Advice for the new superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Letter to columnist Linda Seebach by Barry Garelick, June 30, 2005. ["Regarding what advice I would give regarding the hiring of a Chief Academic Officer, this person would need to know what the math wars and reading wars are all about. As a test, I would ask the candidate [...]"]

Mike McKeown: Advice for the new superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Letter to columnist Linda Seebach by Mike McKeown, June 30, 2005. ["If you think the business model of schools means that you can consult 'experts' in the field and hire their choice without bothering to learn what works on your own, you are doomed to fail. See Alan Bersin and Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein. You can't make good decisions on the basis of a hard-nosed persona and ignorance. [...] Alan Bersin and Bloomberg/Klein failed in their first major decisions. They chose someone who was esteemed by those who brought education to this fix and gave them carte blanche. Don't rush this decision. Become knowledgeable yourself. Talk to people who are outside the circle of usual suspects. After all, they are suspects."]

How to achieve productivity [advice for Michael Bennet], by Joanne Jacobs at, June 30, 2005. ["...I'd recommend consulting with the folks at Education Trust, which has a no-nonsense attitude toward raising the achievement of disadvantaged students. He also should consult Zig Engelmann, of Direct Instruction fame, or, at least, readi Engelmann's response to a column by Alan Bersin, outgoing superintendent in San Diego..."]

Denver News and Opinion

DPS chief makes his pitch, by Nancy Mitchell, The Rocky Mountain News, August 12, 2005. ["... Bennet's spiel didn't vary much from school to school. He explained that no one - not school board members or administrators or teachers - could explain the DPS reform plan when he took over. So he said he's asked an outside group, the Council of Great City Schools, to pull together 'what we think we're doing' and evaluate it. No, he told a concerned Kepner teacher, he doesn't plan to jump from one curriculum to another. Bennet said he hopes the council will simply advise DPS to better implement what's already in place. 'We don't have the data now to show us how we're doing,' he said. 'We can sit around 900 Grant St. and argue about which curriculum, but unless we have data, we're shooting in the dark.'"]

DPS assessment may smart, by Nancy Mitchell, The Rocky Mountain News, August 9, 2005. [About previous peer reviews by the Council of Great City Schools.]

New DPS leader gets grim report, by Nancy Mitchell, The Rocky Mountain News, August 5, 2005. [About the State and City test results that were released earlier in the week.]

DPS aims to 'beat the odds' with group's help, The Rocky Mountain News, August 4, 2005. ["Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet plans to ask the Council of Great City Schools to evaluate the district's instructional programs. [...] The council, based in Washington, D.C., is a coalition of 65 of the nation's largest urban school districts. Its staff analyzes programs and student performance in districts across the country, producing an annual report titled 'Beating the Odds.'"]

DPS chief wants outside look - Evaluation would aim at improving literacy program, by Nancy Mitchell, The Rocky Mountain News, August 3, 2005. ["Results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program for Denver schools continue to raise questions about the effectiveness of the DPS literacy plan, launched in fall 2002. Three rounds of annual tests later, DPS students have yet to show strong gains on state reading exams. A 6-point increase in grade 5 is the biggest jump among grades 3 through 10 since 2002. But the program has failed to show significant growth in reading in most grades; and two grades, grades 8 and 9, have seen declines. Writing results have been better, with a 9-point gain in grade 6. But three grades - 8, 9 and 10 - have seen overall declines since 2002."]

Fork in road facing Denver Public Schools chief, Editorial, The Rocky Mountain News, July 16, 2005. ["We count ourselves in the traditionalist camp, because we believe most of the evidence shows it achieves superior results on average - especially with poor and minority students at higher-than-average risk of failure. We hope Bennet will agree, and choose [his chief academic officer] accordingly - in full awareness that progressive camp-followers are hugely dominant in schools of education." They've adopted completely the advice that was solicited by Linda Seebach!]

Speakout: Denver schools need radical redesign, by Ed Lyell, Op-Ed, The Rocky Mountain News, July 15, 2005. ["For centuries, education was the acquisition of information in an information-scarce world. With the Internet we are now in an information-abundant world. Learning must shift to focus on students having the knowledge, motivation and tools to acquire the skills they need just in time for using the information in a higher order of critical thinking." No worry here about sounding like a business guru. The author was on the Denver Board of Ed.]

Denver Public Schools Not Alone in Hiring Outsider, by Kevin Vaughan, The Rocky Mountain News, July 5, 2005. [Other unconventional hires, besides Michael Bennet: Paul Vallas in Chicago and Philadelphia, John Stanford in Seattle, Roy Romer in Los Angeles, Julius Becton in Washington, DC, Joel Klein in New York City, and Alan Bersin in San Diego.]

Experts' advice for DPS leader: Focus on long term, by Kevin Simpson, The Denver Post, July 3, 2005. ["Create a can-do culture. Focus on instruction. Build coalitions. Cultivate principals. Filter out the special-interest noise. And lock in on a few specific, quantifiable goals." Any goals in particular? Tut, tut.]

What's facing Denver schools, by Alan Gottlieb and Van Schoales, Op-Ed, The Denver Post, July 3, 2005. [Key words of the principal recommendations: Community support and accountability; Strategic Plan; Economic Integration; Achievement Data; Portfolio Manager; Learning Organization. Nothing about curriculum other than some generic support for the present districtwide literacy and math plans.]

3 Steps To Success, by Michael Bennet, Op-Ed, The Rocky Mountain News, July 2, 2005. [The three steps are: create a safe and orderly environment in every school and classroom; must have a highly skilled faculty plus professional development and real-time data; need an extensive training program for teachers and administrators. Nothing about academics or curriculum.]

Bennet's statement to school board members, The Rocky Mountain News, June 28, 2005. ["The next superintendent's primary responsibility is to focus like a laser on student achievement, and to marshal the considerable resources of the District to that end. In essence, I believe this means implementing much more deeply and broadly the current attempts at professional development of teachers and school based administrators." No apparent concern there about the content of the DPS curriculum.]

Candidate fights view that he hasn't paid dues, by Nancy Mitchell, The Rocky Mountain News, June 23, 2005. ["He [Michael Bennet] admitted when he was not familiar with an education concept, such as the popular curriculum Core Knowledge, but said, 'I'm more interested in outcome than theory.'"]

DPS finalist touts record, By Susan Greene, The Denver Post, June 22, 2005. ["... Bennet acknowledges his lack of experience as an educator, saying he would rely on careerists to guide him on the details of how, for instance, to raise district test scores and close the achievement gap between affluent and poor students."]

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