Some advice for the new superintendent of Denver Public Schools

by Mike McKeown
June 30, 2005

This was addressed to Rocky Mountain News columnist Linda Seebach in response to a request she made for advice for the incoming DPS superintendent Michael Bennet. See Ms. Seebach's column of July 2, 2005, An advice sampler for new DPS chief Bennet. It is a set of one-liners for the sake of the column. For related letters and articles, see the NYC HOLD page Watching Curriculum and Academics at DPS under Michael Bennet.


A quick list I will use the first person singular male pronoun. Adjust per your style sheet :-)

For interviews:

Thank him for his time and then leave if he suggests Balanced Literacy. This is code for Whole Language.

If his idol is Tony Alvarado, or if he IS Tony Alvarado, leave by the nearest exit.

If he says "Of course we teach phonics," he means that he doesn't believe in teaching phonics. Escort him to his plane.

If he says "Of course we teach basic skills," he means that kids will be calculator addicted and never master addition, subtraction, multiplication and especially division.

If he says things like " We must free children from the tyranny of computation so ALL children can master algebra and higher order thinking skills," drive a wooden stake through his heart.

If he likes math programs with names like Interactive Math, Adventures in Number Data and Space, Impact Math: Algebra and More and disparages any book by Mary Dolciani or John Saxon, send him packing.

If he holds his fingers in the sign of the cross at the mention of E.D. Hirsch Jr., suggest that there may be better positions for him elsewhere.

If he has a masters degree and a doctorate from a reputable ed school, assume that if his lips are moving he is lying.

If a candidate favorably mentions the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards, or anything from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) he is not worth your time to interview.

If a candidate prefers 'portfolio assessment' and other 'authentic assessments' over well crafted standardized tests, you should back away slowly and don't take your eyes off the candidate.

Essentials before consulting with a single educator-identified expert:

If you don't know who Marion Joseph is and why she is important, its time to find out before you interview anyone.

If you haven't already read The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them, you aren't ready to succeed. Quit the job now.

Read Liping Ma.

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.

If a you prefer 'portfolio assessment' and other 'authentic assessments' over well crafted standardized tests perhaps you should pull a Dan Marino and quit before you start.

When you consult with others, do talk to E.D. Hirsch Jr., Doug Carnine, Marion Joseph, Marilyn Adams, Sandy Stotsky, Reid Lyon, David Geary, David Klein, Barbara Foorman, Bill Evers, Stan Metzenberg, Louisa Moats.

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.

Read and

Sorry, that's all I can think of off the top of my head. It's a full Debra Saunders column :-)

Good luck,


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