Current United States Senator and former DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet is the subject of a Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times. One has to overcome Dowd’s unfortunate fetish for both absurd analogy (Vail’s ski cliffs) and odd personal detail (yes, Falafel), but the piece is worth reading.
Bennet says he voted against the legislation because believes that getting the nation’s debt under control is an issue that will impact Colorado’s kids. And there is a paragraph in Dowd’s column where he equates the choices facing the nation on fiscal issues to those he saw in education reform:
[Bennet] said his focus is now the same as when he was the Denver Superintendent trying to get more poor kids to stay in school.
“The burden of proof has to shift from the people who want to change the system to the people who want to keep it the same” he said.
Bennet’s vote on the fiscal cliff was a bold one – even if it put him in the same camp as many people with whom he has little in common ideologically. But his point in the chaotic mess of the end of the holiday season is simple: there is far too much activity that is merely using new wrapping paper or adding a ribbon, but offers no fundamental change to the package itself. Our elected officials are essentially re-gifting the same problems to other people, over and over again.
I think Bennet is exactly right on this point, particularly in education. Too many people – particularly in the Democratic camp – vote to maintain the status quo with nothing more than different wrapping paper covering the same fundamental problem. They support familiar systems, programs and schools, packing them up in a new box with a shiny ribbon, often even holding up their repurposed gift for admiration. Glossy and bright, they continue re-gifting the same old familiar problems while often rejecting anything new, for in their minds it is better to pass down the same gift — even one that has an enduring legacy of failing kids — then to try to find something different.
Bennet is dead on. The burden of proof is correctly on those people who are re-gifting the same problems over and over again: those who argue that the current command-and-control system of centralized district administration should continue, that the many urban schools that fail to make even basic proficiency standards year after year have the right to perpetual existence — just change the wrapping paper.
If we take Bennet’s sentiments seriously, and we should, we need to stop perpetuating failure by educational re-gifting, and turn to promising solutions that are new.