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White House’s Go-To Senator Introduces Turnaround Bill

By Alyson Klein — June 09, 2010 2 min read

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., a former Denver schools chief, who is said to be the administration’s go-to guy on education issues, just dropped this bill aimed at helping states and districts build capacity to turn around low-performing schools.

Unlike a proposal by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., which would completely reject the administration’s four turnaround models outlined in the School Improvement Grants, the Bennet proposal is more about training school leaders to do turnaround work and spurring more research on how to intervene in struggling schools.

The bill would create a School Leadership Academy, which would be charged with developing a training program to help principals intervene in foundering schools. It also would help create a network of School Leadership Centers of Excellence, which would basically do the work of training and supporting turnaround principals. The centers would be run by partnerships between non-profit organizations, higher education institutions, and state education agencies or districts. At least one center would specialize in rural turnarounds.

The whole thing reminds me of this model, used, apparently with great success, in the United Kingdom.

Bennet, who was supposedly the runner-up for Obama’s U.S. Secretary of Education, was appointed to his Senate seat when then-Sen. Ken Salazar became secretary of the Interior. Now, Bennet’s fending off a tough primary challenge from former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, and he may be in for an even tougher general election battle against former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, the likely GOP nominee.

Along with Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., (and of course, committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa,) Bennet wins the Best Attendance Award at this spring’s string of Senate hearings on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Bennet is also said to be working on legislation aimed at teacher quality. Apparently, he’s considered ideas such as offering a special, national license to make it easier for promising teachers to work in low-performing schools across the country.

So far, Bennet hasn’t introduced the legislation. It’s tough to say whether that bill is getting held back because it could hinder support from unions—possibly hurting Bennet’s primary chances, as some folks have speculated—or whether Bennet is waiting for the Senate to get closer to reauthorization, when his ideas would get more attention, as other folks have told me.