Obama’s schools chief to talk reform in Colorado | VailDaily.com

Obama’s schools chief to talk reform in Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” The nation’s education chief is headed to Denver to take notes for a national school reform push coming from the Obama administration.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan visits two public schools in Denver Tuesday with Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who was the city’s superintendent until his appointment to the Senate this year.

On the agenda for Duncan’s visit is a tour of an elementary school given almost complete autonomy under a Denver program to encourage innovation. Duncan also will stop by a middle and high school known for rising test scores.

Bennet will talk to Duncan about his ideas for how the nation should remake schools. Bennet steered through a pay-for-performance plan for teachers while superintendent. He also helped Denver schools use a Colorado law that allows schools to make their own decisions.

The autonomy plan allows school-level control over spending, length of school day and year, and teacher hiring and pay.

Bennet toured a suburban Denver high school Monday and said he hopes to become a key player in a national education reform debate. Last week Duncan announced the first $44 billion in economic stimulus money directed to schools and said the next round would come with strings attached.

Bennet will argue for new national accountability standards, as well changes to the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law to give schools more flexibility.

“Over many decades we have disempowered the people closest to our kids from making decisions,” Bennet said after sitting in on a chemistry class where students were burning different types of food to discover their caloric content.

Colorado is projected to receive about $487 million for schools from the national stimulus law, according to state projections. Bennet said Monday that he would push for changes to federal education policy to make it more user-friendly to local educators.

One of the first changes, he said, should be a new look at how schools are graded.

“We want to move away from the very crude measuring stick of No Child Left Behind to a more sophisticated measure,” he said.

It was good news to Lakewood High School principal Ron Castagna, who said teachers grow leery whenever politicians in Washington start vowing school reform.

“I would love to hear that we’re not just talking about reform as a big word, but we’re getting down to specifics,” he said.

Duncan, former superintendent of Chicago schools, has said the recovery money gives federal education experts a fresh crack at reforms.

“This is an historic opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to lay the groundwork for a generation of education reforms,” Duncan told reporters at a Maryland school last week.

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