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Failing Upward via Public School Reform
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January 03, 2009, 02:52 PM
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With the Democratic governor of Illinois` pick for the U.S. Senate getting much publicity, the Democratic governor of Colorado has made sure to appoint the most exquisitely genteel individual imaginable to the U.S. Senate: Denver school chief Michael Bennet, age 44, the former editor of the Yale Law Review. His brother Jim is the editor of the Atlantic Monthly and his father was head of National Public Radio and president of Wesleyan U.

After Michael Bennet got rich, he then decided, in the mode of the time (e.g., Bill Gates), to fix the public schools. After all, how hard could it be?

A couple of years ago, in an article Across Difficult Country summarizes here, The New Yorker profiled Bennet`s travails in trying to close a gang-infested Denver high school with terrible test scores, Manual. It turned out that the all-Mexican student body and their families kind of liked their terrible school, didn`t appreciate poor Bennet`s meddling, and, not being indoctrinated in the theology of the overclass, didn`t expect to do much better at a different school just because it had enjoyed higher test scores before they arrived.

Yet, much in the manner of Barack Obama`s unsuccessful chairmanship of the lavishly-funded Annenberg Chicago Challenge, Bennet has managed to fail upward.

Evidently, the point of being a public school reformer these days is to become known as a public school reformer, not to actually reform the public school. What matters is that you publicly proclaim that you believe the public schools can be fixed. Nobody actually expects you to be able to do anything with public school students, at least not enough to hold it against you when you fail, as the skyrocketing careers of Obama and Bennet demonstrate.

Connoisseurs of overclass social markers will enjoy his New York Times` 1997 wedding announcement:

Susan Diane Daggett, a daughter of Patricia B. Palmer of Little Rock, Ark., and Jesse B. Daggett of Marianna, Ark., was married yesterday to Michael Farrand Bennet, a son of Douglas J. Bennet Jr. of Middletown, Conn., and Susanne K. Bennet of Washington. The Rev. Arnold W. Hearn, an Episcopal priest, performed the ceremony at Crystal Lake in Marianna.

The bride, 33, a lawyer, is to join the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, formerly the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, in Denver next month. Ms. Daggett, who is keeping her name, graduated magna cum laude from Mount Holyoke College, and she and the bridegroom received law degrees from Yale University.

Her mother is a painter and an instructor at the Arkansas Art Center`s Museum School in Little Rock. Her father is a partner in Daggett, VanDover, Donovan & Perry, a Little Rock law firm.

Mr. Bennet, 32, was until recently a counsel to the Deputy Attorney General of the United States. He graduated with honors from Wesleyan University.

His father is the president of Wesleyan; he was the Assistant Secretary of State for international organizations in 1993 and 1994 and the president of National Public Radio from 1983 until 1992. The bridegroom`s mother is an art historian specializing in Roman antiquities.

This is exactly the kind of background that lets you understand the minds of Manual High School students.