Bennet goes to class, ponders future of No Child Left Behind

Sen. Michael Bennet helps first-graders with reading at Clifton Elementary School as part of a tour of schools around the state. Bennet also visited Orchard Avenue Elementary School. The Senate will consider reauthorization this year of the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires all U.S. students to be performing at standards for their grades by 2014.

Katelyn Larson, 10, gets help from Sen. Michael Bennet.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., curled up with first-graders, joked with fifth-grade girls about how boys are “ewww,” and tugged aside principals and teachers Wednesday at two Grand Valley elementary schools to talk about the nuts and bolts of teaching.

Bennet, a former superintendent of Denver Public Schools, is touring Colorado schools as he considers the course Congress should take with the reauthorization this year of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Bennet on Wednesday visited Clifton Elementary School, a school that perennially languished in test scoring, and Orchard Avenue Elementary School, which last year was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon school because of the performance of its students.

Once discussion begins in the Senate, he will be able to cite his experiences in schools, Bennet said.

His strategy remains to be determined, but Bennet said he will cite in particular one Grand Valley teacher’s comment about student teaching. The teacher, whom he declined to identify, told him her real learning about education didn’t begin until she worked for five months as a student teacher.

“It doesn’t really click until you’re with the kids,” the teacher told him.

Congress also is going to have to come to terms with a truth about No Child Left Behind, Bennet said. The act requires that all students be on grade level by 2014, a standard that “everybody knows was crazy,” Bennet said.

Bennet began his visit at Clifton Elementary, where he walked into Laura Gilbert’s classroom, past the display of “Gilbert’s Galaxy of Stars,” and sat cross-legged with second-graders discussing their reading.

In Jessi Torfin’s fourth-grade class, Bennet studied the posters on which Torfin road-mapped the day with the lessons or areas of focus.

“I love it,” Torfin said. “It helps keep the kids focused. It helps keep me focused.”

Bennet studied student work and instructional materials hanging from lines strung between light fixtures and tacked to walls at Orchard Avenue Elementary.

Principal Denise Hoctor emphasized the importance of teachers at the same grade level meeting in what she called professional learning communities. Also, Hoctor said, “vertical meetings” involving teachers from successive grades take place on Thursdays.

“I’d like to come to that one,” Bennet responded.

Talking with students and teachers gives him insight as to how the school is operating, something that more lawmakers should do, Bennet said. If he could, he said, he’d require every member of Congress to spend time in classrooms.

Every member of Congress also should be required to visit China, he said, to get a sense of the scale of the challenge awaiting students in American classrooms.


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