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Sen. Michael Bennet Headshot

Educate to Innovate

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As a lot of you may have noticed, campaign season is over - at least for now. And now we have to move ahead in Washington with the difficult task of governing - of coming together and doing the work the American people sent us there to do.

And we have our work cut out for us.

It begins with creating jobs; with growing our economy; with reforming our tax code to encourage innovation and investment and keep high-paying jobs in Colorado and this country. It includes making responsible decisions that bring down the crushing debt that threatens to constrain our kids' choices.

And absolutely fundamental to that work - to our future - to our ability to compete and succeed in the 21st century is fixing our system of public education.

My three girls and kids all across Colorado believe we've made a promise to them. And they expect us to do deliver. They expect us to give greater truth to the idea that the zip code you're born into should not dictate the quality of the education you receive.

We need to live up to our kids' expectations; but we don't stand a chance, and more important, our kids don't stand a chance, unless we work together as Coloradans and as Americans to fix our system of public schools.

Now, considering the tone of our politics in recent years, expecting people in Washington to work together - on anything - may seem like a tall order. I'd be hard pressed to disagree. But I'm holding out hope.

In my mind, there is no reason public school reform should be a partisan issue. And my time at the Denver Public Schools taught me that it can't be. There, we worked together towards a goal we all shared: Improving the odds for our kids. We had our disagreements; we had plenty. But despite our differences, there was no disagreeing that the status quo was absolutely unacceptable.

How could anyone defend the fact that only 9 out of every 100 kids living in poverty in this country could expect to receive a college degree? How could anyone accept a system in which only 61 African American students and 33 Latino students scored proficient on the 10th grade math test in a district of 75,000 kids?

You couldn't. You simply couldn't.

By working together, we made progress; not by engaging in tired debates that take ideology seriously and our children's future lightly, but by taking a new, innovative approach to public education. We still have a ways to go at DPS, but we were able to put our schools on the right direction out of a shared commitment to our kids.

It's time Washington did the same; not by assuming people there have all the answers, but by listening to educators at the local level to get a grasp of what works and what doesn't.

Because let me tell you: There is no place further from America's classrooms than Washington, DC. There is no place more disconnected from the work our teachers and principals are doing than Capitol Hill.

Over the past two weeks, I've traveled across our state, visiting with teachers, parents and principals to hear their ideas for reform; not to talk, but to listen; not to lecture, but to learn. And I saw what was possible in schools like Orchard Elementary in Grand Junction and Force Elementary in Denver when people work together toward a common goal.

Washington has a lot to learn from these schools and the communities that support them; it has a lot to learn from the people who put their kids' interests above their own.

The time for campaigning and politicking is over. It's time to govern; it's time to get to work. Our kids expect us to act like grown-ups. And with President Obama set to deliver his State of the Union, we have an opportunity to set a new tone for our politics and a new course for our country.

We've got a lot of work to do: not only on education, but on the economy, on our tax code, and on reducing our crushing debt. Working together, I know we can get the job done. I know we can build a future where our kids and grandkids thrive.