Today's first annual Colorado Legacy Foundation luncheon was a nice happening, honoring 39 schools across the state that have had success closing achievement gaps.
But the otherwise typical schmoozathon received a jolt of energy from a polite but unmistakable clash between current Gov. Bill Ritter and one of his predecessors, the indefatigable Roy Romer.
What with the recent DNC and related events, I've heard Romer's schtick several times in the past three weeks. It wears well. Romer, who now runs an outfit called Strong American Schools/ED in 08, is laboring to shock the nation out of complacency about the state of public education.
He was in fine form yesterday, speaking forcefully and make his points with more precision than is his norm.
"I may not be too popular at this luncheon by the time I finish," he said, proceeding to urge his audience to help him wake up Colorado, and the U.S., about the dire straits we're in. (Meanwhile, the Dow was cratering again, so people may have been aware of said straits).
Romer laid out the well-known, depressing facts: we are falling behind other nations in education, and we're going to pay dearly for it soon, if we aren't already (we are).
"We're a third world nation in terms of our performance in math," Romer said.
What got under Ritter's skin, apparently, was Romer's repeated insistence that "we" — meaning Colorado and the U.S. -- are not doing enough to address this predicament. "We're asleep, we're kidding ourselves," Romer said.
Ritter bounded up to the podium like an unleashed dog, and said he wished to "offer a rebuttal, in part, as presumptuous as that may seem." Colorado is focused on the challenges, despite Romer's criticism, Ritter said, "in a way perhaps we haven't been before."
With that subtle dig at the former governor, Ritter laid out his education agenda, stressing the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids (CAP4K) legislation that passed this year. He said new standards and assessments are coming, and they will be benchmarked, as Romer suggests, to standards in more educationally advanced countries.
"It's going to take a couple of years to design this…because you can't build this airplane while it's in the air," Ritter said.
Ritter also said the media didn't "give credence" to the accomplishments of the 2008 legislative session on education, hinting that Romer perhaps was simply unaware of how far Colorado has come.