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Racking up Talking Points

Posted by Jim Stergios  February 18, 2012 05:08 PM

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At 6'5", U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is known for being up to a foot taller than most policymakers and bureaucrats. I am sure you've all read of his close friendship and basketball sessions with the president.

Jon Stewart on tiptoes is 5'7" (have it from a reputable site!). But in Duncan's Thursday night appearance on the Daily Show, Stewart was like junior sumo sized wrestler Mainoumi running rings around Kotonishiki. Stewart clings to lots of old nostrums, but he was by turns more practical, grounded and uplifting in his conversation with Arne Duncan about education policy, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the nationalization of decision-making in education.


Stewart clearly hears a lot from his mom. She's a teacher and her much doted upon son delivers his jabs at Duncan with the cunning of Macaulay Culkin protecting hearth and home from (dumb) interlopers in Home Alone. She doesn't like NCLB, RttT and standardized testing, and the conversation deliciously exposes just how wooden and worn the former Australia league pro's talking points are.

The Washington Post's Valerie Straus noted how disjointed and stiff Duncan was in responding to Stewart:

Jon Stewart tried to engage Education Secretary Arne Duncan on “The Daily Show” Thursday night, but the effort was an exercise in the futility of conversing with someone who won’t deviate from his talking points.

Calling him programmed is kind. Look - I am a supporter of high quality academic standards and testing, but they are accountability tools that were meant to leave teachers broad range in how they got the results. Secretary Duncan is trying to pull all power to the center, not just on accountability but also in evaluations and teaching practice. If you think I am kidding consider the instructional practice guides and curricular materials being developed by the two national consortia in charge of creating national tests.

Duncan suggests that his one-size-fits-all-states strategy will foster creativity and innovation. He claims he wants to stop teaching to the test. Hmmm.

File under dorky, disconnected, and in need of a teleprompter. I don't know how Duncan did in Australia, but right now the only points he's scoring are talking points. He seems to have no idea what impact his policies are having and will have well into the future.

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Crossposted at Pioneer's blog. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer's website.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Jim Stergios is executive director of the Pioneer Institute. Before joining Pioneer, he was Chief of Staff and Undersecretary for Policy in the Commonwealth's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, where More »

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