Stephanie Simon describes the political minefields that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has run into as he seeks to remake American education.

She does not mention that Duncan’s program dovetails with No Child Left Behind, which is now widely acknowledged to be a failed approach.

Nor does she mention that Duncan’s tenure in Chicago, where he honed his present ideas about reform, was unsuccessful.

Duncan is generously praised by the hedge fund managers’ group Democrats for Education Reform.

But critics call him out for micromanagement:

Critics, however, say his strategies have been shortsighted, even naive. States are backing away from promises they made to secure grants and waivers; just this month, Arkansas said it couldn’t stick to its timetable for improving student performance or raising the quality of its teaching force. In most cases, the secretary has little leverage to make states uphold their pledges. In a ritual that strikes even some bureaucrats as absurd, he has begun granting waivers to his own waivers.

“In 2009, Arne was the new sheriff in town, with big boxes of ammunition and a shiny new gun,” said Frederick Hess, an education analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Now, it’s later in the movie and he’s all out of bullets and he’s trying to scare states by shaking a stick at them.”

So many other questions are unasked:

Did his efforts to replace the principle of equity with the strategy of competition for federal aid makes any sense?

Why did a Democratic administration accept the ideology and strategies of its Republican predecessors?

How could Duncan say he wants to raise standards for teaching while giving $50+ million to Teach for America?

What have been the results of Duncan’s unprecedented support for shifting public dollars to privately managed charters?

Why has Duncan been silent as more and more state legislatures enacted anti-teacher legislation?

Why has Duncan been silent as more and more states authorized vouchers?


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