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Posted at 02:08 PM ET, 08/24/2011

How badly did Arne Duncan want to talk to Matt Damon?

It turns out that people in the Obama administration made several attempts to reach actor Matt Damon just before he spoke at last month’s Save Our Schools rally in Washington D.C., blasting education policies that focus on high-stakes standardized tests.

According to two people familiar with the efforts, the administration tried to arrange a meeting with Damon and government officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, before the July 30 march. The sources declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

In fact, Duncan was willing to meet Damon at the airport when he flew into the Washington region and talk to him on the drive into the city, according to the sources. Damon declined all of the requests.

Asked about the efforts to reach Damon, Education Department spokesman Justin Hamilton said in an email, “We often reach out to people who care deeply about education reform. To dramatically improve the way our children learn and to prepare them for success in college and career, we need as many passionate voices engaged in this effort as possible.”

Damon flew to the teachers march on the day of the event from Vancouver, where he has been filming a movie called “Elysium.” He came at the request of his mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a child development expert and professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., who was involved with the rally.

Damon refused to meet with administration officials before the march.

His criticism of Obama administration policy has clearly been on the White House’s radar.

Damon spoke out earlier this year on education reform. In a March interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, he said President Obama had disappointed him on a number of issues and criticized an administration-encouraged initiative to link teacher evaluation to the standardized test scores of students. It’s a bad idea, and Damon said so.

Two months later, President Obama noted Damon’s dissent. In his comic address to the White House Correspondents dinner in May, Obama said:

“I’ve even let down my key core constituency: movie stars. Just the other day, Matt Damon -- I love Matt Damon, love the guy -- Matt Damon said he was disappointed in my performance. Well, Matt, I just saw ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ so...right back atcha, buddy.”

Fast forward to July. Leaders of the teachers march, who had tried for months through letters and blogposts to get the attention of the White House, were, on July 28, suddenly invited to a meeting with administration officials for the next day, the day before the march. The offer was declined, the leaders said, because they were busy with an education conference at American University and preparations for the rally. They asked if administration officials could meet with them after the march, but the answer was “no.”

Why was the administration so keen on meeting with Damon and march leaders just before the event?

I’ve said before that it is fair to wonder if the sudden interest was akin to the administration’s efforts last summer to blunt criticism of Obama policies when a coalition of civil rights groups released a framework for education reform. In the few days before the framework was released, administration officials met with some of the coalition leaders, and a few of them backed off their criticism.

If that was what the officials had in mind with their outreach before the teachers march, it didn’t work.

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By  |  02:08 PM ET, 08/24/2011

 
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