Arne Duncan’s second term?


(Jacquelyn Martin-Associated Press)

Why would Education Secretary Arne Duncan not directly address questions put to him about his second-term agenda at Jeb Bush’s school reform summit in Washington D.C. Wednesday?

Here are some possible reasons:

1) White House officials don’t want him (or other cabinet members) talking about their policy plans now because they want the focus to remain on budget negotiations with Congress.

2) Duncan doesn’t have a second-term agenda yet. He and Obama’s domestic advisers are still discussing where to put their focus in a second term. Early education and higher education are two safe bets, but nothing has coalesced yet into a detailed education agenda.

3) 1 and 2

4) Duncan is becoming secretary of state, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recommended Wednesday in apparent half-jest. Duncan, answering a question at the summit, said there was a greater chance he would turn to exotic dancing than become secretary of state. He was referring to a rather crude article in the satirical newspaper The Onion that said he was becoming a male stripper. “The Onion is probably more accurate” than Friedman, Duncan joked. (The question is why Friedman thought to compare the Russian and Chinese authoritarian governments with the teachers’ union when he wrote: “Well, anyone who has negotiated with the Chicago Teachers Union, as Duncan did when he was superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools before going to Washington, would find negotiating with the Russians and Chinese a day at the beach.”)

5) Duncan isn’t being asked to stay for a second term. This seemed far-fetched, as Duncan has said for months that he would love to stay, and a case could be made that Duncan is the most successful cabinet member in implementing administration policies with bipartisan support. And of no small importance, Obama enjoys competing with Duncan on the basketball court. Yet, stranger things have happened. In this scenario, Obama would want someone else to be the new face of a renewed emphasis on equity and other issues.

 6) He just didn’t feel like it.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | November 28, 2012