Dear Mr. Colbert, about that interview with Arne Duncan …

September 18, 2013
lbert appears during the "Been There: Won That: The Returnification of the American-Do Troopscapeon" special of The Colbert Report on September 8, 2010. (Scott Gries - SCOTT GRIES/PICTUREGROUP) Stephen Colbert in 2010. (Scott Gries/PictureGroup)

Dear Mr. Colbert,

You have proved time and again that you are second to none as a satirical interviewer. I wrote back in 2011 about your brilliant skewering of the Wake County (Raleigh, N.C.) Board of Education’s decision to scrap a successful school diversity plan.

But next time you invite Education Secretary Arne Duncan on your show, like you did Tuesday night, could you please talk to your friend Jon Stewart beforehand for some interviewing tips?

Stewart welcomed Duncan on his show in 2012, and while his interview wouldn’t have won any awards for toughness, he at least tried, politely, to get the education secretary to explain policies that many teachers and parents believe are indefensible. And he did it without sacrificing laughs.

You threw fluffballs to Duncan. When you brought up President Obama’s Race to the Top — a contest for states and school districts to win federal dollars in exchange for implementing Duncan-approved reform — you got a deserved laugh by saying, “Why does everything have to be about race with this guy?” But I wished that you had then asked Duncan why the Obama administration is running a contest for funding (based on untested reform) instead of insisting on school funding equity.

You might, too, have asked him about a revolt around the country among teachers and parents against standardized-test based accountability systems, which in some states means teachers get evaluated in part on the test scores of students they don’t have and subjects they don’t teach. Really. The test score obsession is so deep that for several years, D.C. school custodians were partly evaluated on student test scores. Your audience would roll in the aisles with this stuff.

Interestingly, your audience  Tuesday night applauded the most when Duncan said that “the best ideas in education” come “from local teachers,” not anybody in Washington, and that “we have to listen to them.” You might have asked him why teachers believe his department has unfairly targeted them as being responsible for failing schools and ignored their concerns.

Maybe next time.

Best regards,  The Answer Sheet

And here’s the 2012 interview Jon Stewart did with Duncan on The Daily Show:

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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