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.

Duncan was so programmed that Stewart was even unable to get the basketball-playing secretary to have some fun talking about the New York Knicks’ new hero, Jeremy Lin.

When Stewart jokingly asked Duncan whether, having graduated from Harvard, it was “a disappointment” that he “ended up as just the secretary of education” and not as an NBA superstar, Duncan’s only response was about how great a role model the hard-working Lin was for young people.

Stewart surely knew at that point he would get nothing from Duncan, but he made a polite effort anyway, because he had time to fill and, perhaps, because he knew his mother, a teacher who apparently can’t stand Duncan’s policies, would be watching.

Stewart told Duncan that his mother tells him that the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative is exacerbating the standardized testing obsession of No Child Left Behind and making it harder for teachers to creatively do their jobs.

This is happening because the administration’s policies encourage states to link teacher evaluation to standardized test scores, which not only has lead to more “teaching to the test,” but also an expansion of standardized testing into areas besides the traditional math and reading areas. I ran a guest post last year from a high school student who wanted to know why he had to take a standardized test in his yearbook class as his district field-tested 52 such tests in all kinds of subjects so that teachers in all subjects could be evaluated by the results.

That’s the kind of thing teachers are complaining about, but Duncan gave no indication that he has heard them.

When Stewart said that a lot of the rhetoric about Race to the Top centers around innovation and creativity but that the reality is the opposite, and that teachers shouldn’t be teaching to the test, Duncan said: “I actually agree with that.” Huh?

Duncan then quoted President Obama as saying recently that “we have to stop teaching to the test,” betraying not a hint of irony that it is the administration’s policies that are continuing this dynamic in public schools.

Stewart tried again and again to get Duncan to have a real conversation, but Duncan seemed to never directly respond to a question, always coming back to one of his talking points.

He even said that “teachers have been beaten down,” again without betraying any recognition that many teachers blame his policies for this state of affairs.

What we learned from this exchange (the part that was televised) is that Stewart displayed a great grasp of the issues and the consequences of Race to the Top, and Duncan, well, not so much. I don’t need to say that something is wrong with this picture, so I won’t.

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