Two days before thousands of teachers, parents and education activists are staging a march in Washington to protest the Obama administration’s education reform policies, U.S. officials have invited some leaders of the event to the White House for a discussion.

March leaders say they planned the event to let the administration know that teachers, principals, parents and others are fed up with reform policies that they believe are turning public schools into testing factories and that are unfairly evaluating teachers based on student test scores.

Three of a larger group of protesters who went to the Education Department on Wednesday to create an artistic display in front of the building were invited to meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and they handed him a specially made gift of a baby in a box, to symbolize protesters’ concern that high-stakes standardized testing is “boxing in children.”

Education Department spokesman Justin Hamilton said the discussion was useful.

According to leaders of the Save Our Schools March, the White House has invited several of them to the White House on Friday, just a day before the march takes place. A two-day conference of activists began today at American University.

March leaders have been writing open letters to the administration about their standardized test-driven school reform policies for months, but it is just now, apparently, that officials are interested in talking to them about their protest.

Is this a repeat of the administration’s efforts last summer to blunt criticism by a coalition of civil rights groups who released a framework for education reform that was critical of administration policies? Just before it was released, administration officials met with some of the leaders of the group in the coalition, and afterward some backed off their criticism.

Or is this a legitimate effort to allow administration officials to hear teachers complaints (even though they’ve had many months to invite them to the White House, and even though officials have some other pressing business — like the debt limit crisis — to deal with)?

Duncan frequently has conversations with educators across the country. Earlier this month, he phoned Carol Corbett Burris, principal of high-achieving South Side High School in New York, after she wrote an open letter to him about her concerns about his school reform agenda. (You can read her account of the conversation here.)

Burris will be one of the educators marching Saturday.

Follow The Answer Sheet every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page. Bookmark it!