Duncan vs. Perry


sailing ship photo

Bipartisanship has sailed
(Photo by Rennett Stowe)

gloves are off. What vestiges remained of bipartisanship on education in
Washington has been buried. And education may yet turn into a major issue in
the 2012 presidential race.

this in the wake of Rick Perry’s recent entry into that race. Though the
Governor has not (yet) put education on his campaign agenda—it is not, for
example, one of the four issues
on his new Perry for President website—he has, on multiple
occasions, depicted Texas as an independent-minded model of educational
progress. Everyone knows that he wanted no part of Race to the Top or of the Common
Core standards. Nor
is it any secret
that he thinks the federal government should butt out of
just about everything. Or that he has many bones to pick with higher
education in the Lone Star State and beyond

week Arne Duncan, usually a nonpolitical sort of guy, went after Perry,
six-guns blazing, regarding the Texas
education record
. And the retaliation against Duncan’s attack has been swift
and aggressive.

folks have already responded to Duncan, as have many others (from within
and without).
More such jousting will continue and probably intensify. But this issue isn’t
just a Perry-Duncan (or even a Perry-Obama) thing. Shrinking the role of
government—every government—in education is one of Michele Bachmann’s favorite
themes. (Though she doesn’t yet have it on her website, either.) And it will
end up being part of the policy arsenal of every GOP candidate.

Until late
last week, however, I thought education would itself play a minor role in the
2012 election, as in 2008, partly because other issues loom larger but also
because Duncan and Obama stole so much of the traditional GOP ed-policy thunder
as to leave Republican candidates with little to say that’s fresh or
differentiating on this topic. But I didn’t reckon with Perry and Bachmann. And
I surely never imagined that Duncan himself would cast the first stone.

he was glad to get even with Perry’s denunciations of RTTT. Perhaps Duncan got into stone-hurling mode under White
House orders, or perhaps his pellets of attack just slipped out (twice). Perhaps
the Texas governor has those in the White House worried. Perhaps they should

This piece originally
(in a slightly different format) on Fordham’s
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Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on Duncan's remarks from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
Chester E. Finn, Jr.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. is a Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.