Who Would Replace Arne Duncan?

TAKOMA PARK, MD - MARCH 01:  Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks to students after reading the Dr. Seuss book 'Green Eggs
TAKOMA PARK, MD - MARCH 01: Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks to students after reading the Dr. Seuss book 'Green Eggs and Ham' at Rolling Terrace Elementary School March 1, 2013 in Takoma Park, Maryland. Duncan and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius toured the school in an effort to highlight U.S. President Barack Obama's proposals to expand high-quality learning opportunities as mentioned in his State of the Union speech. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Both national teachers' unions have recently given voice to a popular teacher daydream -- the departure of Arne Duncan from the U.S. Department of Education.

I understand the appeal. Duncan has become the poster boy for reformsters, the face of everything teachers hate about this administration's education policy. When the administration has something annoying or distressing to say about education, it comes out of Duncan's mouth (usually in a particularly inartful manner).

But the fantasy of having Duncan go away and be replaced by someone more suitable for the job, such as Diane Ravitch or Linda Darling Hammond or a person who is actually a teacher, is a fantasy, and it's a fantasy on the order of winning a million dollars in the lottery without having bought a lottery ticket.

I've read the posts and tweets from people who still cheer for Obama. Their fantasy seems to be that someone will storm into the Oval Office, show the C-in-C exactly what his Department of Education has been up to and he will declare, "What?! I had no idea! This will not stand! Get Arne in here so I can fire him!!" And this is not going to happen, ever. Ever. There has never been the slightest reason to believe that the president is not fully aware of what his education policy is, that he is unaware of what Arne is pushing or that he disapproves of any of it.

Duncan is a spokesperson for a product. He doesn't run the company, and he doesn't build the product. When Quaker Oats decided to replace the old, racist sterotypical Aunt Jemima with a newer, more appropriate Aunt Jemima, they didn't change the product inside the package.

The union resolutions and the never-ending petitions calling for Duncan's firing or resignation are not completely pointless -- they at least register discontent with the administration's policies. But the answer to the question "Who would replace Arne Duncan" is simple -- someone who espoused the same policies as Arne Duncan.

At some point Arne Duncan will leave public service. He will walk into a well-paying job with some edu-bizness. Maybe Pearson will make him Vice President in Charge of Graphite Writing Utensil Paper Interface Point Enhancement, or maybe he'll become a hood ornament for a chain of charter schools. If that happens before 2017, he'll be replaced by More of the Same (Under Secretary Ted Mitchell would probably be a swell choice). We'd no longer have the benefit of his goofy charm, his basketball stories, or his way with words. But imagining that his departure would lead to a change in policy is like imagining that tennis shoes with cool stripes will make you run faster.

A Duncan departure would have one advantage. It would give the administration the advantage of having a whole bunch of its opponents dancing around and singing "Ding dong, the witch is dead" instead of paying attention to what is actually happening.

Duncan as a spokesperson makes a fine target at which to direct displeasure with the product. But don't confuse the man with the policies.

Cross-posted from Curmudgucation.