U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week that testing students was vital to measuring their progress and to improving student and teacher performance. Duncan warned California not to proceed with a reckless move away from standardized testing.

That didn’t sway the Legislature, which passed AB 484 — the legislation Duncan ripped — or Gov. Jerry Brown, who praised the Legislature for its approval and whose aides helped craft the CTA- and CFT-blessed bill.

So what does the Obama administration do? Education reform has arguably been the single strongest policy initiative of the president, reflecting an unusual willingness to take on teachers unions, a core Dem constituency. And Obama is also a lame duck, with no election on the horizon. He can do a Nixon-goes-to-China thing if he wants and stake out for history his support of the common-sense idea that bad teachers need to be weeded out of public schools.

But no. It’s easier to duck a fight, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“Duncan toned down his recent criticism of California in an interview with The Times, calling his previous threat to withhold federal funding from the state over a new plan to test students a ‘last resort.’

“‘We want to be flexible, we want to be thoughtful,’ Duncan said. ‘We don’t want to be stuck. There are lots of different things happening across the country. I don’t want to be too hard and fast on any one of these things because I have not gone through every detail, every permutation.’”

From critic to supplicant in one week

Duncan wasn’t done yet with his kowtowing.

“He also praised the efforts of California and specifically Gov. Jerry Brown to adopt high academic standards and move quickly to new and improved standardized tests.

“‘I give the governor tremendous credit,’ Duncan said. ‘He’s worked really, really hard’ in moving to new and rigorous learning goals. ‘He’s put real resources behind that.’”

Groan. How can the Obama administration give California credit for anything on the education front? As the Times article notes …

“Duncan’s department and California have been at odds at times over the high-profile Race to the Top grants and waivers from onerous provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The state lost out on both because of its unwillingness to mandate the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.”

A 1971 state law MANDATES that student performance be part of teacher evaluations. So when the Brown administration refuses the carrot in the Obama administration’s carrot-and-stick approach, it’s not just keeping federal dollars from California and blocking reform — it’s breaking state law!

Does the Times point out this ridiculous contradiction? Nope. Why? Who knows?

East Coast media more cynical about teacher unions

The West Coast media continue to lag the East Coast media in their coverage of teacher unions and education policy. They’re only about 30 percent cynical. The East Coast media have been 80 percent cynical for decades. Do you know about Woody Allen’s 1973 movie “Sleepers”?

Woody Allen’s 1973 science fiction comedy Sleeper depicted teacher union leader Albert Shanker as a madman who destroyed the world …

That’s real-life Amercian Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker, not a made-up character, who brought chaos to New York public schools in the 1960s. We have plenty of Shankers out here.

Cross-posted at CalWatchDog.