You frequently hear people remark about how different Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee are. Perhaps in some ways, but I’m not so sure their circumstances are not more similar than dissimilar and may well ultimately require similar resolve. Michelle Rhee has pursued an aggressive reform strategy that basically means she has to win on every contested issue or transaction. It can work, but the risk-reward ratio for that strategy heightens the risk around every clash. But, as we come into a period of a few months (big calls on Race to the Top, low-performing schools, remaining stimulus funds, FY11 budget request and No Child Left Behind reauthorization groundwork) that will arguably define the Obama first term on education it’s worth asking whether Duncan isn’t now in roughly the same place given his ambitious plans. There is intense push-back going on around many of his priorities, especially on the Hill where some of the interest groups seem to be preparing to make their stand. You can sense that at the first sign of weakness the overall politics here, which have been largely favorable for him, could start to change. In other words, it’s unclear if he can afford to lose a big one either.