DeVos Declines Invitation to Speak to Education Writers Association

By Mark Walsh — May 12, 2017 2 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has declined an invitation to address the Education Writers Association at its upcoming national conference in Washington, the group announced this week.

“EWA has been privileged to hear from every previous education secretary, dating to the Carter administration,” the group for education journalists said in a schedule update on Thursday. “We are disappointed that Secretary DeVos opted not to participate.”

Caroline W. Hendrie, the executive director of the Washington-based EWA, said in an interview that the group had begun its entreaties to DeVos soon after she was nominated by President Donald Trump. The group’s May 31-June 2 national seminar is being held at Georgetown University in the nation’s capital.

“We made multiple, multiple efforts,” Hendrie said. “We were told that the invitation was being considered.”

Soon after DeVos named Liz Hill as her press secretary in April, EWA heard by phone from another contact at the Education Department “that the secretary was not able to make it work for the schedule,” Hendrie said. She stressed that she has no information on whether Hill played a role in advising DeVos on the invitation.

“I was pressing for an answer,” Hendrie said, noting that the timing “could just be a coincidence.”

“We are very disappointed, and would very much like to hear from her in the future,” Hendrie said. “Our members would like to hear from the education secretary.”

The Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As EWA points out, the education secretaries from every presidential administration going back to the creation of the Education Department under President Jimmy Carter has addressed the group, though not every year. That includes the first secretary, Shirley M. Hufstedler, in 1980. (EWA was founded in 1947.)

Among recent U.S. presidents, four of their education secretaries have addressed EWA during their first years in office, and most appeared multiple times. President George W. Bush’s first secretary, Rod Paige, addressed the group in 2001 and 2002, while his second secretary, Margaret Spellings, spoke in 2005 and 2007. President Barack Obama’s first education secretary, Arne Duncan, spoke in 2009, missed in 2010, then spoke at all five other EWA meetings during his tenure. John B. King Jr., Obama’s second secretary, spoke last year at the group’s meeting in Boston.

President Bill Clinton himself spoke to EWA at the group’s 2000 conference in Atlanta.

I wrote in Education Week in March about some of DeVos’ communications challenges, including advice from several quarters (including from Spellings) that the new secretary not shy away from addressing groups that disagree with her. Since then, DeVos has visited a school with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, a harsh critic of hers, and most recently gave a commencement address at Bethune-Cookman University, where some students booed and turned her backs on her.

EWA is a non-partisan professional organization for journalists, and it members would be unlikely to boo or turn their backs on a newsmaker such as DeVos. They would have some hard questions for her. For now, those questions will have to wait.

[Disclosure: Wearing my hat as an education law reporter, I will be moderating a panel at the EWA meeting about the U.S. Supreme Court and education. I am not otherwise involved with planning of the conference.]

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.