She also promised to avoid the temptation to lecture the reporters in the room on stories they should be covering. She did offer, in exchange for a self-addressed stamped envelope, to mail her list of story ideas to anyone who wanted them. “Please remember the stamp,” Hufstedler said, in a nod to the downturn in the nation’s economy at the time. “This is not a good year for new budget items.”
Several education secretaries, including John King, Arne Duncan, and Margaret Spellings, spoke at the conference during their first year in office. Below is a look back at what some prior secretaries had to say when they addressed the largest annual gathering of the nation’s education journalists.
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William Bennett was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. In addition to his more political work, Bennett authored and edited The Children’s Book of Virtues, which inspired a late-1990’s animated PBS Kids television series. Speaking at EWA’s event in 1988, he devoted the bulk of his speech to urging a free exchange of ideas.
“There should be no tolerance of intimidation of free speech and debate,” he said, singling out for criticism a protest by black students at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “Martin Luther King Jr. said protest should come after you have exhausted all other means of achieving of progress. … I’m not sure the students at the University of Massachusetts went through all those steps. If they did, it certainly was not in the accounts I read.”
(The Washington Post, reporting on the Amherst protest at the time, chose the headline “Campus Minorities Confronting Racism With Mature Methods.”)
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U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, spent two years as education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, starting in 1991. Alexander was a key architect of the recent Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind as the nation’s main federal law for K-12 education. The bill won strong bipartisan support, considered a rare occurrence given how starkly divided Congress is today.
During his EWA National Seminar appearance in 1991, Alexander laid out an education agenda reflecting his consistent positions on the perceived perils of federal overreach into local decision-making on public schools.
“We can’t do what we need with orders from Washington,” he said, adding that much must be left to communities, from deciding how schools teach to setting rules for private schools that participate in a tax-supported choice program.
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In 1993, President Clinton approached the former South Carolina Governor Richard Riley about a possible appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Riley turned him down, and the seat was ultimately filled by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But Riley agreed to serve as the education secretary, holding the cabinet position for both of Clinton’s terms.