US Dept of Education Press Office Won't Talk to (Bud the) Teacher

I continue to ask of everyone I can speak with in Washington and in Congressional and government offices alike: What is the rationale for eliminating funding for the ? It is a simple question, or it seems to be. But I can’t get anyone to answer it beyond broad strokes of “local and state redundancy” and “no significant impact” on students. Since I don’t understand how a national network can exist at the local or state level, and I have evidence to the contrary on impact on students and teachers, I’ll keep asking. It just doesn’t make sense.

An added wrinkle is that one of the folks that I originally started asking the question of is now, apparently, unwilling to talk to me at all. Here’s the story.

Every day this week, before and after work, I’ve left a message with the Press Office of the Department of Education asking for an answer to my question for the rationale behind the elimination of the National Writing Project from the 2011 proposed education budget. On Tuesday morning, I had a very nice and pleasant exchange with one of the women who answers the phones at that line. She was polite as I explained my request, as she read it back to me, and confirmed my phone number and e-mail address. She asked me when I’d like a response. I told her five PM that day, which is a typical turnaround for a media response. She said someone would get back to me prior to that time. She also asked me what news organization I was with. I informed her that I was a blogger, and she said okay.

No one returned that call.

But I’m stubborn I understand how busy people are. So, Wednesday morning, I called the press office back and, as luck would have it, the phone was answered by the same person. She remembered my question, and pulled up her notes. She had my phone number right. But I didn’t get a call back. I asked her why. That’s when she informed me that, as I wasn’t a member of the press, I wasn’t entitled to a response from their office. That floored me a bit.

I asked her to explain who told her that. She put me on hold, and after a few moments, returned and explained that Sandra Abrevaya, one of the folks who manages the office’s Twitter presence, fielded the request and informed the kind phone answerer that she should “only pass along (messages) if he is a reporter.”

I asked the receptionist, who again would not give me her name, so far the only person in the entire Education Department who has actually spoken to me on the phone, if she would get a definition from Ms. Abrevaya as to what constitutes a “reporter.” (I’m thinking that I sure am “reporting” this conversation and my experience.) I have yet to hear back.

I was referred to a general question and information line, which was actually quite helpful. If you’d like to inquire about an educational issue, you may have the best results by calling 1-800-872-5327 and pressing 3. Then again, it might not be THAT useful, because I’m still waiting to hear back from the person to whom I was referred from there, too.

I guess I’d have to express my disappointment in the Department of Education’s Press Office, and specifically Sandra Abrevaya. As one of the folks behind the @EdPressSec Twitter account, she has been, presumably, receiving my replies and requests for information about the National Writing Project rationale for more than two weeks. My voice messages for about a week. And she chose to ignore them. Because I’m not a “reporter.”

We cannot accept a government that simultaneously leverages social media to get their message out but ignores the messages of its constituents. I’m not willing to quit asking my question because I’m not a “reporter.” So, again, here’s what I’d like to know:

What is the rationale for the elimination of the National Writing Project? What is the information that was used to make the decision? Who is the person or persons who ultimately made the decision, and how would they answer others’ data that suggest strong results?

Why is that such a hard collection of questions to get an answer to? Seems like they’d certainly like to hear from us, but not talk to us.

I’ll keep trying. Maybe you will, too.

Notes
Creative Commons License photo credit: Bud the Teacher

20 thoughts on “US Dept of Education Press Office Won't Talk to (Bud the) Teacher

    1. I start every phone call by introducing myself as “Bud Hunt, a teacher in northern Colorado.” So I’m identifying myself that way. But that’s a good question.

  1. If they’re hiding behind “we are the press office and only deal with the press,” I wonder if it’s possible to ask who at ED is willing to listen to teachers. If nothing else, it’d be interesting to know what the response is.

  2. Have you contacted you local paper to see if they would give you credentials so that you can pursue a story for them?
    Keep up the good work. I’m spreading your message.

  3. While I think the Press Secretary should respond to you even though you don’t apparently meet their definition of “reporter,” I would politely call again and ask to speak directly to the Secretary of Education. Perhaps his Press Secretary can only speak to “the Press,” but surely the Secretary of Education can speak to a teacher?
    .-= Karl Fisch´s last blog ..Sometimes This Stuff Still Amazes Me =-.

  4. Clearly you need to re-brand yourself as Bud the Reporter, and then they’ll answer your (very reasonable) question.

    I guess you could contact your congressional reps and ask them to ask for you. But you’ll only get some bullshit political answer. Alternative is to find someone with press credentials to ask for you.

  5. Bud,

    As you know, I did have some success in getting a response from writing AskArne, and have written them back a second time for clarification.

    But you are right, in this new media age, an agency that promotes the new media has got to be receptive to the input coming in from it as well.

    Perhaps the reception you received from this particular office is because they only respond to the “old media”? And they are a bit flummoxed by trying to figure out how to work with the new media?

    I wonder if this is perhaps a learning opportunity as they try out these new tools–an opportunity for us to be heard and for them to consider what it means to be participating with grass roots educators in this way.

    Perhaps the main problem here is that you’ve been dealing with the Press Secretary’s office, who may see their role as relating to the “press.” I wonder if an answer can be obtained by another office, like the Office of Monica Salas
    Information Resource Specialist

    Information Resource Center
    Office of Communications and Outreach

    (800) USA-LEARN

    That’s who responded to my email, and it seems their role is “supposed” to be communications and outreach.

    I think we will continue to see various levels of fumbling about as agencies/media/etc. start using these tools with their level of transparency and their comfort level with using these tools.

    Good luck with getting your response!
    Carolyn

  6. Are they on Twitter/FaceBook? Try following them and post your questions there, too. Post them everyday until they are answered.

  7. NWP contact at DE, I believe.

    Name Margarita L. Meléndez
    E-mail Address margarita.melendez@ed.gov
    Mailing Address U.S. Department of Education, OII
    Teacher Quality Programs
    400 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Rm. 4W224, FB-6
    Washington, DC 20202-5960
    Telephone (202) 260-3548
    Fax (202) 401-8466

    1. Thanks. I did speak to Ms. Melendez, you can see her contact info in the picture below, who referred me to others, as she did not deal in matters of policy. She was most polite.

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