Miguel Cardona, Commissioner of Education for the State of Connecticut and President-elect Biden’s nomination for Secretary of Education, in many ways, is the polar opposite of current Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. Unlike Devos, Cardona actually attended public schools; including a technical high school. He obtained his degrees (BA, MA, EdD) from state universities in Connecticut.
He taught fourth grade.
He served as a principal and an assistant superintendent.
He has been a staunch advocate for equity in education.
Spurred by the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on underserved communities, Cardona and Connecticut’s governor, Ned Lamont, recently announced having procured 141,000 laptops to ensure that every student in the state is able to engage in remote learning.
Cardona’s nomination is not without its controversy. During his campaign, President-elect Biden vowed to appoint a teacher to the cabinet position. For some, the five years Cardona spent as an elementary teacher before he moved into administration does not fulfill this promise. Cardona has also been criticized by Connecticut teachers for prioritizing keeping schools open over the safety of students and teachers. Cardona and the governor advised districts to keep the schools open even though many districts lacked the basic PPE necessary.
Moving from a small state such as Connecticut to the national stage will be difficult. Here are some possible potholes to navigate:
Biden has pledged to open the majority of schools in his first 100 days in office. Having an arbitrary deadline for opening schools discounts the changing nature of the pandemic and the accompanying safety concerns for teachers and students.
In 2012, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute published a state-by-state comparison of the strength of teachers’ unions and Connecticut ranked 17th. Some might argue that the teachers’ unions pose an obstacle to the administration and government when making changes to the school system. Albeit true in some ways in others the unions provide political cover when the public is clamoring for an unattractive option, an administration can point to the union and say, “We would like to consider this change, but unfortunately the unions will not.”
It will take time and commitment to undo the damage done by Betsy Devos to American schools; especially in the area of civil rights. During her first two years as Secretary of Education, Devos’ administration scuttled more than 1,200 civil rights investigations. Her first act in 2017 was to revoke protection for transgender students.
Already underfunded, Devos continued to slash the amount of money available to public schools, instead of diverting funds to charter schools.
The pandemic has dealt a major blow to American students. However, it also presents educational leaders with a rare opportunity to restructure the way we educate our children. Cardona will be in a position to reimagine our schools and our children’s educational experiences. Will we see innovation or a return to the pre-pandemic status quo?
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