- Omer Erez
Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona Stands Out from his Predecessor
On March 1, 2021, Dr. Miguel Cardona was confirmed by the Senate as the new Secretary of Education with an approval vote of 64-33. Cardona shows contrasting goals to former Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, as depicted through this comparison of Cardona’s plan for the American education system and the Devos's experience.
Cardona served as the former Commissioner of Education for his home state of Connecticut. After graduating from Central Connecticut State University, he started his career in education as a fourth grade teacher, moving through the ranks of principal, district administrator, and state superintendent. Later in his career, he was awarded the National Distinguished Principal Award and earned his doctorate at the University of Connecticut. This also allowed him to continue speaking Spanish and English, as he consistently highlights how much growing up bilingual has impacted his life in many ways.
Cardona’s bilingualism proves to have a great impact on his education policies. He stated that his goal as principal was to address “achievement disparities” between English-speakers and those still in the process of learning the language. His influence showed great impact when his plans were implemented. He was invited to mentor neighboring schools in their effort to create an inclusive environment for all their students. The superintendent that preceded him, Paul Freeman, proclaimed, “He is passionate and caring, and people know that about him. And he’s good at the details.” Besides his focus on creating equity amongst students, he offered advice and sought to create plans along with teachers’ unions to improve teachers’ skills and evaluations.
Now, Cardona is faced with the additional obstacle of revitalizing education during COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, his education plan has focused on solving this forefront problem with his five-step plan. First, he organized a future summit with students, teachers, families, school administration, community organization, and other useful resources to come together and discuss the reopening of schools using critical feedback from the past year. The summit will emphasize the academic, social, and emotional needs of students. Second, he wishes to adapt a program he initiated in Connecticut, “Learn Together, Grow Together CT.” Cardona describes this program as an effort to solve common problems with innovative solutions together. Third, publishing the second, updated volume of the Department of Education’s COVID-19 handbook. “It will provide schools and educators with practical, research-based strategies to help effectively meet the social, emotional, mental health and academic needs of students; address the loss of instructional time; bridge the digital divide; extend learning time; stabilize the education workforce and much more.” Fourth, the Department of Education recognizes the importance of continuing to collect data on how schools are reopening and how their students are learning, in order to perfect the process moving forward. Fifth, he wants to provide funding to help schools deal with the pandemic’s obstacles, which coincides with Biden’s $130 billion funding for schools.
Cardona’s predecessor, Devos, had completely opposing plans to those that Cardona plans to pursue. Devos was extremely passionate about school choice and the expansion of the program. School choice allowed for students with great potential leave their unwanted school districts through charter schools or private school vouchers. She claimed that the goal was to give every student their “best educational fit.” This plan never really worked out in her favor as simply hauling students over to previously-ranked “better” schools with a good reputation does not solve the problem. Instead, this would cause students at “worse” schools to be even more worse off as less resources are headed their way. This was seen through the numerous teacher strikes that occurred under Devos because of low pay and underfunded schools. In 2018, teachers in West Virginia and Arizona called this the “Red for Ed” movement. This was amongst many funding problems that Devos induced on the education system of America throughout her time as Secretary of Education. Although her efforts to influence education funding, one of her biggest goals was actually to “de-emphasize the federal government’s role in oversight of education funding.” Title I is a program that allows for high-poverty schools to apply for additional federal funding through the SNS (supplement, not supplant) provision. Devos changed this provision, resulting in the allowance for high-poverty schools to still receive less state and local funding. Additionally, as a part of the Department of Education, the Secretary of Education must evaluate civil rights cases and, if necessary, investigate allowing students who feel unsafe in their school environment. However, Devos delayed, weakened, eliminated, or proposed to eliminate some protections that heavily affected student’s lives.
Cardona and Devos have seemingly very contrasting priorities in their educational policies. Cardona wishes to create equality in opportunity for all low-income, minority students and hopes to steer the Education Department through uncharted waters to make the system equitable and efficent.