Teachers unions expressed optimism Tuesday that President-elect Joe Biden's choice to be the next education secretary, Miguel Cardona, stands well-equipped to strengthen public education and reverse the "disaster" left by outgoing Secretary Betsy DeVos.
"In these tough times," said National Education Association (NEA) president Becky Pringle, "students, educators, and families face unprecedented challenges—from the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis to the systemic racism that has held back too many students for too long. We look forward to partnering with Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona in taking on these challenges together."
Biden introduced Cardona—a former public school teacher and principal—as his pick Wednesday, saying that Cardona is "brilliant" and "understands the transformative power of investing in public education"
In his remarks Wednesday, NPR reported,
Cardona talked about his background, his bilingual upbringing and said he was "American as apple pie and rice and beans." His parents are from Puerto Rico and he is the third Latino candidate Biden put forward for a Cabinet post. He lived in public housing as a kid, arrived in kindergarten only speaking Spanish, and has long drawn on his personal experience to inform his approach to education policy, focusing on making schools more equitable, closing achievement gaps between students of color and their white peers, and improving teaching for English-language learners.
His background stands in stark contrast to that of DeVos, a billionaire and sister to Blackwater founder Erik Prince. The outgoing education secretary, who is a proponent of school privatization, has been accused of rolling back civil rights and other critical protections for students, and attempted to deny legal student debt cancellations.
NEA's Pringle, in her statement, added that Cardona "understands what's at stake for students and promises to respect the voice of educators as we work to safely reopen school buildings, colleges, and university campuses, while also forging a path to transform public education into a racially and socially just and equitable system that is designed to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world."
Contrasting Cardona with Trump, she said Cardona, if confirmed by the Senate, would "ensure that the federal government's role in education is to ensure access and opportunity for every student," defend their civil rights, and "work collaboratively to promote proven education models such as community schools and policies that provide whole student support."
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Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, had similar praise for Cardona. "With his experience as a student, fourth-grade teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and commissioner in Connecticut, Dr. Cardona—a former AFT member—will transform the Education Department to help students thrive, a reversal of the DeVos disaster of the last four years."
A leading contender for Biden's education secretary had been Leslie Fenwick, dean emeritus of Howard University and an outspoken charter school critic. Fenwick is the candidate education historian and author Diane Ravitch had hoped Biden would pick.
Speaking about Cardona's nomination on Democracy Now!, Ravitch suggested Fenwick would have "upset the so-called reformers," adding that Cardona "has been very low-profile"on the issue of charters.
One step the Biden administration should take right away, said Ravitch, is to "announce that there will be no mandated testing this spring, because the inequality of access to education over this past several months has been dramatic."
"The rich kids will have high scores, and the poor kids will have low scores. And the kids who have the least access through technology or in-person learning will have the lowest scores. So, there, I just saved hundreds of millions of dollars. We really don't need to do these tests," she said.
Jan Hochadel, president of the Connecticut AFT, says the implications of having an education secretary with Cardona's background could be huge.
"The opportunity for a true educator with classroom experience and a leader who understands that challenge is exciting for anyone who cares about the future of America's public schools," she said.