Joe Biden to Tap Connecticut Schools Chief as Education Secretary

Miguel Cardona, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities
Connecticut State Colleges and Universities

President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate Connecticut’s commissioner of education Miguel Cardona to head the U.S. Department of Education.

Biden is choosing Cardona over former National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, who garnered support for her bid to become the first Hispanic U.S. education secretary.

Axios reported the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), which initially supported Garcia in her bid for the top education post, is now backing Cardona.

“Mr. Cardona fully grasps the challenges that English as Second Language (ESL) Learners, Latinos and other minority students face in America’s classrooms,” CHC members reportedly wrote in a letter to Biden.

Cardona, 45, was in the news two weeks ago when Gov. Ned Lamont (D-CT), an early Biden supporter, announced his state would be the first in the nation to require high schools to offer black and Latino studies courses.

Cardona said the course was added because “identities matter,” explaining that 27 percent of Connecticut’s students are identifying as Hispanic and 13 percent as black.

“This curriculum acknowledges that by connecting the story of people of color in the U.S. to the larger story of American history,” Cardona added. “The fact is that more inclusive, culturally relevant content in classrooms leads to greater student engagement and better outcomes for all.”

A former elementary school teacher and public school principal, Cardona became Lamont’s choice to be Connecticut schools chief in the summer of 2019.

Two of Cardona’s areas of interest have been English language learners and closing the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white peers.

In March, when schools in Connecticut closed down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cardona delivered over 100,000 laptops to students throughout the state for remote learning, reported the Associated Press.

Cardona has been vocal recently about the importance of in-person learning for students, though he has refrained from endorsing any mandates to have all children return to school.

“Closing schools alone would not reduce the mitigation strategies, would not reduce the transmission risk in other places,” Cardona told CT Mirror in November.

He added:

In school, we know that students have their mitigation strategies, like distancing and facial coverings. There’s no way to ensure that’s happening outside of school when they’re not with us… What we’re learning… it’s families in already challenged communities that are under-resourced, that need more support.

Connecticut, however, has not been a model state, either for reopening schools for in-person instruction or for closing the achievement gap.

Sarah Eagan, the state’s child advocate, has raised the concern that many young children and those with disabilities have not been able to return to school.

Only about one-third of the state’s public school students are able to attend school, in person, full-time, reported CT Mirror.

Biden said in the fall that schools cannot fully reopen for in-person learning in the United States because “they need a lot of money.” However, he has also said re-opening schools is a top priority for his first 100 days in office.

According to the Mirror, Cardona has stirred some controversy with his decision not to intervene in the city of New Haven’s rejection of reopening schools, despite the fact that a petition urging the school board to reconsider gathered hundreds of signatures.

Lamont has allowed local school districts to determine whether they will reopen.

“The schools in the suburbs stayed open,” Lamont said, shaming New Haven officials by adding that black and Hispanic students in New Haven have not been given the opportunity for in-person learning because of the decision of the city’s school board.

“[T]hat’s one of the worst inequities I can see,” the governor said.

Connecticut’s teachers’ unions have also stood their ground in blocking the reopening of schools.

On December 10, union bosses brought a petition, signed by some 14,000 Connecticut teachers and school employees, to the state capitol, calling for Lamont and Cardona to order all schools closed until the unions’ safety plan was fully enacted.

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