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Joe Biden picks Connecticut schools chief as education secretary

The selection delivers on Biden's promise to nominate someone with experience working in public education and would fulfill his goal of installing an education chief who stands in sharp contrast to Secretary Betsy DeVos.

By: AP | Connecticut | December 23, 2020 9:22:33 am
Joe biden, Donald Trump, Biden on trump impeachment, Trump impeachment push by democrats, Capitol Hill seige, US violence, Trump supporters, Nancy Pelosi on trump, world news, Indian expressPresident-elect Joe Biden. (AP)

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s education chief and a lifelong champion of public schools, to serve as education secretary.

The selection delivers on Biden’s promise to nominate someone with experience working in public education and would fulfill his goal of installing an education chief who stands in sharp contrast to Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Unlike DeVos, a school choice advocate whom Biden says is an opponent of public schools, Cardona is a product of them, starting when he entered kindergarten unable to speak English.

In the announcement of his nomination, shared first with the Associated Press, Biden said that Cardona would offer America “an experienced and dedicated public school teacher leading the way at the Department of Education.”

“He will help us address systemic inequities, tackle the mental health crisis in our education system, give educators a well-deserved raise, ease the burden of education debt, and secure high-quality, universal pre-K for every three-and four year-old in the country,” Biden said in a statement.

“As a lifelong champion of public education, he understands that our children are the kite strings that keep our national ambitions aloft ? and that everything that will be possible for our country tomorrow will be thanks to the investments we make and the care that our educators and our schools deliver today.”

According to a source familiar with the President-Elect’s decision, Cardona was selected in part because of his experiences as a former public school teacher, an administrator, a public school parent and someone with the experience to do the job on his first day in office.

The source said one of Cardona’s top priorities as education secretary will be to work with state and local officials to get kids back to school safely amid the pandemic, which Biden aims to achieve within the first 100 days of his presidency. And as a child who grew up in a housing project, he will focus in particular on closing the racial and socioeconomic gaps in education.

Cardona was appointed to the top education post in Connecticut just months before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March. When schools moved to remote learning, he hurried to deliver more than 100,000 laptops to students across the state. Since then, however, he has increasingly pressed schools to reopen, saying it’s harmful to keep students at home.

If confirmed, his first task will be to expand that effort across the nation. Biden has pledged to have a majority of US schools reopened by the end of his first 100 days in office. Biden is promising new federal guidelines on school opening decisions, and a “large-scale” Education Department effort to identify and share the best ways to teach during a pandemic.

Biden’s decision drew praise from public school advocates and the nation’s major teachers unions. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called Cardona a “trusted partner” who will reverse four years of “disaster” under DeVos.

Cardona, 45, was raised in a housing project in Meriden, Connecticut, and went through the city’s public schools before returning to work as a fourth-grade teacher in the district in 1998. At age 28 he had become the youngest principal in the state before working his way up to assistant superintendent of the district.

As an educator, he has devoted his work to improving education for English-language learners and closing achievement gaps between students of color and their white classmates. Both issues have been perennial struggles in Connecticut, which for decades has had among the widest achievement gaps in the nation.

Cardona’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Connecticut examined how to boost the “political will” to close gaps between student who are learning English and their peers. It’s a personal issue for Cardona, whose parents moved to Connecticut from Puerto Rico and who has said he entered kindergarten only speaking Spanish and struggled to learn English.

He was chosen to help lead a 2011 state task force that studied how to close learning gaps in Connecticut and issued dozens of recommendations. In an update on the work in February, Cardona said the state’s gaps have been closing but not quickly enough. At the current rate of progress, he said, it would take until 2060 to erase disparities.

The pandemic has only heightened his concerns about education inequity. In a September video message to special education teachers, he said the pandemic has “further exacerbated gaps in achievement. You are the lieutenants in that battle to close those gaps.”

Those concerns drove his work with Democratic Gov Ned Lamont to provide computers and wireless internet devices to students across the state. In December, Connecticut said it had become the first state to distribute laptops to every student who needed one.

But that isn’t enough, Cardona has said. He recently drew attention to new state data showing that students who are learning online have missed twice as many days of class as those attending school in-person. The data also showed that students with high needs, including those learning English, are far more likely to be considered chronically absent this school year.

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