Forty years ago, a boy walked into a public school in Connecticut. Having been the child of two Puerto Ricans and lacking advanced English skills, he would end up leaving early to his public housing due to the stress of the situation. Forty years later, that boy, Miguel Cardona, is President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Education.
Miguel Cardona has had a lifetime career in the education system. Starting off as a fourth-grade teacher in his hometown of Meriden, Connecticut, he was quickly promoted to become the youngest principal in the state at the age of twenty-seven. He also served as Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning and as an adjunct at the University of Connecticut. Should he be confirmed as Secretary of Education, Cardona will be leaving his current role as Education Commissioner of Connecticut.
When earning his doctorate in 2012, Cardona researched the achievement gaps between English-language learners and other students. This issue has been central to his roles as principal, superintendent, and education commissioner, as he has advocated not only for bilingual learning but also for bicultural learning. He plans to bring the same philosophy to the Department of Education.
Cardona’s confirmation is widely expected, as he garnered bipartisan support in his nomination hearing, where he answered questions about how he would manage the position during the COVID-19 era. One of the most heated debates regarding the pandemic is if, when, and how to reopen schools; on this, Cardona said, “For far too many of our students, this year has piled on crisis after crisis. As a parent, and as an educator, I have lived those challenges alongside millions of families.”
Cardona expects to follow President Biden’s plan to have schools back in session for kindergarten through eighth grade, both quickly and safely. Through collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for expert advice, Cardona believes that Biden’s drive to achieving this goal within his first 100 days in office is feasible.
An issue popular among college students, student debt forgiveness, was also a hot topic at Cardona’s confirmation hearing. Cardona echoed President Biden’s plans to encourage legislation to forgive student debt through Congress rather than unilaterally doing so through the Department of Education. While senators such as Elizabeth Warren believe that action could be taken unilaterally, Cardona called such a move “dangerous and foolhardy,” sticking to a Congress-based plan of debt forgiveness.
The issues of importance to Miguel Cardona and especially his positions on them come as a stark contrast to his predecessor, Betsy DeVos. DeVos received intense criticism from Democrats and teachers’ unions across the country for a myriad of reasons, including her moves to defund public schools in favor of religious private schools and her lack of exposure to public schools in general.
Cardona comes from a completely different background, and his intentions for the office differ greatly from his predecessor’s. Cardona has a lifetime of firsthand experience with the public school system, both as a student and as an adult. As the first Latino nominee for Secretary of Education, he is an example of the system he hopes to foster: one of inclusion, equity, and genuine care for students in every corner of the nation.
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