Miguel Cardona Brings Hope to Position of Secretary of Education

People
By: 
Grant Hosford

The last twelve months have been tumultuous for families, businesses, schools and teachers. With schools closed in most states for the past 12 months, educators came together district by district to re-imagine a new approach to education focused on virtual classes and student empowerment.

Teachers and administrators delivered admirably in most cases but of course there are many unavoidable hurdles with remote learning. Lack of teacher training, poor internet access, minimal childcare options for working parents, and unclear guidelines for testing are some of the many issues that have made life difficult for educators, parents and kids alike.

With new leadership in the White House, we see an opportunity to pave a more forward-thinking path for the future of American public education. Will Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, have the skill and will to implement needed changes?

Dr. Cardona is living proof that drive and education lead to opportunity. His entire career has focused on improving and modernizing the education system. As a former teacher, principal, and district administrator, Cardona has deep knowledge about what works, and what doesn't when it comes to public education.

Now confirmed, the bilingual Miguel Cardona is the first Hispanic secretary of education in US history. He understands the many needs our diverse population of students have. And while he brings a new and needed perspective to a critical role, can he spark tradition bound institutions to adopt approaches that are more fair, effective and focused on 21st century skills?

Before we consider Dr. Cardona's agenda, let's review what skills children need to thrive today and in the future. Remember, a child starting Kindergarten in the Fall will graduate from High School in 2034!

  • Internet device access: Currently, 18 million Americans (9 million kids) lack access to the internet and internet enabled devices (tablets, smart phones and computers).  Internet access is a basic human right in our digital age and is the key to receiving an adequate education both during the pandemic and when kids return to school. The internet is now central to school applications, assignments and socializing with peers.
  • Problem solving skills: Basic knowledge is less important than it once was now that we all carry computers in our pockets. Today, success is generally defined by our ability to source, digest and creatively apply information to create solutions for everyday problems.
  • Collaboration: Team skills are critical for our modern workforce. Learning to plan, manage and execute group projects help children develop valuable executive function and socio-emotional skills.
  • Ownership: Students who get excited about independent learning and take responsibility for their educational path will be likely to outpace their peers. They are also more likely to engage in lifelong learning, giving them a permanent advantage over those with a fixed mindset.

So, what can Cardona implement to set children up for success? In recent testimony during his US Senate hearing, Cardona stated that he will prioritize bringing equality to our education system and making the dream of college more affordable for millions. These are two issues that go hand-in-hand and must be tackled head on during the largest economic crisis the world has seen in a century. As I mentioned, without equal access to tech and resources millions of individuals will join the working class unprepared for a world run by software.

There is now a deep body of research showing that early childhood education is critical to long term success. Kids who enter kindergarten without foundational skills have trouble catching up in a system that works around them, not with them. Breaking down those barriers starts day one of pre-k, not once you get to college.

Earning a college education is still key to the American dream and for millions of Americans it's completely out of reach and unaffordable. Getting costs and the related debt under control will be critical to opening this door for more students, which I’m happy to see is part of Cardona’s plan.

In addition, he’ll need to make sure that every rural town and low-income neighborhood is equipped with access to Wi-Fi. If we’re not able to provide individual tablets or computers to families, computer labs and centers will need to be put in place for everyone to use. Without this basic access, how will children prepare for college in the first place?

In regard to equality and setting a new standard for inclusion, Cardona will need to drive the recruiting and training of black and brown teachers and education leaders. They should be staffed in every school across the nation and every neighborhood no matter their regional demographic. It’s proven that students learn better from teachers who look like them. With more diversity in the classroom, we’ll see a natural shift in students excelling from all backgrounds and students will be more comfortable interacting with a broad cross section of people.

We’ll also need to make sure we update curriculum and teaching practices to keep pace with modern society. For decades we’ve stuck to outdated and old fashioned systems of rote memorization and data regurgitation that won’t serve kids well in the real world. Remember the Pythagorean theorem? Have you used it recently?

As mentioned previously, problem-solving and independent learning are additional keys to success. We’ll need to encourage students to use search engines and other technology to gather and vet data. Then they should practice synthesizing that information to solve problems. Only the most progressive educators are talking about this right now, but these ideas need to go mainstream as quickly as possible.

Overall, Secretary Cardona represents hope for a more fair, more effective and more forward looking approach compared to his predecessor. I have hope that he will lead positive and meaningful change across the country if sworn in but I will be watching closely to see whether he’ll take a modern approach to solving the issues students face today. Will he be able to push entrenched interests into the future? Or will he continue to bandage the systematic faults that have plagued us for decades? Let’s hope he’s determined to “GO BIG.” Time will tell.

 

About the author

Grant Hosford is the CEO and co-founder of codeSpark, the venture backed EdTech company behind codeSpark Academy, the world’s #1 coding platform for young kids.

 

About Secretary Cardona (From the US Department of Education)

Dr. Miguel A. Cardona was sworn in as the 12th Secretary of Education on March 2nd, 2021.

Secretary Cardona previously served as the Commissioner of Education in Connecticut, a position he held after being appointed by Governor Ned Lamont in August 2019.  In this position, he faced the unprecedented challenge of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and led the safe school reopening efforts in Connecticut. To do so, Secretary Cardona and his Department provided school districts with the balance of guidance, local autonomy, and oversight needed to ensure equitable and meaningful educational opportunities for students while also prioritizing public health mitigation measures. Secretary Cardona and the State of Connecticut focused on equity by arranging for student access to technology to support remote learning, helping the state become first in the nation to provide learning devices to fulfill the identified need for all students. Recognizing the increased importance of providing resources for the social-emotional health for students and staff, Secretary Cardona and his team collaborated with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and other stakeholders to provide free social and emotional learning courses.

Cardona's approach to leadership in Connecticut focused on partnerships: within his Education Department; between State agencies; and with local boards, educator unions, school administrator associations, child advocates, and most importantly, students and families.  He attributes his success in Connecticut in part to the strong backing of those partners, as well as support from the members of the Connecticut State Board of Education and his staff at the Connecticut State Department of Education.

Under Cardona's oversight — despite the pandemic — Connecticut launched a statewide FAFSA Data Dashboard; procured a comprehensive statewide Special Education Data System (CT-SEDS); announced the State's highest ever extended graduation rates for students with disabilities and English Learners; reached a new stipulated agreement in the landmark school integration case Sheff v. O'Neill, established the first national requirement for high schools provide courses on black and Latino studies; and initiated systemic improvement protocols that can reach every corner of the state.  His focus on equity and excellence for all learners has driven his work at all levels.

Cardona has two decades of experience as a public school educator from the City of Meriden. He began his career as an elementary teacher.  He then served as a school principal in Meriden in 2003 where he led a school with outstanding programming for three to five year-olds, students that were bilingual, and students with sensory exceptionalities.  He proudly served in this role for ten years.  In 2012, Cardona won the 2012 National Distinguished Principal Award for the State of CT and the Outstanding Administrator Award from UCONN's NEAG School of Education.  Cardona then transitioned to lead the work of Performance and Evaluation in the district.  He then assumed the role of Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, overseeing teaching, learning, and leadership alignment.

A lifelong Meriden resident, Dr. Cardona attended Meriden Connecticut Public Schools, and graduated from Wilcox Technical High School.   He attended CCSU for his Bachelor's degree and UCONN where he completed Master's in Bilingual/Bicultural Education, Administrator Preparation Program, Doctorate in Education, and Executive Leadership Program (Superintendent) Certificate.

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