By now we’ve heard a great deal of praise for Miguel Cardona, who has been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to be the next head of the U.S. Department of Education. That praise has included his laudable personal qualities and his personal story as child who came up through the Meriden school system as an English learner and went on to become a teacher, a school principal, a central-office administrator, and now Connecticut’s education commissioner.
We share those views, and note that educators in general are happy to see that someone with such comprehensive, hands-on experience will be the next secretary of education. This will be a tough job as we enter the second year of school disruption caused by the current pandemic.
“We finally realized we need a Secretary of Education who is a leader of K-12 education, who’s been on the front line,” said Richard Schwab, dean of the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, where Cardona studied for his administrative credentials.
“He’s very down to earth and that’s just who he is,” Kellie Summa, a second-grade teacher at Meriden’s John Barry School, told the Record-Journal.
As the R-J has reported, former colleagues also are hopeful that Cardona’s record of attention to improving schools — particularly with regard to English learners, children who live in poverty and other students with special needs — can lead to achievements at the national level.
It should be noted that Connecticut has a big problem with the school achievement gap between white and minority students, and this gap has been evident for a long time. Compare, for instance, Meriden and Greenwich, which have about the same population: Meriden has almost four times the percentage of English learners as Greenwich, more than twice as many children with disabilities, and a much higher poverty rate. And yet, Meriden spends only two thirds as much per pupil as Greenwich spends.
Cardona’s nomination also signals a change in direction for the Department of Education, a change that is probably overdue.
“After the last four years with someone who is so anti-public schools leading the nation, we’ve got someone who is a product of the public schools,” Schwab said.
“Working with the new administration, I am confident that he will be able to reverse some of the disastrous policy promulgated by Ms. DeVos,” said Southington School Superintendent Tim Connellan.
(Betsy DeVos resigned after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.)
Here we are — moving into a new year with a new president and a new education secretary. We can only encourage Cardona to move ahead and face these challenges with a new outlook.