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Biden Picks a Teacher to Run the Education Department

Miguel Cardona has been a classroom teacher, principal, and Connecticut Education Commissioner

Brian Young's picture
Dec 22, 2020

In a big departure from the last four years, President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Miguel Cardona, a former public-school teacher, and principal, as his Education Secretary. Cardona would replace the controversial Betsy DeVos who has served in the position for all four years that Trump has been in office.

Cardona grew up going to public schools in Meriden, Connecticut after his family moved to the mainland from Puerto Rico. After attending public schools in Meriden, he graduated from Wilcox Technical High School in the city before attending Central Connecticut State University for his bachelor’s degree and earning his master’s, doctorate, and superintendent certification at UConn. All of these are public schools and Universities within Connecticut.

Following college, Cardona came back to Meriden to start his teaching career as an elementary school teacher and a member of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). At 28, he became a principal in Meriden. Cardona was the youngest principal in Connecticut and served there for 10 years. He was named the state’s principal of the year in 2012. He would go on to become a district administrator and assistant superintendent before being appointed Connecticut Education Commissioner in 2019.

The appointment of Cardona fulfills a promise that Biden made to the NEA in July of 2019 when he promised to pick a teacher to be the Education Secretary.

As news leaked of the appointment, education unions began to speak out about the pick. The Board of Education Union Coalition, which is a coalition of unions that represent 60,000 public school employees in Connecticut said:

“Miguel Cardona’s formative experience as a teacher and administrator has been critical to his accomplishments as Connecticut Education Commissioner. He has been tested by the unprecedented upheaval caused by the pandemic. While this challenge has been a rocky road — and many issues remain unresolved — teachers and school support staff have appreciated his openness and collaboration. If selected as Secretary of Education, Dr. Cardona would be a positive force for public education — light years ahead of the dismal Betsy DeVos track record.”

The support from local Connecticut unions was especially important since Cardona has recently sparred with the unions over the reopening of schools. Cardona has been pushing for a safe reopening of all schools, arguing that there is little evidence of high transmission rates inside schools and pointing out that thousands of kids weren’t logging onto virtual classes.

“In-person education is too important for our children to disrupt their education further, unless and until local conditions specifically dictate the need to do so,” Cardona and acting Department of Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford wrote in a letter to school superintendents last month.

AFT President Randi Weingarten, who was considered a front runner for the Education Secretary position tweeted the following:

The AFT followed that Tweet up with an official statement saying:

“Miguel Cardona is not just a proud product of public schools—he’s made strengthening public education and fighting for equity his life’s work. With his experience as a student, fourth-grade teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and commissioner in Connecticut, Dr. Cardona—a former AFT member—will transform the Education Department to help students thrive, a reversal of the DeVos disaster of the last four years.

“But Dr. Cardona, whose family moved from Puerto Rico, won’t just repair the damage done—he’ll act to fulfill the promise and potential of public education and higher education as an opportunity agent for all students, regardless of demography or geography, knowing full well that doesn’t happen without resources and deep respect for educators.

“His commitment to public education, to our students and to listening to and respecting the wisdom of educators will be crucial as the Biden administration helps school districts across America meet the social, emotional, and instructional needs of students and moves to safely, responsibly, and equitably reopen school buildings.

“I worked closely with Dr. Cardona during his time in the Meriden, Conn., school district. If you want an example of how labor and management can come together to improve learning and student achievement, you need only look at Meriden. His deep respect for educators and their unions will travel with him to Washington—and that commitment to collaboration is crucial to providing the resources and social and emotional supports to safely reopen schools.

“There is great potential for a renaissance in public education after years and years of the school wars. That is the hope that Dr. Cardona, with Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Dr. Jill Biden at his side, represents. The Department of Education is the primary vehicle by which the Biden-Harris administration can engage educators, parents, and legislators, and administrators at every level. It can lift up great practices and strategies. Instead of promoting competition, it can foster cooperation; instead of destabilizing, it can help American schools recover and grow. Instead of dividing, it can help students of all diverse backgrounds grow and thrive.

“From day one, educators will have a trusted partner in Dr. Cardona, and I couldn’t be more excited to get started.”

Biden has said that one of his goals for his first 100 days in office is to get the majority of schools reopened for in-person classes. This is sure to put Cardona’s ability to work with school stakeholders like the NEA and AFT to the test and will put him in the spotlight from Day 1.

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