It has been a challenging year for education in the United States. There has been much debate about how to balance the needs of students, teachers, and families during the pandemic. Federal mismanagement of the health crisis has amplified health risks and inequities in educational outcomes for all Americans. It certainly was not reassuring when Betsy DeVos, the former Education Secretary who resigned amidst the aftermath of the Capitol riots, ignored both of these concerns in her response to the pandemic. However, even after experiencing what has to be the most unusual moment in time to enter this career, I still remain hopeful about what can be possible in this field. I am an educator, currently teaching while I am in graduate school, and I could not be prouder of the time I dedicated to help volunteer to elect Joe Biden as President.
As a graduate student training for a career in education, I am more than happy with the choice that President-elect Biden has made by nominating Miguel Cardona as Education Secretary for both professional and personal reasons. Not only is he a public school graduate with teaching experience, he also provides representation for the Latino community. This is the community I call my own and also the fastest growing population in our public schools. Cardona was much like the students I work with as a graduate student in English as a Second Language education. He entered the public school system speaking only Spanish and used that experience to inform his work as a fourth grade teacher and a principal. He completed a master’s in bilingual and bicultural education and earned a doctorate in education at the University of Connecticut, dedicating his training to serving our community. President-elect Biden kept his promise to have a more representative cabinet and nominate an Education Secretary with tangible experience to call upon as he administers our public schools.
The National Association of Educators has welcomed Cardona’s nomination because people in education know he respects the institution of public education. He will serve to further its mission, from helping make free community college a possibility to helping students in and out of the classroom by working to address food and housing insecurity. Conditions outside of the classroom are a major determinant of academic success, so working to improve students’ environments ultimately further the mission of public education.
He will help oversee a well overdue expansion and simplification of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness programs, which will be crucial to the financial stability of teachers like me. President-elect Biden has also proposed a tripling of Title I spending, which would require leadership from someone with significant experience in education like Cardona. He would ensure that our most underserved students and the teachers that work with them will receive these expanded benefits. These measures would help reduce the gaps in spending created by our system of education funding fueled by state tax revenue and local property taxes.
Miguel Cardona not only has the knowledge set crucial to running the Department of Education, he also has the passion formed from his own experiences to be an effective and compassionate Secretary of Education. My whole life, I have understood that my academic success was seen as unusual by others because of my background, even though I was not an ESL student myself. I’ve been the target of backhanded compliments about my own achievements that only serve to put down others that look like me, but did not have the same opportunities as me. I do not want my own students to experience that. I want them to feel secure that they will have the same opportunities as others. Cardona understands the need to reduce the achievement gaps that create stereotypes of what certain students are capable of doing and works passionately to do so. Stories like his give me hope on what I can do to serve my own community through my career and where my students can go after they move on from K-12 education.