With the chaos of 2020’s global pandemic, many are wondering about the changes that will be coming as our country’s leadership changes. These curiosities are no different in the world of education.
After much speculation over who it would be, it's now official: President-elect Joseph Biden has nominated Connecticut State Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona to join his cabinet as Secretary of Education. The entire nation has eagerly anticipated this cabinet pick because the state of the education industry was thrown into an upheaval this year. If Cardona is confirmed, we will continue to anticipate what actions he will take. Here's what we know about Dr. Miguel Cardona:
Who Is Miguel Cardona?
Miguel Cardona grew up in a Spanish-speaking household as the child of Puerto Rican immigrants and a public school student in Connecticut. He was first in his family to attend college, but he had higher aspirations in the education sector. Cardona has a bachelor's degree in education, master's degree in bilingual and bicultural education, doctorate in education, and superintendent certification—all obtained within the State of Connecticut where his roots began and where his own children continue to study in the public school system. For his dissertation, he studied the achievement disparities and gaps between English Language Learners (ELL) and their fellow classmates.
Dr. Cardona began his career as an elementary school teacher before becoming Connecticut's youngest principal at age 28. His experience as an elementary school teacher in Meriden punctuates Biden's intention to nominate a Secretary of Education with classroom experience in a public school. Dr. Cardona later became an assistant superintendent in his district of Meriden, in addition to adjunct professor at University of Connecticut.
Like Biden, Dr. Cardona's plans include safely returning to in-person schooling, with educational equity as one of his top priorities. This includes supporting all students in having access to technological resources that would help close digital learning gaps during the pandemic. According to a statement made by Biden, "He will help us address systemic inequities, tackle the mental health crisis in our education system, give educators a well-deserved raise, ease the burden of education debt, and secure high-quality, universal pre-K for every three- and four-year-old in the country."
The Biden Education Plan: What’s New
To help ease those other curiosities over what the future of education would hold, President-elect Joe Biden released his “Plan for Educators, Students, and Our Future” last year, with information on his plans for the coming years. Here are a few of the highlights.
Funding for Teachers
The first education initiative in Joe Biden’s education plan is to increase funding support for teachers. There are three specific areas in which this funding is planned:
Raising Teacher Pay – The most recent data (from 2018) suggests that teachers make about 21.4 percent less than workers in comparable positions. Biden’s education plan calls for increasing Title I funding threefold to provide a raise to teachers in low-income schools.
Investing in Additional Education for Educators – Teacher mentoring programs and continuing education are vital to keeping our educators prepared for current schooling needs. Biden’s plan aims to fund these options as well as offer extra pay for teachers who pursue certifications in high-demand focus areas.
Cover Student Loans for Teachers – The existing Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program could use an overhaul, and Biden has plans to do just that. In addition to educators, this will benefit government and non-profit employees alike.
Schools have enough to worry about. Crumbling infrastructure and schoolyard violence should not be among these concerns. Fortunately, the Joe Biden education plan addresses these problems as well.
Fund Mental Health Programs in Schools – Mental health funding is woefully inadequate in most communities across the country, with devastating effects. Experts estimate that between 13-20 percent of children in our country have some mental health struggle. Yet far too few get the help they need to thrive. The plan aims to double the number of mental health workers in our schools while partnering with higher education to promote related courses of study.
Create Community Hubs – Schools don’t operate in a vacuum, and what happens in the community generally will impact what happens in its schools. By funding programs like after-school care, social services, and adult education programs in our school systems, Biden aims to turn our schools into community hubs. The hope is that this will allow community leaders to identify at-risk families and those with unmet needs, then provide appropriate interventions.
Improve Safety in Schools – The American Society of Civil Engineers has identified an underreported problem plaguing our public schools. In a survey of close to 100,000 public school buildings, they found that our school facilities are rated as a D+. This is largely due to lack of funding for repairs and upgrades to school buildings and public school infrastructure. Biden plans to incorporate these facilities into federal infrastructure spending programs, allowing communities to make repairs and implement new technologies for energy efficiency and tech labs.
Work to End Gun Violence – Every time a major incidence of gun violence occurs in one of our schools, the tragedy spurs talk about gun reform. Biden believes it is time to do something about it. He has plans to pass new gun legislation and make schools safer.
Invest in Our Students
In too many discussions about the problems in education, it seems that students are left out of the conversation altogether. Isn’t it time we do something about this? Biden has plans to invest in our students—the future of our country.
Eliminate Funding Gaps – Think of the best schools in your area, and then compare those with the worst. The most common factor that differentiates between the two is funding. Tripling Title I funding will help to eliminate the gap and even the playing field for students across the country.
Promote Educator Diversity – We hear a lot about representation and diversity in entertainment, but it’s far more important when it comes to education. Students from diverse backgrounds should be taught by teachers from equally diverse backgrounds, providing role models they can relate to and emulate. By developing innovative recruiting strategies for teachers from various minority backgrounds, Biden hopes to change the face of teaching to be more inclusive.
Diversify Schools – Of course, diversity in the classroom should go far beyond just the teachers. The Obama-Biden Administration was working toward promoting diversity in schools with desegregation strategies. Biden would like to reinstate these measures and add to them with grants for schools that are working toward diversification.
Innovate in Schools – Teaching has to reach beyond the present to give students the tools they’ll need in the future. Yet many schools are still operating with outdated technology and no funding for upgrades. Biden intends to create a competition to solve common problems in our schools, bringing targeted funding to low-income school districts and new teaching methods and practices to the whole country.
Funding for Special Needs – Families of children with disabilities or other special needs often struggle to find the support they need. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed in 1975, was designed to correct this problem, but it’s never been fully funded. Biden has plans to fully fund IDEA within 10 years.
Invest in the Future
In order to make our education programs truly functional, we need to focus on what happens to students after they leave school. Biden has plans to improve outcomes for students of all talent and ability levels, across all sorts of careers and disciplines.
Funding for Career Programs – Vocational training was once a hallmark of a good school, but today too many have let this slip. Vocational programs have largely fallen by the wayside as we instead prepare students for college. But since not every student wants to attend college, this is not working for a great number of students. Although college prep is wonderful, creatives, makers, fixers, and entrepreneurs are often not college-educated. Career and technical education partnerships are one part of the Biden education plan aiming to correct this oversight.
College Credits for High School Students – For those advanced students who do plan to go on to get a degree, practical classes with college credits are an excellent way to kick-start their dreams. By investing in and allowing Pell grants for such programs, Biden aims to expand their availability to those students who would most benefit from the option.
Invest in Our Youngest Citizens
Once students get to school age, we have a number of programs to help support and provide for them. But what about those formative years before Kindergarten? Biden has plans for this too.
Funding for Pre-K Programs – Pre-K programs abound in higher-income areas, but for cash-strapped families, they’re often hard to come by. Biden wants to work with state governments to provide low-cost Pre-K for all children aged 3-4.
Early Childhood Development Support – By working with pediatricians, Biden aims to fund early childhood development programs in community health centers across the country. He’s also aiming to create grants to provide additional developmental support to communities with a high number of Medicaid participants.
Expand Home Visits – Under the umbrella of the Affordable Care Act, Biden’s plan will offer greater access to in-home visits for childhood development and preventative health concerns. This would include coaching for families struggling with the difficulties of raising very young children.
As you can see, President-elect Joe Biden’s education plans encompass a wide variety of programs and initiatives designed to improve our education system and the communities that surround it. We look forward to seeing all of the changes that the new administration may bring.