Who is Miguel Cardona? [Why was he nominated for Secretary of Education?]

For sports fans a highly anticipated event is the draft: the commissioner walks to the podium and announces, “In the 2020 draft the Biden Team selects, [hesitates] Miguel Cardona” – who?

For weeks speculation circulated among the self-styled educational intelligentsia, would Biden nominate Linda Darling-Hammond, the leader of the education transition team, how about one of the teacher union leaders, Lilly Eckelson Garcia or Randi Weingarten, an urban superintendent, and on and on.

On the evening of December 22nd the Wall Street Journal wrote,

WASHINGTON—President-elect Joe Biden said he would nominate Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona as education secretary, tapping a third Latino for a role in his cabinet.

If confirmed, Dr. Cardona would be tasked with implementing Mr. Biden’s pledge to expand resources for public schools, make public college tuition-free for families making less than $125,000 annually and restore Obama-era student-rights guidelines that the Trump administration rescinded.

Two days later President-Elect Biden introduced the nominee and Commissioner Cardona gave his, “I was born in a log cabin,” speech  (Watch here).  I know I’m being harsh, I listened to John King upon selection as education commissioner in New York State and Richard Carranza to a teacher delegate meeting a few weeks after his selection as school chancellor in New York City. Always a well-crafted speech touching on the universally agreed upon issues, a little personal background, a little “I walked the road.” a little “I look forward to working together.” Who can disagree?

Chalkbeat, the education website got it right,

Choosing the Connecticut education commissioner, a relative unknown on the national stage, allows Biden to briefly sidestep fraught debates over charter schools, teachers unions, and testing that have divided his party. Biden would also fulfill his promise to nominate a former public school teacher to replace Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

AFT President Randi Weingarten gave the selection a thumbs-up,

I’m … incredibly excited that we’ll finally have a new secretary of education. Dr. Miguel Cardona—a former AFT member—will transform the Education Department to help students thrive, a reversal of the Betsy DeVos disaster of the last four years. But Dr. Cardona 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 a deep respect for educators.

Diane Ravitch, in an interview on Democracy Now was cautiously optomistic,

. Well, here’s the thing, is that I think that, in part, Cardona was chosen because he’s noncontroversial. In the end, as I understand it, the choice came down to between Dr. Cardona and Dr. Leslie Fenwick, who is the dean emeritus of Howard University. Dr. Fenwick is an outspoken critic of Teach for America, of charter schools and of, basically, the federal policy of the past 20 years. And I happen to agree — she is a progressive. I publicly supported her on my blog, because I think she would have upended federal policy. And I don’t think the Biden administration wanted to upset the so-called reformers by choosing someone who was so unspoken. Dr. Cardona, on the other hand, has been very low-profile. It’s hard to know if he’s for or against charters.

Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education was given a free hand, wide discretion, and increasingly both bullied and bribed the states through the lure of Race to the Top dollars and threats by the Civil, Rights division of the Department.

I suspect Cardona will be kept on a tight leash, and the other end of the leash will be held by Dr, Biden.

Will Cardona allow state to skip the federally required Standardized Tests?

He may allow states to apply for waivers and suggest/require states to administer a diagnostic test. (For example the NWEA).  “Learning loss” is a hotly debated topic, without any clear evidence. The predictions vary widely and we won’t actually know until later this spring, if at all.

How vigorous will Cardona be in urging school re-openings?

School openings are a decision made at the state and local level. In some states governors set specific guidelines, in others a local decision. It is beyond the scope of the Secretary of Education to do anything except express an opinion. As the vaccine becomes more widely available we hope the COVID rates will decrease and school openings will increase, again, a state-by-state and school district-by-school district decision.

Rescind Betsy De Vos policies?

Yes, and soon after his approval by the Senate.

Charter Schools

Charter Schools are created in state legislation and Trump-De Vos sent dollars previously only available to public schools to charter schools. Will the 900B Stimulus Bill, awaiting the president’s signature allow dollars to go to charter schools, as was the case under the CARES Act?   How aggressively will Biden-Cardona act?

College loans?

A major plank in the Biden campaign was college loans and Dr. Biden, a Community College instructor, has been outspoken; within the first hundred days we can expect an initiative to eliminate or sharply reduce college loans for Community College students.

Other initiatives?

De Vos eased Title IX requirements in colleges across the country allowing colleges to drop women’s sports programs; I expect Biden-Cardona will reinstate the requirements.

Will Biden-Cardona take on urban school segregation?  Encouraging Culturally Relevant Sustaining Education? We’re beginning to enter choppy waters.

While Cardona’s resume is thin, while he referenced equity in his introductory speech you can only dance for so long, the stage has many bumps and cracks.

2 responses to “Who is Miguel Cardona? [Why was he nominated for Secretary of Education?]

  1. The further one is from where teachers and students interact in classrooms, the less influence one has.

    I suspect Cardona will give many speeches that begin with, “I bring greetings from the President of the United States.” Historically, that’s been the main job of the Secretary of Education. Placing Randi or Linda in a position like that would have been an enormous waste of talent.


  2. Pingback: Peter Goodman: Who is Miguel Cardona? | Diane Ravitch's blog

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