President-elect Joe Biden has reportedly chosen Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona to run the Department of Education, passing over two teachers’ union presidents who were suggested for the job. Cardona is a former public school teacher and principal, who only recently rose to the top position in his state.
Cardona received the full endorsement of the Board of Education Union Coalition, a collection of education unions in Connecticut that includes the Connecticut Education Association, AFT Connecticut, and local AFSCME and SEIU units.
The unions’ support follows a minor conflict with the teachers’ unions in his state. This fall, Cardona pressed local districts in Connecticut to keep most schools open for in-person learning despite pushback from teachers’ unions, which aligns with Biden’s comments that he wants to see schools reopen once safety measures are in place.
“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,” said a statement from the union coalition.
Cardona’s family is from Puerto Rico, and they were living in public housing in Connecticut when he was born. His father is a retired police officer, and Cardona was the first in his family to attend college. He attended a technical high school, which he entered through a lottery, and then went on to an undergraduate degree at Central Connecticut State University.
He received his doctorate in education at the University of Connecticut. His doctoral dissertation was on improving educational opportunities for English language learners. After starting out as a fourth grade teacher, he was a principal by the age of 28, then later moved up to be an assistant superintendent before being tapped to run the state education department.
There isn’t much indication on how Cardona will balance the demands of traditional public schools with charter schools and other school choice options. In his confirmation hearing, he said he wanted to focus on traditional neighborhood public schools, but as Education Commissioner he has renewed all of Connecticut’s existing charter school applications.
Dacia Toll, CEO of Achievement First, a network of charter schools in the Northeast, told the Connecticut Mirror that she thinks Cardona is focused on children receiving an “excellent education.”
“I haven’t found him to be pro-charter or anti-charter. It doesn’t seem like he’s focused on governance and structure. What he is focused on are great schools for kids. And I think just more broadly, I haven’t found him to be driven by ideology and politics,” she told the Mirror.
This conciliatory approach may be why Biden selected Cardona over some of the other people floated as options for the position, which include AFT President Randi Weingarten, a long-time union leader and political activist; Leslie Fenwick, an education professor at Howard University, who is a vocal critic of education reform; and Lily Eskelsen Garcia, former president of the National Education Association, who has likened school reform advocates to zombies.
Biden’s education policy is still rounding into form. Biden has said he wants to dramatically increase funding for traditional public schools in poor areas and double the number of school support staff, including nurses, counselors, social workers, and psychologists. He also wants to make college free for students from poor and middle class families.
Biden has said repeatedly that he wanted to appoint a former teacher to run the Department of Education.
The unions and many Democrats are sharply critical of current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is a strong supporter of increasing educational options for school children and takes a student-centered approach to education.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hwxy6qRrBOI&feature=youtu.be (Leslie Fenwick, Urban School Reform)