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Editorial: Miguel Cardona is a strong pick for education secretary

Editorial: Miguel Cardona is a strong pick for education secretary

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In an open letter to educators two weeks ago, Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona addressed the challenge of opening schools in the middle of a pandemic:

“If we provide safe in-person learning options for students, whenever possible, we can ensure we are doing everything in our control to level the educational playing field and reduce gaps in opportunities for our students. If we can do it safely, this is what we owe to them.”

That’s exactly right. Placing students front and center suggests that President-elect Joe Biden is doing the right thing by selecting Cardona as his education secretary.

Biden had promised (and the education lobby had demanded) an educator in that slot. Cardona certainly fits the bill: He’s been a teacher, a principal, an assistant superintendent and, for the last 16 months, the commissioner of a state education department that oversees some 200 districts. Although there had been fears that Biden would nominate someone too close to teachers unions, Cardona has instead earned a reputation for balancing competing interests, particularly between establishment education professionals and reform-minded advocates.

Biden, who has made reopening schools a major goal of his first 100 days, should also have confidence in Cardona’s priorities. Throughout the pandemic, Cardona has underscored the social and educational hazards of all-remote schooling, particularly for students of color, and pointed to the lack of evidence for extensive COVID transmission in classrooms. While he didn’t have the power as state commissioner to require schools to stay open, he did use federal aid money to ensure that all students in need had laptops and internet access, helping to prevent those stuck in remote or hybrid classrooms from falling even further behind.

On a personal level, too, Cardona seems like a sound choice. He certainly highlights an all-American story: Born in public housing to Puerto Rican parents, and growing up speaking Spanish at home, he became the first in his family to go to college and rose to become the state’s first Latino education commissioner. As the father of school-age children, he also knows the challenges parents face all too well.

That said, Cardona should be prepared to answer some tough questions in confirmation hearings. After a relatively short time running one state’s schools, does he have the necessary skills to oversee a $67 billion bureaucracy? How does he feel about progressive demands to forgive some or all of the $1.5 trillion in student loans on the federal government’s books? Is Connecticut’s new requirement that Black and Latino studies be offered in every high school curriculum starting to have the results he hoped for? Does he share Biden’s misguided skepticism of charter schools?

Such concerns aside, Cardona’s focus on students first is surely the right approach, especially as the pandemic puts them under unprecedented strain. For that reason alone, Biden looks to have made a solid selection.

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