Education Week March 1, 2021

The U.S. Senate confirmed Miguel Cardona to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education, placing him in the role as the nation’s education system faces an unprecedented crisis.

Cardona, a former elementary school teacher, principal, and district administrator, most recently served as Connecticut’s education commissioner.

His background—he is a child of parents who came to the mainland from Puerto Rico, and he grew up in public housing projects and did not speak English when he started elementary school—mirrors that of a growing portion of the nation’s students.

Cardona’s selection was met with broad support from education groups across the ideological spectrum. He had a relatively uneventful confirmation hearing, and senators voted 64-33 to confirm him.

In his new role, he will help lead the Biden administration’s efforts to encourage schools that have closed their buildings for nearly a year to offer in-person learning options, even as the nation continues to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virus has sparked major challenges for schools: public health concerns, fears of a financial crisis, and signs that uneven resources and inconsistent responses will wrench open existing inequities for years to come.

After President Joe Biden announced his selection, Cardona committed to helping the nation’s schools tackle those issues while also addressing longstanding concerns about addressing achievement disparities, supporting teachers, and promoting students’ civil rights.

“The problems and inequities that have plagued our educational system since long before COVID will still be with us even after the virus has gone,” Cardona said at a Dec. 23 announcement. “So it’s our responsibility, it’s our privilege to take this moment and to do the most American thing imaginable: to forge opportunity out of crisis, to draw on our resolve, our ingenuity, and our tireless optimism as a people and build something better than we’ve ever had before.”

Biden has pledged to support schools’ reopening and operations by providing additional COVID-19 relief, guidance, and support.

Under Cardona’s leadership, the Education Department will also take on Biden’s pledge for a more aggressive approach to students’ civil rights.

Before he was confirmed, the agency made one of its first major K-12 policy moves of the Biden administration when it informed states that it wouldn’t issue blanket waivers from federally mandated standardized tests. That discussion, and related questions about school improvement and accountability, are likely to dominate the early months of Cardona’s tenure.

by Evie Blad, reporter for Education Week who covers education politics and policy.