Baylor professors comment on confirmation of new Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona

FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Senate has confirmed him as Education Secretary on March 1. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool, File)

By Anne Walker | Staff Writer

On Monday, the Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, in a 64-33 vote. Baylor education professors are encouraged by his experience in the classroom.

Selecting Cardona, Biden fulfilled a campaign promise to nominate a past public school educator to the cabinet position. Before becoming Connecticut’s education commissioner in 2019, Cardona spent most of his career serving his hometown’s public school system, first as a fourth grade teacher and later as a principal and assistant superintendent.

While some question if Cardona’s limited experience as a state education commissioner qualifies him for the position of America’s chief education official, Dr. John E. Wilson, program director for Baylor’s Doctor of Education in K-12 Educational Leadership, highlighted the value of Cardona’s experiences as a teacher and principal.

“I’m impressed that that person has experience as a principal and as an assistant superintendent and then all the way up through being the commissioner of education for the state of Connecticut,” Wilson said. “With that experience, the person is in a position to understand what teachers deal with, what principals face, what system superintendents and districts are facing.”

Dr. Jon Eckert, Baylor’s Lynda and Robert Copple Endowed Chair for Christians in School Leadership, also emphasized Cardona’s background in education. He portrayed Cardona’s nomination as an opportunity to move away from “top-down solutions” and towards empowering educators to address the unique needs of students.

“Because Secretary Cardona is a long-time educator, I hope that he will use his platform to support the collective leadership of educators — teachers and administrators — as they serve each student. Each student has different needs and gifts, which is what makes teaching infinitely challenging and infinitely interesting,” Eckert wrote via email.

The new secretary of education enters office during what he describes as “one of the most challenging school years in American history.” Out of the many education issues Cardona will tackle, Eckhert characterized reopening schools as the most formidable.

“Educating each student well during a pandemic remains the biggest challenge for our country’s schools,” Eckert wrote. “The good news is, many schools — both public and independent — have figured out how to do this, and we now have data going back to August 2020. The U.S. Department of Education can now provide clear guidance and support for how to do this well based on data from schools that have been successful.”

As Connecticut education commissioner, Cardona gained experience navigating the contentious debate over when to reopen schools. He pushed the state to reopen schools, arguing that school closures exacerbate inequalities.

The decision to reopen schools remains up to state and local leaders, although Cardona holds the responsibility of helping guide and equip schools to reopen.

Wilson commented on Cardona’s role as the secretary of education.

“It’s very complex, but you don’t do it in isolation … You have to have an understanding of linkage and connectivity all through this complex system and how to work with other people to accomplish the right goals for the United States of America,” Wilson said.

One way Cardona can partner with state and local educators to reopen schools is to share best practices. Eckert believes that schools in Waco can provide best practices for providing in-person instruction during the pandemic.

“Public and independent schools as well as Baylor serve as models to the U.S. Department of Education of how to educate students in a pandemic,” Eckert said. “I have been so grateful for safe, in-person classes even when some students have to Zoom in.”

Along with reopening schools, Wilson pointed out that Cardona will make important decisions for other important education issues, such as the Pell Grant and Title I funding. He emphasized the significance of Title I funding for Waco public schools.

“[Title I] is going to be really important because Waco ISD has a fairly high percentage of … students that are eligible for that kind of support. And to reduce that support is not beneficial to Waco ISD, so the secretary is going to have a huge role in this capacity and directly affect Waco ISD,” Wilson concluded.

Cardona will commence his duties as education secretary by returning to his hometown, Meridian, Conn., on Wednesday to speak about reopening schools alongside first lady Jill Biden.