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National News

Miguel Cardona says 'reopen schools.' Here's where he stands on other key issues

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Miguel Cardona says 'reopen schools.' Here's where he stands on other key issues

2021-03-02 05:31:37

By Dwaipayan

Debates about when and how to reopen K-12 classrooms have pitted teachers, administrators, school boards and parents against each other. Colleges are bleeding money. Student debt is mounting. Learners are struggling to keep up with classes online.

Congress is debating another enormous coronavirus relief package that, if passed as proposed by President Joe Biden, would send $130 billion to schools.

Cardona has personal experience with most of the pressing matters in K-12 and higher education, as he's a first-generation college student, a former teacher and administrator, a father of school-age children. Here's where he stands on key issues

Schools can reopen, Cardona says

About 72% of U.S. students attend schools offering full or partial in-person learning, according to Burbio, a company that aggregates school calendars. About 27% attend schools with virtual-only instruction, a figure that's dropped in recent weeks as larger districts inch toward reopening.

Many large teachers unions had pushed back against opening classrooms because they don't trust their districts could do it safely. But more deals have been struck now. After a long dispute in Chicago, traditional elementary and middle school students have the option to return to class. Philadelphia officials just announced plans to start bringing back students for in-person learning next week. And California Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers negotiated additional money for districts to bring students back for in-person learning by April 1.

Students at Durand Eastman Intermediate School in East Irondequoit, NY have assigned seats on the bus which will be theirs for the school year. President Joe Biden has made reopening schools a top priority. Teachers say they feel vulnerable when the virus is widespread in their communities.

Schools can reopen safely without all teachers being vaccinated against COVID-19, Cardona said at his confirmation hearing Feb. 3, a sentiment echoed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released updated school reopening guidelines last month.

Cardona said schools need more resources to reopen and to provide extended learning opportunities. Teachers should be able to get vaccinated swiftly – at public and private schools, he said at the hearing.

"There is no substitute for a classroom experience for our students," Cardona said, adding that he'd bring a "mentality of partnership and clear communication to help recover our public education and reopen our schools."

States must administer annual achievement exams this year, but they can be delayed or modified, and schools won't necessarily have to test remote learners, the Department of Education said last week.

Cardona hedged on the issue in his confirmation hearing, saying it's important to test students for a guidepost on how far they've progressed academically, but that remote learning presents major hurdles.

"If the conditions under COVID-19 prevent a student from being in school in person, I don’t think we need to be bringing students in just to test them," Cardona said.

Cardona stressed that he's in favor of strategies to help disadvantaged children get ahead, such as increasing opportunities for students to take college classes in high school, expanding support for English learners and encouraging more pathways to college and technical careers.

Cardona has repeatedly praised the work of community colleges, calling them "the nation's best-kept secret" in his hearing. Biden said he would push for legislation making two-year programs tuition-free. 

Student enrollment has sunk at these institutions during the pandemic, which is likely to hurt their long-term finances. Cardona said community colleges would be important for economic rebuilding.

“They serve the community, it’s in the name,” Cardona said at his hearing. “What we need to do more is make those programs more available and accessible earlier for our learners.”

The Department of Education sets guidance for how schools and districts should handle issues around civil rights and equity for children, but there's long been debate about the proper scope of that guidance.

Under the Obama administration, the Office of Civil Rights collected data from schools about systemic issues, such as racial inequities in discipline. Under the Trump administration, DeVos and her team focused more on investigating individual civil rights complaints against schools.

Big-picture data-gathering would probably ramp up under a Cardona administration. The Education Department announced a national survey to track how school districts offer instruction this year, with enrollment and attendance rates by race, income, disability and English learner status.

 

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