On Wednesday, February 3, Dr. Miguel Cardona, current Connecticut Commissioner of Education and President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, appeared before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee for his confirmation hearing.
Prior to the hearing, America Forward had expressed our support for Dr. Cardona’s nomination – sending a letter to HELP Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) about Dr. Cardona’s qualifications and his ability to bring the voices of students, teachers, school leaders, and families with him to the Department of Education. In addition, we encouraged Chair Murray and the other members of the Committee to use Dr. Cardona’s confirmation hearing as an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the importance of whole-learner approaches to education, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Cardona and the members of the HELP Committee covered a lot of ground during last Wednesday’s hearing. Here are some key takeaways related to the work of the America Forward Coalition:
- Equity. Equity was a theme that ran throughout Dr. Cardona’s testimony, as well as the question-and-answer portion of the hearing. Dr. Cardona and members of the Committee raised the importance of centering equity both in terms of addressing the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on traditionally under-resourced students – including, but not limited to, students of color, students with learning differences, those from low-income families, and those lacking access to remote learning tools — and in terms of sustained efforts to eliminate systemic barriers facing certain students.
- Trauma-informed approaches. Dr. Cardona emphasized the unprecedented toll that COVID-19 has taken, not only on students, but on teachers, school leaders, and families, and expressed support for efforts to intentionally and holistically address the emotional, mental, and physical trauma that has resulted from the pandemic, and which has compounded generations of existing trauma for many people in our school communities.
- Whole-learner education. Along with his emphasis on trauma-informed approaches that address the emotional, mental, and physical needs of students, educators, families and communities, Dr. Cardona also called out the importance of individualized, learner-centered approaches to education. He said one size does not fit all when it comes to education, and expressed the need for learners to have agency in both sharing their lived experiences and shaping their learning opportunities. Specifically, he said, “One test does not reflect the whole child,” which emphasizes the need for more innovative, holistic assessments that measure the breadth of skills learners need to thrive.
- Innovation, evidence, and best practices. During his testimony, Dr. Cardona said we must “remove silos in education by sharing breakthroughs and successes throughout the country, and cultivate schools and IHEs as places of innovation.” His statement speaks to the critical role the U.S. Department of Education has in promoting innovation, rewarding results, and serving as a centralized clearinghouse and technical partner to expand the adoption of best practices.
- Safe and healthy learning environments. Dr. Cardona emphasized the importance of safe learning environments that support healthy development. He talked about the importance of addressing the mental health needs of students – even before the pandemic – and committed to working collaboratively to ensure strong harassment and discrimination protections throughout our education system. He also raised the need for smaller class sizes, in order to strengthen learner-educator relationships and provide more opportunity for individualized instruction.
In each of these areas, Dr. Cardona spoke to priorities that have been at the center of America Forward’s advocacy, and the focus of so many of the organizations that make up the America Forward Coalition.
We remain confident in Dr. Cardona’s ability to lead our nation’s education system in this challenging moment, and we encourage Congress to act swiftly and positively on his nomination. We look forward to the opportunity to uplift the work America Forward Coalition organizations are doing in communities across the country, and to working alongside Dr. Cardona to bring these effective solutions to scale, to drive all of America forward.
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