Rotherham: Cardona a Deft Pick for Ed Secretary at a Time When Political Fights Should Be Secondary to the Disaster Facing Millions of Students
Updated, December 23rd
President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team made a late announcement on Tuesday, revealing that Miguel Cardona, the Education Commissioner of Connecticut, is nominated as the Secretary of Education. Biden will formally present Cardona at a live event in Wilmington, Delaware at 11:15 a.m. on December 23rd.
If you were tasked with creating an ideal Education Secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, you would likely envision someone like Miguel Cardona. Cardona, who currently serves as the education commissioner in Connecticut, possesses all the qualities desired for the position.
Cardona’s background as a teacher and principal tick the necessary boxes for this role. Furthermore, his selection as a K-12 educator does not generate significant division within the political parties.
Cardona’s personal story is truly inspiring. As a first-generation college student who grew up in public housing, he charted a different path after completing high school by pursuing a university degree. Like President-elect Biden, Cardona understands that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Additionally, he did not attend elite institutions, making him relatable to many individuals.
Despite his competence and established reputation, Cardona will not overshadow the educational accomplishments of incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who has her own prominence in higher education.
Cardona’s experience extends to crucial issues such as English learners, equity, and achievement gaps. He even co-chaired a state task force dedicated to addressing these challenges, which are particularly acute in Connecticut. He genuinely cares about the students who are frequently neglected and furthest from accessing opportunities and equity. However, he does not neatly align with either the reform or anti-reform camp.
In terms of education reform, Cardona has taken initiatives towards desegregating schools, aligning with President-elect Biden’s agenda. Additionally, his stance on charter schools is moderate, neither fully endorsing nor opposing them. While not actively promoting the opening of new charter schools, he has renewed existing ones during his tenure as commissioner. Charter leaders have spoken positively about Cardona, even though his primary focus is on district-run schools.
Regarding the reopening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cardona is supportive of returning to in-person instruction. However, his alignment with teachers unions allows him to navigate the debate and find a common ground that fulfills President-elect Biden’s commitment to reopening a majority of schools for live instruction in the spring. Cardona’s appointment also helps Biden avoid potential conflicts within the teachers unions.
It was no secret that Biden and his team were inclined towards choosing a Hispanic nominee for this position. Cardona’s nomination satisfies this preference.
While it remains unknown if Cardona shares President-elect Biden’s passion for automobiles, it is one of the few missing pieces in a virtually tailor-made biography for this moment.
Critics may argue that Cardona lacks a personal relationship with the president-elect, a rarity among cabinet nominees. However, this is indicative of the lower priority placed on the Department of Education in Washington. On the bright side, his selection is based on merit rather than political connections. Some individuals express disappointment that, given the talent pool and the underrepresentation of women in the role of Education Secretary, the position once again went to a man, particularly within the Democratic Party and considering the demographics of the education sector.
If there is any potential risk, it lies in the significant leap from being an assistant superintendent in a small district, a position Cardona held less than a year and a half ago, to becoming the Secretary of Education for the entire United States. However, this challenge is manageable for an individual willing to put in the necessary effort.
It was clear from the start that Republicans were unlikely to have their preferred nominee. At best, they could have hoped for someone like former National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, who shared their views on local control and flexibility. However, Republicans could not expect their desires for school choice and funding to be fulfilled by any of Biden’s picks. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Senate Republicans will oppose this nomination, especially when there are higher-profile targets for them to focus on.
Basically, Cardona represents Biden’s attempt to bring an end to the education wars, particularly the conflicts within the Democratic party. However, the true test will be when specific policy questions arise. This is a strategic choice, especially during a time when political battles should take a backseat to the ongoing disaster facing millions of American students.
Andrew J. Rotherham is a founding member and partner at Bellwether Education, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting educational innovation and enhancing the academic outcomes of disadvantaged students. He also serves on the board of directors for . Additionally, he contributes as an editor at U.S. News & World Report, maintains the blog Eduwonk.com, teaches at The University of Virginia, and acts as a senior advisor at Whiteboard Advisors.
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