Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Wednesday that the COVID emergency that led to a record drop in math and reading scores is a generational opportunity to radically reform the public school system and reorient it toward underserved and underperforming students.
Speaking at a national seminar for educators and administrators, Cardona acknowledged that the school closings that resulted from COVID led to an “appalling and unacceptable” drop in student performance, which was revealed this week in the Nation’s Report Card. But Cardona said the government should respond by transforming the public school system instead of fixing the old system.
“The achievement gaps that have been a stain on our education system are even worse today than they were three years ago,” Cardona said. “Going back to the systems of before the pandemic isn’t good enough. We must resist the temptation to return to systems that were not serving all students well.”
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He said restoring the pre-COVID system isn’t enough to achieve the “transformational change” that’s needed. Plans to simply patch up the old system “fall short of the once-in-a-generational opportunity we are being afforded as leaders,” he said.
Cardona summed up the COVID pandemic by saying, “The system was disrupted for us. Let’s not waste this disruption.”
“We have the opportunity in the next two years to redefine our highest dreams and our highest aspirations of what it means to be a leader,” he added.
Those dreams largely involve the creation of an equity-based educational system, loosely defined as a system that helps students that have been underserved or have underperformed for decades. Cardona’s department this week released a guide on how schools can accelerate learning for students after the pandemic that focuses heavily on building an equity-based system.
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“While COVID-19 has touched all students, it has deepened pre-existing inequities facing students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, multilingual learners, students with disabilities, LGBTQI+ students, students experiencing homelessness, and other underserved students,” the six-page guide states at the top.
The guide endorses several strategies, many of which call for “culturally relevant” lesson plans and one of which stresses the need to put students in touch with “staff who may be more racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse.”
The first panel discussion that convened after Cardona spoke talked at length about the need to inject equity goals into public schools.
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Cardona also said the COVID pandemic is also a chance for school systems to press their state and local school systems for more funding. He said the $130 billion in funding for schools in the American Rescue Plan is just a “down payment” on additional funding that states and localities should be providing to school systems.
“It means using all your political capital to have the one-on-one conversations with your mayors and with your governors about the negative impact that flat funding will get us in our schools,” Cardona said.