A response to Secretary Cardona’s interview on PBS News Hour (April 14, 2021)
I’ll start off by saying Secretary Cardona has only been on the job for one month and 14 days. I want to give him and his team a bit of time to organize themselves. I also want to put out there that as a career educator, Secretary Cardona should know the complex issues plaguing K-12 education since K-12 is his area of expertise. He is a former teacher, principal and state education commissioner. So, listening to him on PBS’s News Hour was disappointing at best.
Last night, Secretary Cardona appeared on PBS News Hour for an interview in which he was asked some pointed questions about how ED is going to address:
1) Returning to in-person instruction and its implications for vaccinations
2) Gaps in learning that occurred during the pandemic
3) Standardized testing
4) Gun violence in schools
Since public health is not my domain, I will stay away from zoonotic diseases, vaccinations and gun violence as topics to dissect. What I am going to dissect are Secretary Cardona’s ideas around how K-12 should prioritize fiscal capital, human capital and infrastructure for the remainder of this school year and over the next few years.
Secretary Cardona said ED would “be bold” and “reimagine learning to make sure that we don’t go back to a system that has the same inequities before the pandemic”. His words, not mine.
GREAT, so what does being bold look like and what is this thing called reimagine learning look like?
When asked specifically what that means, Secretary Cardona said being bold and reimagining learning will involve using those nice billions from ARPA to place students in “robust summer learning experiences”, having social-emotional supports” and “academic enrichments” particularly for our Black and brown students. Using ARPA funds for “better interventions” and “smaller classes sizes for those that needed it the most”. “Our students with disabilities need additional support. We know that Zoom learning isn't the same for students that require that one-to-one support or that require hand-over-hand manipulation if there are students that have sensory issues.”
Houston, We Have A Problem. All that talk for decades about making sure the Secretary of Education be an actual educator...would lead to a different approach at the federal level.
According to the Secretary, in order to bring the bold and reimagined learning to students, we need summative assessments that will identify which students win the golden tickets and get to experience robust summer learning, or get to receive better interventions, or sit in smaller class sizes or get one-to-one supports.
Why haven’t we thought of these concepts before? What were we doing before the pandemic, you ask? I don’t know what has been happening in Connecticut for the past 25 years. In the other 49 states districts and schools have been implementing summer learning, afterschool learning, interventions during the day, afterschool and over the summer, providing 1:1 paraprofessional supports for disabled students. Not only do schools have small class sizes many have self-contained classes that hold less than 10 students where students are learning apart from their non-disabled peers. We’ve invested in small schools and smaller learning communities.
So, I’m left scratching my head wondering where is the BOLD and REIMAGINE LEARNING?
I have an idea, let’s be BOLD and for the first time, put adults at the center of the REIMANGINE LEARNING.
That would mean, rather than assessing students to find out yet again, Look Ma--we have achievement gaps. How about we assess the type of learning teachers, paras and leaders created and provided over the past year. Let’s assess who the teachers, paras and leaders are. How effective are they? How diverse are they? Do BICOC, DS, low income, foster youth, unhoused students get the most effective teachers, paras and leaders? Do BICOC, DS, low income, foster youth, and unhoused students get the most tenured teachers, paras and leaders? Do BICOC, DS, low income, foster youth, unhoused students have a revolving door of teachers, paras, leaders because of poor retention at the school/district? Do BICOC, DS, low income, foster youth, unhoused students get tracked into non-challenging or watered-down courses?
That would also mean, rather than spending ARPA dollars on enrichments, summer learning, “better interventions” – guessing the current and previous interventions were not so good--use the power of the department of education which encompasses preschool to 21 and address the gaps in preschool staff training, preparation, curriculum and instruction and access. Address the gaps that exist between colleges of education preparation and the realities of in-service. What teachers, paras, ancillary staff, and leaders learn in pre-service is woefully inadequate.
Secretary Cardona, you can do better. America’s children and parents deserve better. What Secretary Cardona has laid
out thus far is not a restart it is a repeat of the plethora of reform efforts that his predecessors touted. But I guess you get what you ask for.
 ED = Department of Education
 American Recovery Plan Act of 2021
 BICOC = Black, Indigenous, Children of Color
 DS = Disabled Students
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 or the ARPA, was signed into law last week by President Biden.
Some are calling ARPA, and its $170.3 billion dollars in funding, an unprecedented investment in public education. $125.4 billion for state K-12 public education programs and $39.6 billion to higher education. The amount of money allocated to K-12 and post-secondary education may be unprecedented but the programs and services and ways in which the money is to be spent are not.
The activities and programs designated in the ARPA bill are all too similar, even duplicative, to previous education acts that called for “sweeping changes” to address inequities. Like ARPA, those previous acts, most notably NCLB and ESSA, were unable to identify structural inequities because of the unconscious bias lens in which education policies and practices are filtered through. The time is now to demand real structural change that get at root causes of decades long inequities.
What does this bill say schools are supposed to do with precious taxpayer dollars?
$122,774,800,000 dollars for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) will be distributed to states. $800 million of these dollars must be directed towards identifying homeless children and youth and provide them with:
(1) Lost Learning Time: States shall reserve no less than 20 percent of their ESSER funding “to address learning loss by supporting the implementation of evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning, extended day, or extended school year programs, and ensure such interventions respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs and address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on [students of color, students from families experiencing low-incomes, students with disabilities, English language learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and students in foster care].” H.R.1319 - American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Sec. 2001. ESSER Fund
(2) And the remaining dollars are to be used for any activity authorized by ESSA, IDEA, Adult and Education and Family Literacy Act, and the Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.
Below is an illustrative example of the ESSER funds received and how those dollars would be allocated in a state – this example is California. The calculations are courtesy of Learning Policy Institute.
State's Total Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funding
LEA Funding for Learning Recovery (20 Percent Minimum)
Minimum Grants to LEAs (90%)
Minimum - Learning Recovery Grants (5%)
Summer Enrichment (1%)
After-School Programs (1%)
Administrative Costs (Up to half of 1%)
Remaining State Funding (2.5%)
SOURCE: Learning Policy Institute analysis of Congressional Research Service calculations
Rather than spending $170 billion dollars on--
Improving coordination to better prepare, prevent, and response to corona virus let us invest in aligning current emergency agencies (FEMA, Homeland Security, WHO, etc.) with districts and schools to address any potential emergency beyond COVID-19.
Extending the school year, providing summer enrichment, or high-quality, evidenced-based tutoring programs to address “learning loss” let us invest the time to ensure that every student has a teacher or set of teachers, who use high quality curriculum infused with assessments FOR learning. In addition, the curriculum, materials and assessments are taught/implemented using a variety of modalities. AND invest the time to ensure every student has a teacher or set of teachers/staff who are highly effective as evidence by evaluation of practice using a research-based evaluation instrument.
Providing students and staff with safe school re-openings that align with public health guidance, training on sanitation and minimizing spread of infections, and purchasing sanitizing supplies let us invest the time to establish partnerships with local, state and federal building and permitting agencies that address and audit high quality healthy, universally designed school buildings. Invest in building or retrofitting school buildings so that every child attends a school that meets those requirements. AND invest the time to ensure every school is a welcoming and safe environment free of fear and intimidation.
Investing in wraparound supports, including through the use of community schools that have no breadth or depth let us design tribal, rural, urban, suburban wraparound prototypes, to be replicated locally, where members of the child’s natural support group and agency professionals come together to form a treatment team that will communicate and work to help the child overcome problematic mental health, physical and emotional issues.
Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) that aids in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors, including low-income students and children with disabilities, which may include assistive technology or adaptive equipment let us invest in removing the disconnect between K-12 and colleges of education. Colleges of education, where potential educators garner the skill and will to do the jobs they are tasked with when they enter the profession, are the beginning of educator pipeline. This could mean embracing a medical training model of realistic, hands-on training by current practitioners; extending the time in pre-service practice and standardizing pre-service programs and certification at every college, university and across all 50 states and territories.
AND invest in designing and integrating anti-racist and anti-ableist practices and beliefs and its impact on student outcomes into pre-service and on-going job embedded in-service professional learning.
The arrival of COVID-19 shined a blaring light on the vast inequities in our healthcare system; justice system; economic system; and for the purposes of this commentary, the educational system. People took to the streets to expose the way that old systems are not working. People took to the streets to demand real change. It is imperative for the federal, state and local K-12 and higher education institutions to take a step back from
Let us move beyond the short-sighted method of developing policy which fits the old adage of the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Now more than ever, bold leadership is needed to develop transformative education policies which can lead us to eradicating racists and ableist practices that have eroded public education for decades.
Wednesday’s events that unfolded at the US Capitol are a stark reminder that democracy is difficult to attain and maintain.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union...if the over 330 million of us believe in those first few words of the Preamble then we have some work to do to get a more perfect union.
Change is not some big force that comes out of nowhere, a seismic, earth-shaking ordeal. Change is part of our DNA – we exist as moving and ever-evolving humans. Remember that we each possess within ourselves, the power to transform our lives and of those around us.
WE the People are a multicultural band of brothers and sisters who are more alike than different. If WE are to form a more perfect Union, we have to be responsible for that formation. Those in leadership positions can’t do it for us. WE have to look in the faces of our students and parents who have had a different experience, cross the street to our neighbors who may not look like us, pray like us, or speak the same language. When we see injustice or problems that need solving, only WE the People can address and solve them. As Margaret Mead so famously said, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has”.
So yes, Wednesday was a horrible day in US history but we have brighter days ahead.