You Get What You Ask For
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