President-Elect Joe Biden has chosen Connecticut education Commissioner Dr. Miguel Cardona to be the next US Secretary of Education, according to the Associated Press. While the nomination has not been announced, Cardona has been discussed as a top runner over the past week, and was backed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which urged Biden to include at least two Latino cabinet appointments in his administration. If confirmed, Cardona would be the second Latino Secretary of Education and one of only 13 previous Latino cabinet members in the nation's history.
Over the summer, Biden had pledged that his Secretary of Education would be a teacher at the National Education Association forum for presidential candidates in Houston. “First thing, as president of United States – not a joke – first thing I will do is make sure that the secretary of education is not Betsy DeVos, it is a teacher. A teacher. Promise."
Indeed, Biden's pick stands in sharp contrast to the current, controversial Secretary who has neither personal nor professional experience in public education. According to reporting from the Hartford Courant, Cardona was raised in public housing in Meriden, Connecticut and exclusively attended public and state-run schools, earning a doctorate in education from UConn. In keeping with the President-Elect's campaign promise, he has also taught in public schools – Cardona began his career teaching fourth grade at Hanover Elementary School. He quickly advanced, however, when the principal encouraged him to apply for her job. At just 28 years old, he was the youngest principal in the state. He eventually transitioned to the administrative side of education in the central office of his district.
Cardona was appointed to his current position last year by Governor Ned Lamont, mere months before the coronavirus pandemic sent public education into crisis. He has been a proponent of in-person education throughout the pandemic. "Our position has always been when you can get students into the classroom, that’s the best option,” Cardona said in October. “There is no replacement for that experience in the classroom with a teacher.” While not without controversy, it is a position that complements Biden's goal of reopening schools in his first 100 days in office.
Cardona has been described as a strong, student-focused collaborator who remains ever-aware of structural inequities – both in and out of school – that impede and support student success. In an article for the Connecticut Mirror, executive director of the Connecticut Center for School Change, Richard Lemons, who worked alongside Cardona improving instruction and leadership development in Meridan schools, agrees. "He is very passionate about serving children well, very passionate about making sure our systems of education do a better job of serving kids, families and communities that have long been marginalized, especially kids of color, kids of poverty. He believes in doing this work through people, not at people, not on top of people." During his tenure as education Commissioner, Cardona cited closing Connecticut's achievement gap between racial and socioeconomic groups as "the top of the list for me."
Cardona's appointment is still more than a month away, and subject to confirmation by the Senate. However, based on his work over the decades and the past year as education Commissioner, it is reasonable to believe that we will hear an emphasis on strong public schools as a means of promoting equality and advancement. In his confirmation hearings in Connecticut last year, Cardona told lawmakers. “The passion I have for public education stems from my belief that it is the best lever for economic success and prosperity in Connecticut, and the belief that public education is still the great equalizer. It was for me.”