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Keeping schools open after the coronavirus pandemic was “insufficient,” Cardona remarked during his speech at the Lyndon B. Johnson building for the Department of Education.
“Our hardest and most important work lies ahead. It’ll be what we’re judged against,” he said. “And I want to be very, very clear: as educators and leaders, we’re either closing educational opportunity gaps or making them worse with the decisions we’re going to make in the next coming months and years.”
Cardona’s speech came as he faces allegations that his department went too far in the push for “equity” and not far enough in helping students during the pandemic.
Within the last month, a national parents’ group sent Cardona a letter outlining a variety of recommendations it wanted him to make for states in reopening. Shortly before that, Fox News Digital reported on an email indicating that Cardona solicited the controversial National School Boards Association (NSBA) letter that suggested parents might be engaging in domestic terrorism.
The department has denied Cardona solicited the letter, which poured fuel onto an already raging debate over critical race theory, “equity” and so-called “anti-racism” within schools. In a letter this week, more than 100 conservative leaders requested his resignation.
On Thursday, Cardona called on the U.S. to not miss the opportunity to “re-imagine education.” He added that the country should “unapologetically address opportunity and achievement gaps that are pervasive in our country.”
“This means acknowledging that many of the students who have been underserved during the pandemic are the same ones who have had to deal with barriers to a high-quality education since well before COVID-19,” he said.
“We can’t lose this moment – this chance for a reset in education – by going back to the same pre-pandemic strategies that didn’t address inequities for Latino, for Black, for Native students; for students from low-income backgrounds, or students from rural communities; for students with disabilities; students experiencing homelessness, or for English learners.”
“Instead, let’s do what America does best. Let’s turn crisis into opportunity.”
Among his many proposals was one to increase Title I funding, which provides federal money for low-income schools. He also voiced support for universal preschool, increasing mental health resources, raising reading levels, “honoring native languages and cultures,” and creating “more meaningful and authentic parent and family engagement.”
Cardona devoted part of his speech to honoring teachers, whom he said “worked courageously to” reopen schools. “Let’s not just talk about honoring educators, let’s make sure they’re treated with the respect and the dignity they deserve,” he said.
“This means a livable wage, it means ongoing professional learning and development, supportive working conditions and a work environment where their voices are welcome as critical partners in our work to improve education. Moving forward, it’s on us to make sure education jobs are ones educators don’t want to leave and that people from all backgrounds want to pursue.”