Tag Archives: Miguel Cardona

Education with the Biden Team

16 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/16/2021 – Updated 1/19/2021

Joe Biden has garnered wide spread praise for his choice of Miguel Cardona as Secretary of Education; maybe too wide. The co-founder of Bellwether Education, Andrew Rotherham says Cardona is “a Goldilocks on charter schools.”  However, Goldilocks was a fairy tale and Rotherham is a well known neoliberal who campaigns for “school choice.”

At the Democratic convention in 2008, the largest groups of delegates cheering the loudest for their new standard bearers were teachers. They saw in Barack Obama and Joe Biden leaders who would end the destructive nightmare, No Child Left Behind. Linda Darling-Hammond the progressive education scholar advising Obama was viewed as someone who would bring professional sanity to national education policy and end the unjustifiable attacks on public schools and their teachers.

They were not aware of a pre-convention seminar billed “Ed Challenge for Change.” This seminar sponsored by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and real estate mogul Eli Broad included a new group of young wealthy hedge fund managers named Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). They had previously established a relationship with Senator Barak Obama. He seemed to share their ideas on education issues like charter schools, performance pay, and accountability. DFER, Gates and Broad viewed Darling-Hammond as a touchy-feely anti-accountability figure and believed she would destroy any chance that Obama would follow through on any of their education reform initiatives.

The seminar group began subjecting Darling-Hammond to withering criticism. They championed the non-traditional (meaning no education background) leader of the Chicago school system, Arne Duncan, to be the next Secretary of Education. Darling-Hammond was berated as favoring the status quo in education policy for her criticisms of alternative teacher certification programs like Teach For America (TFA) and was seen as too aligned with teachers’ unions. The education scholar was sent back to California without a government role and Obama’s basketball playing buddy joined the Obama-Biden administration.

Now, Joe Biden has chosen a person with an education background to lead the department of education but his experience running large organizations is almost non-existent. He was assistant superintendent of a school district with less than 9,000 students from 2013 to 2019. He then became Education Commissioner of Connecticut. That system serves less than 530,000 students. His primary strength seems to be he has not engaged with the controversial education issues of the day like “school choice” and testing accountability.

Which begs the question, will the Biden-Harris administration support and revitalize public schools or will they bow to big moneyed interests who make campaign contributions? Will Biden-Harris continue the neoliberal ideology of “school choice” or will they revitalize public schools? Will they continue wasting money on standardized testing that only accurately correlates with family economic conditions or will they reign in this wasteful practice?

The evidence is mixed.

The Biden-Harris Team

Miguel Cardona will be taking command at the Department of Education, however, there are many other forces accompanying Biden to Washington DC. One of those forces is the embrace of neoliberalism by people he selected to serve.

Dr. Jill Biden – The First Lady is one of the most important members of the Biden-Harris team in regards to education. She has 30 plus years experience as an educator mainly teaching Community College English. Dr. Biden continued teaching full time at Northern Virginia Community College while her husband served as Vice President of the United States. In 2017 she was named board chair of Save the Children, which works in 120 countries – including the United States – and focuses on the health, education and safety of kids.

Dr. Biden does not have much k-12 background and while serving as 2nd Lady, she did not speak out against the Race to the Top agenda. However, that does not mean she agreed with it.

Gina Raimondo – Biden’s selection for Commerce Secretary is the Governor of Rhode Island and a former venture capitalist at Village Ventures which was backed by Bain Capital. The neoliberal Democrat has pushed “school choice” and billionaire style education reform. Her first selection for Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, Ken Wagner, came from John King’s New York Department of Education. At the time, Wagner was given high praise by New York’s billionaire Chancellor Merryl Tisch. In 2019, Raimondo selected former Teach For America (TFA) corps member and New York City acolyte of Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg, Angélica Infante-Green, to replace Wagner.

Neera Tanden – She is the selection to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden was one of the many youthful neoliberals who were part of the Clinton administration. In 2008, she was a key player in Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign and is CEO of the left leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) which supports Clinton style neoliberalism. One of the Clinton emails that were released by Wiki-leaks during the 2016 campaign was a joint report on education policy from Tandan and a CAP Senior Fellow Catherine Brown. In it they informed Hillary Clinton,

“1. In spite of the challenges that remain, the standards-based reforms implemented over the last two decades have resulted in significant, positive change.

 “2. Teach For America … offers a powerful proof point that it is possible to diversify the teaching force while retaining a high bar.”

Bruce Reed – He will be Biden’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Reed’s own bio states,

“Reed supervised the landmark 1996 welfare reform law, the 1994 crime bill, and the Clinton education agenda. In the Obama White House, he served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to Vice President Joe Biden, working on economic, fiscal, and tax policy, education, and gun violence. … After leaving the Obama administration, Reed spent two years as the first president of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, where he led nationwide efforts to strengthen public education in urban areas.” (Emphasis Added)

Reed also has served as President of the Democratic Leadership Council which embraced neoliberalism.

Reed’s 2016 advice to Hillary Clinton was also revealed in the Wiki-leaks dump. Reed states that choice in the form of charters and higher standards should be the center piece of what we do as a country for education reform. He claimed school districts with elected boards are another part of “broken democracy.” Reed praised the portfolio model of school reform and promoted edtech by holding up Summit Charters as a good example.

Kaitlyn Hobbs Demers – She has been appointed special assistant to the president and chief of staff for the Office of Legislative Affairs. Demers’ résumé includes advising TFA corps members and interviewing future candidates.

Dani Durante – She has been tabbed as Director of leadership and Training. Durante previously served as Senior Director of Operations at OneGoal: Graduation. OneGoal is a non-profit working to advance graduation rates in poor and minority communities. Its major funders include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Susan and Michael Dell Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

Anne Hyslop is assistant director for policy development and government relations at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Alliance is the digital learning advocate (edtech sales) that former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise once led. She noted the new staff’s TFA experience observing it “has been a stepping-stone for a lot of Democratic political folks for some time, so that’s not a surprise.” Durante, like Demers, worked at TFA.

Some Known’s about Cardona

A former member of Bush 41’s education department, Diane Ravitch, has noted:

“The good thing is, first of all, he’s not Betsy DeVos, and every educator in America, or almost every educator, will be thrilled about that. But, secondly, he’s a public school person. He went to public schools. His children go to public schools. He’s been in public schools throughout his career. And that’s a big plus for many people who have been watching the attacks on public education and on teachers for the past four and more years.”

Cardona is a Puerto Rican born in a Meriden, Connecticut public housing project. He was a language learner upon entering primary school. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in bilingual and bi-cultural education and a doctorate in education.

His 2011 doctoral dissertation presented to the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education was titled, “Sharpening the Focus of Political Will to Address Achievement Disparities.” In it he highlighted “patterns of complacency” and “institutional predeterminations” limiting learning opportunities for English Learners. He concluded,

 “Without a focused commitment of political will among educational leaders to make the necessary improvements in academic programs, gaps in student achievement will likely persist.”

From my perspective, it seems that the normalization of failure of the ELL students continues to influence practices.”

However, all is not sweetness and honey with this new nominee. According to EdWeek, Cardona has been affiliated with New Leaders where he participated in a fellowship program. This is concerning because New Leaders is a billionaire financed organization working to replace University based programs training education leaders with a program featuring their own reform ideology. New Leaders embraces the privatization of public schools and the “school choice” agenda.

In a Bloomberg opinion piece, Andrea Gabor gave this advice to Cardona,

“Eliminating or sharply curtailing standardized tests would save states as much as $1.7 billion and allow districts to reallocate resources. For perspective, that is over 4% of the $39 billion the federal government spends on K-12 education, based on 2018 figures.”

Gabor’s piece prompted Education expert Peter Greene to share a compendium of his articles written about the useless nature of the “Big Standardized Test.” He opened his compendium with this simple declarative sentence, “I’ve been banging the ‘Get Rid of the BS Test’ for years, but all the reasons it’s a lousy, toxic, destructive-and-not-even-useful force in education are amplified a hundred-fold by our current pandemess.”

Unfortunately, it appears Cardona disagrees. In 2020, the state of Connecticut got a waiver from testing but did not apply for a 2021 waiver. Cardona sent a memo stating, “State assessments are important guideposts to our promise of equity.” and “They are the most accurate tool available to tell us if all students … are growing and achieving at the highest levels on the state standards.”

This is sad because it has been widely demonstrated that the BS test is useless for measuring student achievement. Their only values are as a profit generating business and creating propaganda to privatize schools.

During his Connecticut confirmation hearing, Cardona responded to a question about charter schools with “Charter schools provide choice for parents that are seeking choice, so I think it’s a viable option.” Hopefully when he gets out of a state that only has 24 charter schools, he will recognize the devastation they are wreaking on public schools.

The other issue Cardona will face immediately is reopening schools for face to face classes. The AP reports that Biden wants all schools opened within 100 days of his nomination. That means all schools open by May 1. If Biden gets his announced recovery package through and 100 million people vaccinated by then, it seems doable. It is concerning that Cardona tried to get Connecticut schools open with the pandemic raging.

A coalition of Connecticut labor unions said in a joint statement. “If selected as Secretary of Education, Dr. Cardona would be a positive force for public education — light years ahead of the dismal Betsy DeVos track record.” That may be true but the labor leaders don’t seem to be in touch with their rank and file.

Nicole Rizzo an organizer for Connecticut Public School (CTPS) Advocates conducted a survey on the (CTPS) Advocates Facebook page in reaction to the Education Union Coalition’s endorsement of Cardona. She found that an extremely small percentage of the 392 educators polled supported his nomination (7.1%), while a big majority did not (92.9%).

Final Comment

At the Education Forum 2020, Joe Biden’s responded to Dr. Denisha Jones’ question will you end mandated standardized testing in public schools? He answered with an unequivocal “yes.” Biden then went on for more than five minutes about why he opposed testing. However as Diane Ravitch has observed, he did not include this policy change on his education agenda webpage.

Jan Resseger shared,President Elect Joe Biden prioritized public school funding as the center of his education plan during his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for President.”  Although he does not specifically commit to ending standardized testing, he does commit to significantly increasing public school funding and elaborates on these five listed points of emphasis:

  1. “Support our educators by giving them the pay and dignity they deserve.
  2.  “Invest in resources for our schools so students grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults, and educators can focus on teaching.”
  3. “Ensure that no child’s future is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.”
  4.  “Provide every middle and high school student a path to a successful career.”
  5. “Start investing in our children at birth.”

There are many reasons for students, parents and teachers to be hopeful that responsible leadership has come to national education policy after a fifty-year drought. On the other hand, it is not clear that the new administration will oppose the destructive “school choice” ideology as a central focus. There are reasons to pay close attention to the neoliberal anti-public school forces embedded throughout this new administration and be ready to once again man the ramparts. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “trust but verify.”

Update added 1/19/2021: Today, Cindy Marten was nominated by Joe Biden to be Deputy Secretary of Education. I have met Marten a few times and believe she is a special kind of leader committed to public education. This gives me great hope. For the first time, we have two educators with deep k-12 experience running the Department of Education. This article from the San Diego Union gives a good synopsis of her education career. In his announcement Biden noted, “Superintendent, principal, vice principal and literacy specialist are all job titles Marten has held in her 32-year career as an educator.”

The appointment makes me think the Biden administration may become the best friend public education has had in Washington DC since the Department of Education was created. Of course, Marten does not walk on water but from my perspective she is the real deal.