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A New Education Department, 100 Days, 130,000+ Schools, Is Reopening Possible?

Thinking about the last 12 months has left me…well…THINKING! What a year for our schools. 

As a supplier to the education community, I never could have imagined such a year. And I am sure most of you are in the same boat. And now President Biden has introduced his initiatives for the next 100 days and the coming year. For education, to get students back in school is going to prove to be a very challenging agenda item and not an easy one for most schools. But the new Secretary of Education looks like a very good fit and I am encouraged about the potential to actually get our students on-site once again.

No One in the Education Department Could Have Imagined the Past 12 Months.

If we stop to think about “Re-opening our schools”, who would have believed at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year that they would all be closed??? And now the new education department is tasked with reopening thousands of schools across the country while making it safe for more than 50,000,000 students and almost 4,000,000 teachers.

We must be able to open safely and that means confronting the pandemic straight on with safety measures and protocols to help. And, building the confidence in both our teachers and our parents that it is actually safe to return to on-campus learning.

Frankly, that is a pretty big-ticket to fill and I am very glad President Biden’s nominee, Dr. Miguel Cardona will be in charge and not our previous Secretary of Education. I am quite certain Betsy DeVos was never a teacher, never a principal, never a superintendent, and definitely never an administrator. It would be quite impossible for her to relate to any of these educator positions and, as such, most likely impossible for her to meet the challenges this agenda brings. Dr. Cardona, on the other hand, has been in every one of these jobs and has excelled in each. His experience should prove invaluable in carrying out President Biden’s agenda for education.

Dr. Cardona has extensive experience in schools

Dr. Cardona appears to be a strong choice as the incoming Secretary of Education in more ways than just addressing the pandemic and reopening our schools. Starting his career as a 4th-grade teacher in a Connecticut public school gave him the foundation to better understand the issues all teachers and school administrators face. He quickly became a principal, the youngest ever in Connecticut, and progressed through positions of leadership in the public school system until he became Commissioner of Education. In that position he has been exposed to the many problems schools are facing, including the current pandemic that all of us in the US are battling.

The new education department believes in the power of public education

Dr. Cardona is a strong believer in the public school system and has a wealth of experience there.  He believes strongly in education for all and his history has shown a dedication to bringing equality of education to all children.  He has said many times that education for all is necessary and that the public school system is the best way to achieve that goal. Raised in a housing project, he worked hard his whole life while continuing to focus on his own education. During his confirmation hearing for the Commissioner of Education in Connecticut, he stated

“The passion I have for public education stems from my belief that it is the best lever for economic success and prosperity … and the belief that public education is still the great equalizer. It was for me.”

Dr. Miguel Cardona

The previous education department and administration was likewise in favor of re-opening schools and getting our children back into an on-site learning environment. But, as was often the case, there seemed to be a lack of leadership and substance behind the thought and little was done to actually make it happen. Now, it seems as though there is a single-mindedness regarding our schools, both public and private. Dr. Cardona was already working on a strategy in Connecticut to get the children back on campus and had spent considerable time working with educators to achieve exactly that. Meeting this challenge will take more than Dr. Cardona…it will take all of us.

COVID-19 isn't going away anytime soon

Coronavirus is here and will be here for quite a while if our scientists and medical professionals are correct. With the new strains that are being diagnosed, we should not expect it to disappear in the near future. We can begin to diminish the effects of the pandemic, but we cannot completely prevent its spread for the time being. So, following the CDC guidelines and emphasizing these restrictions with parents, teachers, administrators, and the children themselves can be a beginning.

Returning our children in the public school system not only helps education but can also be a stepping stone for improving both our economy and our long-term outlook for education in general.

President Biden's goals may seem lofty

President Biden has set a specific goal of opening the majority of our schools in the next 100 days. We are close to meeting that goal now as a recent study shows that about half of our school children have access to ‘in-person’ learning. But, the study also suggests that the actual number of students participating in on-site learning is much, much smaller with parents opting for remote learning instead. Much of this is a result of the lack of confidence mentioned above.

Another part of the Biden Agenda, to vaccinate 100,000,000 people in the next 100 days should help to alleviate some of that concern and the hope is that more and more children return to the campuses.

The new education department must address our questions

One critical item that Dr. Cardona and the new education department must address is the general belief that the school closures are causing a greater gap when considering education equality. Minorities have been suffering more from the closures and the health departments are now trying to collect additional data to substantiate this information. Previously, most have considered the information coming from the top as ‘untrustworthy’ and people tended to doubt the reliability of the CDC as they were pressured to downplay the material distributed. Now, with scientists back in control and a unified message from leadership confidence has been growing slightly.

President Biden’s Education Agenda also specifies an infusion of $130 Billion or about $2,600 per student. This should be a great help but many are suggesting that money is not the issue. The previous administration left most of the decisions with the states and did not mandate the collection of certain statistics that could be helpful when deciding to reopen schools. It was stated that ‘it was not the Federal Government’s job to track infection rates.’ But, it could have been the government’s job to create standardized metrics for schools and states to deal with the information they gathered.

school leaders reviewing direction from the new education department

Schools need reliable, consistent direction to reopen.

With the help of the CDC and a consistent, reliable direction from the Federal Government, the path to reopening could have been much easier. With that about to be in place, we are likewise beginning to see a stronger effort to actually getting our children back in school.

We have lost enough learning in the last year and we needed a change. President Biden’s Agenda of re-opening schools by infusing $130 Billion into education, creating standardized metrics for opening and staying open, developing consistent school safety protocols, emphasizing reliable messaging from the medical professionals and scientists, aggressively vaccinating the population, and implementing better testing procedures at schools are all a step in the right direction. All of this and a strong focus on education equity throughout our schools, both public and private, can help bring us all back to on-site learning in a safe manner.

In conclusion,

 With Dr. Cardona at the helm, this all actually seems achievable. It is not going to be easy. And there are plenty of naysayers. But, with all of us starting now and consistently working toward the same objective, much can be accomplished.

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

Abraham Lincoln
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