Education Secretary Cardona focuses on reducing absenteeism, tutoring, and after-school programs. And he refers to raising the bar, which sounds like A Nation at Risk talk.
Yet there are so many K12 issues that Cardona and the Biden administration could address, lead, and support the states and local school districts.
Here are some educational issues Cardona should drive this new year. If you have more, please share.
1. The Arts
Poor public schools have gone without the arts for years. Cardona should push for qualified art and music teachers for every school.
Every child in K12 should have access to a vital arts program.
2. Career Education
Career-technical education is essential, but companies pushing their agendas into high schools to get workers raises concerns.
Tax dollars should help students decide what careers they want, giving them the chance to experience high school, not creating schools for corporate preparation.
3. Class Size
If schools can’t lower every class (classes like P.E. wouldn’t be necessary), give students access to at least one small class where they are known.
Lowering class sizes in K-3rd grade would also help children get a good start. See the STAR Study.
4. Corporal Punishment
In 2023, The Washington Post reported that 15 states still permitted corporal punishment in schools (St. George, 2023). Like Florida, which vaguely gives a nod to it. Teens who wear the wrong kind of prom dress or misunderstandings resulting in paddling are examples.
Cardona deserves praise for standing against corporal punishment last year in schools, claiming educators should favor evidence-based approaches and that there should be no spanking, hitting, or paddling.
Cardona must study and draw attention to child privacy laws which are currently inadequate.
In 2018, the NEPC published Educating All Our Children: Your Kids, Their Data, No Privacy by Linda McSpadden McNeil.
When children’s privacy is violated in ways that are overt, visible, and knowable, the violation is unquestioned. It is unacceptable. In most cases, it is illegal.
So why is it different when the violation is hidden, opaque, electronic, commercial, and complicated?
6. High-Stakes Standardized Testing
President Biden promised teachers and parents he’d end harmful high-stakes standardized tests. Instead, he pushed assessments even during the pandemic.
Can Cardona show the American people who want these tests reduced or eliminated what, if anything, the Biden administration will finally do to end high-stakes standardized tests?
7. Lead in School Pipes
The Biden-Harris team promised to repair the lead pipes in homes and schools. They’re to be commended for this. It would be nice, however, if Cardona presented a report.
No amount of lead is O.K. for developing children, and it can lead to learning disabilities.
Reading has become a volatile issue, and Cardona has been mostly silent. Many commercial programs with little independent study, but nonetheless called the Science of Reading, are being pushed into classrooms.
The subject of reading deserves a better forum than short, often hostile debates on X.
Cardona should call for a new National Reading Panel to study programs and address reading instruction. The panel should include teachers who teach reading since they were left off the last panel. This panel should consider the concerns of the last NRP member, the only educator on the panel, Joanne Yatvin (Yatvin, 2002). Parents should also be given a voice on this panel. A new NRP would allow for a better collection of the research, old and the latest findings, and a review of the work of the last NRP.
Every public school in the nation should give children several unstructured breaks throughout the school day, supervised, on safe, well-designed playgrounds.
Driving students to work nonstop with mindfulness training or a dozen other excuses to bypass recess should not be permitted.
10. School Buildings
Americans need to know the status of their public school buildings. How are the HVAC systems and air quality? How many school facilities are still falling apart? Are public school buildings safe?
Are new schools being built to support teachers?
11. School Choice
The Biden administration discussed regulating charter schools (Lieberman, 2022). But concerns about vouchers, educational savings account, nonprofit and for-profit charters, and religion in schools needs to be better addressed.
In addition, the Biden administration should describe what they mean by community schools (often called charter schools), partnerships, and social impact bonds and how these schools are still public.
12. School Libraries and Librarians
It’s an abomination to drill children to learn to read in poor schools, and then not provide them a school library with a qualified school librarian.
Closing school libraries has been a disaster in many school districts, see Philadelphia as an example.
13. School Safety
The gun lobby is unfortunately influential, so despite shootings in this country, don’t hold your breath for meaningful gun laws. It was thoughtful of Cardona to visit Parkland.
In the meantime, school administrators must devise creative ways to make schools safe and identify students in their schools who need mental health help. See class size above.
14. Social-Emotional Learning
Concerns about the data collected on students includes social-emotional learning. Teachers always want their students to be socially and emotionally healthy, but social-emotional learning seems more about collecting unnecessary sensitive data about students.
Who is using this information and why?
15. Special Education
Parents are in danger of losing special education services. The All Handicapped Children’s Act reauthorized to IDEA should have evolved into a more inclusive and better programs for students with exceptional needs, but instead it has been hijacked by those who don’t want to pay for it.
Cardona should look into special education and create a task force to study it and determine exactly how much special education funding schools receive and the kind of services students receive. He might start with Tammy Kolbe’s work and the National Education Policy Center report Funding Special Education: Charting a Path that Confronts Complexity and Crafts Coherence.
16. Teacher Preparation
School reform has changed teacher preparation dramatically. There needs to be more effort to oversee these mostly fast-track nonprofit or for-profit programs often connected to charter schools.
Cardona should step up here to promote fully university-prepared teachers, and he should work with university education programs to improve their coursework and degree offerings. The United States Department of Education might provide scholarships to attract young people who want to pursue a teaching career in university education programs, not unknown nonprofits or charter school preparation.
Fast-track groups like Teach for America are a concern because they turn those without real qualifications into the system with little understanding of child development or what’s needed to teach well, and Grow Your Own programs are ill-defined.
While technology is useful to learning, a recent Columbia University study indicates that children read better with paper print not online.
The Guardian cites MIT neuroscientist John Gabrieli, skeptical about the promises of big tech and its salesmen.
I am impressed how educational technology has had no effect on scale, on reading outcomes, on reading difficulties, on equity issues.
Is Cardona behind teachers or for replacing them with technology? Actions matter.
18. Third-Grade Retention
Third-grade retention is unnecessary. No child should be made to feel like a failure. Children can still learn to read in third grade, can still grow and become great learners. Speaking out on this issue would help end it.
St. George, D. (2023, August 10). In over 15 states, schools can still paddle students as punishment. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2023/08/10/school-paddling-corporal-punishment/.
Yatvin, J. (2002). Babes in the Woods: The Wanderings of the National Reading Panel. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(5), 364–369. https://doi.org/10.1177/003172170208300509
Lieberman, M (2022). Lawmakers, Education Secretary Clash Over Charter School Rules. Education Week, https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/lawmakers-education-secretary-clash-over-charter-school-rules/2022/04