- U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said education leaders must consider organizational innovation at the central office and school level, alongside programmatic innovation, during a fireside chat with AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech at the School Superintendents Association’s annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee.
- “Don’t think we’re going to solve tomorrow’s problems with our school and district design of yesterday,” Cardona said, adding that districts must communicate with and engage families and communities in the process of determining how American Rescue Plan funds are spent.
- Cardona said he strongly believes education spending in the next 10 years will be influenced by what people see happening in the next two years. “It’s really important that we think about that as we become innovative in our communication strategies and in our engagement with families on how to spend the money,” he said.
Cardona highlighted the challenges facing educators, which have been compounded by teacher shortages that existed even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While President Joe Biden’s budget includes a focus on teacher development, and ARP plans can also be used to help on this front, Cardona said the nation must prioritize paying teachers a decent salary. Teachers shouldn’t be working two to three jobs, a scenario he noted many found themselves in even before the pandemic.
Additionally, he cited a need for better working conditions — including an environment where teachers aren’t lifted as heroes in their communities one week and vilified the next. And they must be given better opportunities for professional learning and benefits like public service loan forgiveness, Cardona said.
Teacher voice is critical, Cardona added. They know what’s happening with students and what is impacting them. And just as students and their families have experienced traumas from the pandemic, he said, so too have teachers and administrators, creating a need for supports that consider the “whole educator.”
“No one signed up for leading in a pandemic, but we’re here. We did sign up to help students,” Cardona told attendees. “I can tell you that the work you’re going to do in the next two years is gonna be transformational for our country. This is the closest to a reset we have.”
In a follow-up conversation with K-12 Dive, Cardona reiterated the opportunities school and district leaders now have to communicate with families about what is being done to support their children with the unprecedented influx of education spending.
That means more thorough communication and engagement are needed around how decisions are being made, he said. “We're seeing across the country that people feel very strongly about certain topics. So it's incumbent upon us as educators to think about how we're engaging our families, even those who disagree with some of the policies, so they understand some of the rationale.”
Among ARP-supported programs that have stuck out to him have been a community partnership in Camden, New Jersey, where the local Boys & Girls Club is working with the district to provide students with after-school support, recreational activities, mentorship and other opportunities.
“As a father, my children are in high school, and their success matters to me. And because of what happened over the last two years, I want to know more,” Cardona said. “School and district leaders understand that this next chapter of education can't look like what it looked like in March 2020.”
Finally, Cardona suggested districts could create parent academies that help families better understand the role of schools and what’s happening in them, as well as to provide opportunities for parents to level-up their own skills.
“Education unites,” Cardona said. “And I'm really confident in these leaders, who've gone through the fire, that they're the ones that are gonna lead us out of this and bring education to a place it's never been."