Schools need to be innovative and inclusive when planning comprehensive programs as students return to full-time in-person learning, advised U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and two former education secretaries — John King Jr. and Arne Duncan, who both served under the Obama administration — during a virtual education summit hosted by the CAA Foundation Thursday.
The quick rollout of high-quality academic resources and supports should be prioritized, along with efforts to build engaging but safe social interactions among students. Building a sense of community will be necessary as students acclimate to being back on school campuses, the secretaries said.
While acknowledging the task of pandemic recovery in schools is enormous, the secretaries encouraged school systems to use federal stimulus funding, community partnerships and best practice approaches as they rebuild education programs, particularly when supporting the needs of vulnerable students.
The virtual summit, which also included advocates, actors and youth leaders, focused on building support for public education and increasing awareness about the hardships marginalized students faced during the pandemic.
Regarding the ways school systems can use money from the American Rescue Plan to improve services for students, Cardona said, “We need to adopt an equity lens in all that we do and in systematized best practices to make sure that it's not just random acts of good activities.” He added: “This is a rare opportunity for us to kind of hit a reset button on a lot of the things that we used to do.”
Duncan urged summit attendees to not just react to the pandemic but to reimagine a better education system. For example, Duncan suggested educators think about providing Pre-K-14 services so learning is extended to both young children before they enter formal schooling and to young adults after high school.
The secretaries, guided by questioning from Chiefs for Change Chief Operating Officer Julia Rafal-Baer, also discussed the desire to diversify the education workforce. Attracting and retaining professionals of color and providing a leadership pipeline can be boosted through grow-your-own programs, collaborations with community colleges and by monitoring data to meet diversity goals, the secretaries said.
“We have to match our actions to our words,” King said. “We shouldn't hire if we haven't interviewed a diverse pool. The [National Football League] has a policy like that, but schools don't, and so we end up with pools that aren't diverse to begin with.”