“He’s brilliant, he’s qualified, and he’s tested,” Mr. Biden said last week as he introduced Mr. Cardona. Mr. Biden had promised to appoint a diverse Cabinet and select an education secretary with public school experience. Mr. Cardona’s selection fulfills that pledge: He is Latino, his parents are from Puerto Rico, and he grew up in public housing and attended public schools before becoming an elementary school teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and Connecticut’s current commissioner of education. The contrast with billionaire Betsy DeVos, the current — and widely reviled — education secretary, who has championed private schools and politicized education, could not be starker.
If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Cardona would take over at a time education is facing its most dire crisis in decades. Mr. Biden has made safely reopening schools closed by covid-19 a major goal of his first 100 days in office, and Mr. Cardona throughout the pandemic has taken a thoughtful and collaborative approach. He has sounded the alarm about the social and educational hazards of all-remote learning, particularly for children of color; has used federal money to help children most at risk; and urged in-person learning by noting the lack of evidence of widespread covid transmission in schools that have reopened. “I’ve lived those challenges,” he said of the pandemic, which he said has “taken some of our most painful, longstanding disparities and wrenched them open even wider. . . . It has stolen time from our children” and in the years to come “we will carry its impacts.”
Mr. Cardona has spent much of his career focused on the achievement gap between Latino and Black students and those who are White or of Asian descent. His doctoral thesis was titled “Sharpening the Focus of Political Will to Address Achievement Disparities.” That’s a plus, as is his recognition that testing is an important tool in determining whether all students are achieving. It is unclear how he will deal with charter schools, but it’s encouraging he has not sought — as some in the Democratic Party have done — to demonize them; he once called them “a viable option” for parents seeking choice. “He is, at his heart, much more of an educator than a politician or an ideologue,” said Dacia Toll, the chief executive of Achievement First, a national network of charter schools that includes several schools in Connecticut.
To be sure, there are questions that Mr. Cardona will need to address during his confirmation hearings, including his views on higher education and how he will manage the vast Education Department. Based on what he has already said and done, we look forward to the answers.