Education Secretary on getting kids back in school: ‘We need to go 5 days as quickly as possible’
By Lynda Lopez, WCBS Newsradio 880
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Recently-confirmed U.S Education Secretary Miguel Cardona made his second visit to the Tri-State area this week.
The former Connecticut public school teacher and education commissioner met with New York City Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter ahead of her announcement Thursday to increase the threshold for COVID-related school closures.
Under new guidance, the city’s public schools will close for 10 days when there are four or more new COVID-19 cases within a week, rather than just two cases.
Cardona told anchor Lynda Lopez for the 880 Weekly Rewind that New York City public schools have a smart strategy to begin to address the learning loss that has happened at disproportionate rates in communities of color.
“The impact of the pandemic for our Black and Brown students or students with disabilities has been significant so we have to make sure that as we’re thinking about reopening, we pay particular attention to how to help those students regain whatever was lost and really make sure that when they come back they’re coming back to a system that looks different than what it did before,” Cardona said. “It’s a very low bar if we say we want to go back to how school was before. So we have to set the bar higher and we have to make sure that the programming that we have… are aimed at those students who the pandemic affected most. We have to be very intentional about that, we have to be unapologetic about that, and we have to be bold to say some communities were hurt more than others. We have to make sure we’re taking care of those communities.”
Cardona said it is a priority to get as many students back in classrooms full-time as soon as possible and as safely as possible, but he cautions that it’s not a one-size-fit-all approach across the nation as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise in the northeast and upper Midwest.
“We need to have a level of urgency like we’ve never had to get students in five days a week, but as you know one size does not fit all,” Cardona said. “Not all schools are the same in terms of safety, in terms of ventilation, or not all communities feel as comfortable, or are as vaccinated, and the COVID rates obviously have a lot to do with their level of comfort.”
For Cardona, the key is maintaining mitigation strategies, such as mask wearing, to clear a path for reopening schools.
“I see across the country people getting a little comfortable taking off their masks. That’s going to lead to school closings,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re following those mitigation strategies and in schools we need to make sure we’re communicating with all stakeholders so that everybody’s on the same page. Every day that passes is a wasted opportunity for a student to engage with a friend, with a teacher and learn. So we need to have a high level of urgency and we cannot be satisfied with two days a week, that’s not enough. We need to go five days as quickly as possible. Our kids deserve it. They’re waiting for us. We need to to act.”
As schools focus on reopening, Cardona sees this moment as an opportunity to hit the reset button on a slew of issues that he hopes will fix the education system.
“There’s tremendous opportunity here,” Cardona said. “Yes, we are coming back from something that created trauma for everyone, and we have to heal together, but we’re going to learn, and we’re going to grow together and we have an opportunity to really move education in a direction that it hasn’t moved and at a pace that it hasn’t moved in the past. Our students deserve it, they’ve been sitting at home, many of them, for a whole year, and it’s really, for me, an opportunity to lead at a time when our country needed it most.”
Achievement disparities and improving pathways to career options are among the issues he’d like to address.
“My role as commissioner of education in Connecticut over this past year really cemented a strategy that I think is necessary in order for our kids to achieve their potential and that is working together with colleagues, different stakeholders, making sure that we have people’s different voices at the table early so it’s a shared purpose and a shared strategy to improve the outcomes for all students,” Cardona said. “During the pandemic, we were forced to problem solve together, and we didn’t always agree with all the stakeholders that were around the table, but we listened to different perspectives.”
Cardona said as the country comes out of the pandemic it’s important to run with that collaboraticve strategy to build better opportunities for all students.
A $130 billion investment in the American Rescue Plan to invest in schools and the long-term recovery process will go a long way in improving the country’s education system, beyond just turning on the lights, buying new filters and purchasing face masks, Cardona said.
“It means making sure that our schools are equipped with social, emotional supports that our students and staff are going to need for the next several years, it’s ensuring that we have wraparound services, it’s ensuring that we have good summer learning opportunities for students,” Cardona said. “It’s about giving them rich experiences with relationships so that students can grow and really reengage in schools. We have to heal together and again the American Rescue Plan provides funds for, not only making sure schools are safe, but making sure that the schools that we prepare for our students in the future are better than the schools that they left last March.”
Hear comprehensive analysis of the top stories of the week and original reporting on The 880 Weekly Rewind hosted by Lynda Lopez Friday nights at 7 PM on WCBS-AM New York. Listen to this week’s full show, produced by Neil A. Carousso, on the media player above.