In a recent address, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona described the challenges that schools face in the coming years as they work to recover from the pandemic. “We have a daunting and important task ahead of us,” he said, as he introduced his priorities for education in America, emphasizing the importance of the next few months for addressing the widening achievement gap.
Cardona highlighted the urgency of the moment and said it was necessary not only to bring the education system back to where it had been before the pandemic but to address the inequities that have plagued the system since long before the pandemic began.
“Many of the students who have been most underserved during the pandemic are the same ones who have had to deal with barriers to a high-quality education since well before COVID-19,” he said. Cardona made his remarks Jan. 27 during what the Department of Education described as a "major address," at the department, to lay out his "priorities for continued recovery through the pandemic and improving America’s education system more broadly."
Calling on state and district leaders to take a hard look at their resources and make difficult decisions, Cardona shared a number of key actions he believes should be prioritized for K-12 education:
- Increased mental health supports. Cardona called for improved access to mental health supports for students, including an increased hiring of mental health professionals. He urged districts to use American Rescue Plan funding to hire more staffers and partner with organizations on this issue. He noted one school he visited where every student attended one learning period dedicated to social and emotional well-being or mental health and said he wanted to see that type of work in schools everywhere.
- Academic supports to address unfinished learning. Recognizing the impact that missed learning time has had on millions of students, Cardona urged districts to invest in targeted, intensive tutoring; afterschool programming; and summer learning efforts. “We cannot expect classroom teachers to do it all themselves,” he said.
- Attention to students disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Cardona urged listeners to avoid a return to pre-pandemic strategies that had failed to address inequities. Instead, he called for an increase in funding for Title 1 schools, as well as for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Free universal preschool and affordable childcare were also noted in his priorities for supporting underserved students and their families. As part of these efforts, he urged more “meaningful and authentic parent and family engagement,” recognizing the importance of including parents’ voices in the conversation about recovery.
- Investment in teachers. A livable wage, ongoing professional development and improved working conditions were among the key areas Cardona said could help ensure that teachers are “treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
“This is our moment to lift our students, our education system and our country to a level never before seen,” Cardona said. “Let’s get to work!”