U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona outlined his priorities for broader investments in the nation’s education system, laying out his vision for continued recovery through the pandemic.
“We must Level Up our entire system of education, from pre-kindergarten through adult education,” said Cardona, during his address Thursday at ED. “This is our moment. It’s our moment, not only to keep schools open, but also to address the inequities that have existed in our school systems for far too long.”
The secretary said that while 96 percent of schools have opened full-time in person, progress is insufficient. He discussed key strategies to help school communities continue to recover from the pandemic and address inequities that have long existed in the education system.
“Our hardest and most important work lies ahead,” said Cardona. “It’ll be what we are judged against. And I want to be very clear: as educators and leaders, we’re either closing educational opportunity gaps or making them worse with the decisions we make in the coming months and years.”
Cardona proposed key actions in four priority areas, including higher education, to guide ED work:
1. Support students through pandemic response and recovery.
· Engaging families as core partners to educators
· Addressing missed instruction through intensive tutoring, extended learning time, and other evidence-based practices.
· Increasing access to social, emotional, and mental health supports for all students.
· Encouraging every student to participate in at least one extracurricular activity.
2. Boldly address opportunity and achievement gaps.
· Increasing funding for Title I schools and for IDEA to close gaps in access to educational opportunity.
· Providing every family the opportunity to start on a level playing field through free, universal pre-K and affordable high-quality child care.
· Investing in, recruiting, and supporting the professional development of a diverse educator workforce, including special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and bilingual educators, so that education jobs are ones that people from all backgrounds want to pursue.
· Challenging states and districts to fix broken systems that may perpetuate inequities in our schools.
3. Make higher education more inclusive and affordable.
· Providing targeted loan relief to student borrowers.
· Holding colleges and universities accountable for taking advantage of borrowers.
· Ensuring borrowers have loan payment options that reflect their economic circumstances
· Making long term improvements to programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and creating a strong Gainful Employment Rule so career programs aren’t leaving students with mountains of debt and without good job opportunities.
4. Ensure pathways through higher education lead to successful careers.
· Reimagining the connection between preK-12, higher education, and workforce.
· Collaborating with the Department of Labor and Department of Commerce to invest in career preparation programs that meet the needs of today’s economy.
· Prioritizing grant programs that allow students to return to higher education or pursue career and technical education programs at any point in their lives and careers.
· Investing in colleges and universities that serve underrepresented groups and increase access to and funding for programs like Pell Grants.
“Our task is not only to improve our education system from where it was before the pandemic, but also to take bolder action to elevate it to lead the world,” Cardona said. “It’s time to reimagine holistic supports for every student, every day, and reimagine schools and school systems designed to meet the needs of our learners.”