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Carol Burris: Cardona Is a Public School Guy

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Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, watched the Senate confirmation hearings of Miguel Cardona for Secretary of Education. She was delighted to hear his responses on issues that matter to friends of the public schools.

She wrote for this blog:

On February 3, I tuned in and listened to Dr. Miguel Cardona’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education.  I was anxious to hear his response to questions about school choice, integration, equity, testing, and schools’ reopening.

I was curious to see if Dr. Cardona would, like his three predecessors, Duncan, King, and De Vos, carry the banner for charter schools and seek to expand the Federal Charter Schools Program. Was he someone who believed that setting schools in the arena to compete benefits students?  Does he prefer the private governance of schools?

The first question on school choice was asked by Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina, who voiced his support for all manner of school choice.

Cardona had a practiced response. He did not mention vouchers. He gave the nod to charters saying that some are excellent, which is true. But then the incoming Secretary signaled where he would put his time and treasure.

“Most parents want to send their children to their neighborhood school. It is important to support all schools, including the neighborhood schools that are usually the first choice for families in that community.”

That statement gives me hope. Cardona did not fall into the trap of using the term “traditional public schools,” a term coined by the charter community. 

“Traditional public schools” is and was always meant to be a disparaging term. Cardona’s innovative elementary school was not “traditional.” The high school I led that had an enriched, challenging curriculum for all where support and racial integration of classrooms and activities were the highest priority was not “traditional.” 

Cardona deliberately chose the term–“neighborhood” to describe public schools. Unlike his predecessors he did not use “traditional” to distinguish them from charters.  And he stated that they are, as our friends at Journey for Justice remind us, “usually the first choice for families in that community.” 

If the listener did not understand what he meant by “neighborhood schools,” he clarified the term later.

He used the term “public,” then corrects himself, saying that charters are public schools (they are legally defined as such in his state). He then talks about the need to support neighborhood schools. He says, “Our neighborhood schools need to be schools where we want to send our children, and he calls neighborhood schools “the bedrock of our country.” Wow.

No person who has spent their life in public schools, especially in leadership, is universally liked. Miguel Cardona has his critics. But as I listened to Miguel Cardona, I was filled with hope. He is devoid of Duncan’s folksy goofiness, the arrogance of King, and the burning hatred of all things public of De Vos.

Miguel Cardona is a public school guy. He chose to spend his life walking among children in public school halls. He knows the road he is traveling, and the stars that guide his way will not be charter schools, vouchers, or billionaire reformers.  

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