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Meet Miguel Cardona, Joe Biden’s 'American as apple pie and rice and beans' education secretary nominee

December 24, 2020

Miguel Cardona will oversee Mr Biden’s ambitious pledge to re-open most US schools within 100 days

President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as education secretary addressed the American public on Wednesday, vowing to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on students as well as long-term, systemic inequities in the US education system.

“Though we are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel, we also know that this crisis is ongoing, that we will carry its impact for years to come, and that the problems and inequities that have plagued our education system since long before Covid-19 will be with us even after the virus is gone,” Dr Miguel Cardona said in an address from Wilmington, Delaware.

Mr Biden announced on Tuesday that he would nominate Dr Cardona, who has served as Connecticut’s commissioner of education since 2019, to oversee the American school system.

Dr Cardona began his career as a fourth-grade teacher in Meriden, Connecticut – his hometown. He went on to become principal of Meriden’s Hannover School, making him the youngest principal in the state. He completed his doctorate in education at the University of Connecticut in 2011.

“In this critical moment in our nation’s history, it’s essential that there is an educator serving as secretary of education,” Mr Biden said while introducing Dr Cardona. “He understands that the deep roots of inequity that exist are the results of our persistent opportunity gaps.”

Dr Cardona’s parents moved to Connecticut from Puerto Rico, and he grew up living in the public system in Meriden, where he attended the public school system as an English-learning student.

“I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans,” said Dr Cardona. “For me, education was the great equaliser. But for too many students, your zip code and your skin colour remain the best predictor of the opportunities you’ll have in your lifetime.”

With the pandemic forcing many school systems to close and shift to virtual learning throughout the country, further disadvantaging some of the country’s poorest students who are hindered by a lack of internet access, Mr Biden and Dr Cardona have pledged to re-open most US schools within the first 100 days of the new administration.

Mr Biden said his plan “includes asking Congress to provide funding needed so we can achieve the ambitious but doable goal of safely opening the majority of our schools by the end of our first 100 days”.

“We can do this if states and cities put strong public health measures in place that we can all follow,” he said.

Dr Cardona also placed emphasis on granting greater respect to teachers as they struggle to juggle an already demanding job under the added pressure and dangers of the pandemic.

“For far too long the teaching profession has been kicked around and not given the respect it deserves,” he said. “It shouldn’t take a pandemic for us to realize how important teachers are for this country.”