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U.S. Education Secretary Discusses the Future of American Schools at HGSE Conference

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U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel A. Cardona spoke about pandemic recovery and federal investment in education at a Harvard Graduate School of Education conference Friday.

Throughout the event, Cardona discussed post-Covid-19 educational recovery, teacher shortages, and suggestions for the use of pandemic-era government funding.

HGSE Dean Bridget T. Long introduced Cardona as “a local leader with a global vision.” Long praised Cardona’s tenure as commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education, during which he oversaw the state’s transition to remote learning and subsequent efforts to safely reopen schools.

In opening his remarks, Cardona said one of his “greatest fears” in his role as Education secretary is the American education system returning to its pre-pandemic state.

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“That didn't work for too many students,” he said. “We've normalized disparities in opportunities and outcomes as a country. Returning to the same system would be failing our students.”

During his discussion, Cardona attributed recent teacher shortages to a lack of respect for the teaching profession.

“We talk a lot about teacher shortages. Teacher shortages are a symptom of a teacher respect issue,” Cardona said.

He added that the “ABCs of education”— agency, better working conditions, and competitive salaries — can help make the profession more desirable.

Cardona said school districts should prioritize using recent government funding to improve access to mental health services, connect with higher education and workforce partners, and develop a strong instructional core.

“The question is, do we have the will to match the unprecedented resources with unprecedented urgency?” he asked. “Are we willing to embrace the disruption and combat complacency with the same fervor we fought Covid?”

In response to a question about how to produce large-scale change in America’s education system, Cardona advised investment in educational institutions rather than individuals.

“I always say, let's invest in systems, not superheroes — because superheroes leave. And if the superheroes leave, they take their great ideas with them — what’s happening to the system?” he said.

Cardona used “Flor Pálida,” a song by Marc Anthony about wilted flowers, as a metaphor during his remarks. He described schools and students as roses that are either wilting or flourishing, depending on their conditions, and added that teachers are the key to help struggling students blossom.

“The resources provided by the federal government allowed for fresh new soil and better gardening tools,” Cardona said. “But we together — we are the master gardeners that must provide the nutrients, the care, and the attention that our wilted roses need.”

—Staff writer Paton D. Roberts can be reached at paton.roberts@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @paton_dr.

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