The New York Times Editorial Board published an extraordinary piece on Jan. 2 that said:
“The departing education secretary, Betsy DeVos, will be remembered as perhaps the most disastrous leader in the Education Department’s history.
“Her lack of vision has been apparent in a variety of contexts, but never more so than this fall when she told districts that were seeking guidance on how to operate during the Coronavirus pandemic that it was not her responsibility to track school district infection rates or keep track of school reopening plans.
“This telling remark implies a vision of the Education Department as a mere bystander in a crisis that disrupted the lives of more than 50 million schoolchildren.”
If the Senate confirms President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee, Miguel Cardona, as DeVos’s successor, he will face the herculean task of clearing away the wreckage left by his predecessor — while helping the states find a safe and equitable path to reopening schools.
Beyond that, the new secretary needs to quickly reverse a range of corrosive DeVos-era policies, including initiatives that rolled back civil rights protections for minority children as well as actions that turned the department into a subsidiary of predatory for-profit colleges that saddle students with crushing debt while granting them useless degrees.
There is still more to learn about Cardona. But at first glance, the contrast between him and his predecessor is striking.
DeVos had almost no experience in public education and was clearly uninterested in the department’s mission.
Cardona worked his way up from teacher to principal to education commissioner of Connecticut.
Moreover, he seems to understand that a big part of his job involves using a bully pulpit to advance policies that benefit all schoolchildren and protect the most vulnerable.
He would need to pay close attention to how districts plan to deal with learning loss that many children will suffer while the schools are closed.
Fall testing data analyzed by the nonprofit research organization NWEA suggests that setbacks have been less severe than were feared, with students showing continued academic progress in reading and only modest setbacks in math.
However, given a shortage of testing data for Black, Hispanic and poor children, it could well be that these groups have fared worse in the pandemic than their white or more affluent peers.
The country needs specific information on how these groups are doing so that it can allocate educational resources strategically.
There is an enormous risk that America will be depriving generations of students who need polished educational learning that were the standards in the past.