Questions for Dr. Cardona


February 2, 2021

We have some suggested questions for Dr. Miguel Cardona’s confirmation hearing to be U.S. Secretary of Education. But to be clear: his nomination should be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Students, families, and communities need someone who will fight for high-quality, equitable public education for all students. Dr. Cardona did that in Connecticut as the Commissioner of Education, and we are confident he will do the same for every student in America. He understands firsthand the needs of students most underserved by the status quo, is willing to challenge adults in the system to make public educational opportunities better for those students, and has ground level experience as a teacher and administrator implementing education policy.

Dr. Cardona also has a record of being a convener of parties with differing views and perspectives, is a consensus builder, and offers an example of strong leadership on issues of education accountability, equity, coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic, civil rights, and educational opportunity. We are highly supportive of his confirmation.

But we have questions for Dr. Cardona that we would like to hear asked by members of the Senate in order to get a better understanding of his values, priorities, and inclinations, recognizing full well that albeit the prospective leader of the U.S. Department of Education, he is still but one voice in the executive branch led by the President.

Our questions:

  1. As Connecticut Commissioner of Education, you stressed the importance of resuming annual summative assessments this Spring. A memo from your state department of education emphasized that “State tests are the most accurate guideposts to our promise of equity for ALL.” Many civil rights, disability, and advocacy groups agree with you. As you know, some states are already asking for a second year off from the annual assessments that are required under federal law. This may be one of the first major decisions you make as Secretary. How do you plan to handle state requests for administering assessments and using the data to identify schools in need of improvement for the current school year?
  2. Connecticut is apparently the first state to close the digital divide to ensure that every K-12 student has broadband access and an internet-connected device. As you know, Congress has appropriated some money for this purpose but has not yet provided any new funds for the E-Rate, the primary and, someone would assert best, federal program for providing broadband access to schoolchildren. As Congress and the President begin the process of finalizing the details of the next COVID relief bill, do you think that major investment in the E-Rate is a necessary part of that package?
  3. We are seeing unprecedented learning losses due to school closures especially for students from historically disadvantaged groups. Many advocates and policy experts are calling for a major expansion of tutoring programs and publicly-funded “pandemic pods” as a way to accelerate learning especially for those students who have fallen furthest behind. Do you see a role for the federal government both with providing and setting policy for such efforts?
  4. Before the pandemic we were seeing tremendous growth in dual enrollment for students whose families or school districts could pay associated tuition and fee costs for those courses. Unfortunately, there continue to be equity issues in that many talented students from low-income and working class families are not able to access a range of, in some cases zero, dual enrollment or AP classes. How can we expand access to dual enrollment and AP, and critically, ensure credits earned are truly transferable among a wide range of at least public colleges? It’s not as if Calculus 101 is that different at a community college vs. a four-year institution. Higher education leaders often say they have “articulation agreements” with other institutions and systems and yet the Government Accountability Office reports nearly 40 percent of college level credits are lost in transfer.
  5. There has been a lot of discussion in the press about executive authority to cancel federal student loan debt, but very little about executive authority to establish tuition and fee free college via the experimental site authority. Would you be willing to exercise executive authority in furtherance of tuition and fee free college if Congress does not act? What ancillary policies to tuition and fee free college do you think are wise to ensure the effort achieves optimal effectiveness? We don’t want to channel students into colleges that might not be the best fit for them, right?
  6. We saw a lot from the Biden-Harris campaign on how it plans to make postsecondary education cheaper for students and families, in your view how we can make postsecondary education better? What would you like to see colleges do to demonstrate they are making a “meaningful” commitment to diversity, socioeconomic mobility, and quality student outcomes? Some postsecondary education institutions are very good at enrolling students from historically underserved groups, but not very good on student outcomes. On the other end of the spectrum, we see some colleges that are very good on student outcomes, but not particularly strong on diversity and socioeconomic mobility in terms of enrollment and price. How do we help and challenge colleges to be better?

We look forward to hearing from Dr. Cardona tomorrow on these and other important issues and to his leadership as our next U.S. Secretary of Education.