by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Will Biden’s education agenda be one of common ground, lowered temperatures, and getting kids back to school—or will it be one of culture clashes, resurgent union power, and blue state schools that stay shuttered into fall 2021 (or even beyond)?
The most obvious tea leaf to read is Miguel Cardona, Biden’s nominee for secretary of education and a safe bet to be rapidly confirmed. Unfortunately, Cardona is very much a blank slate. Having spent most of his career out of the public eye—first as a classroom teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent in a smallish district in Connecticut, and the past 18 months as head of Connecticut’s education agency—Cardona has no clear public stance on charter schooling, testing, teacher unions, tenure, “reform,” higher education, and the rest.
This ambiguity has allowed Biden to sidestep intramural Democratic educational debates, which threatened to boil over in December, for instance, when it appeared Biden would nominate former National Education Association chief Lily Eskelsen Garcia. Biden had boxed himself in, having repeatedly promised on the campaign trail that he’d name a public educator to run the Department of Education. All of which made Cardona, a veteran teacher and principal who didn’t even qualify as a dark horse candidate 10 weeks ago, an appealing “stealth” nominee.
Cardona is a likable figure who touches key bases for Democrats. …
… The teacher unions (which were going to have to approve any Biden education secretary) have welcomed his appointment. So have charter school advocates, relieved that Biden didn’t name someone openly hostile to school choice. And the media has shed their DeVos-era playbook with amusing haste, rediscovering the ability to fawn. …
… While Cardona may be a blank slate, the appointees who will serve with him suggest that the Biden education agenda may well be driven by the White House and make it pretty clear that the “reform” Democrats have been routed in the internal staffing wars.