English Learner Slated to Lead U.S. Education

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Connecticut Education Commissioner Dr. Miguel A. Cardona to replace Betsy DeVos as the next Education Secretary. Cardona, whose heritage is Puerto Rican, reportedly spoke very little English when he started school, but went on to earn an MA Ed. in Bilingual Bicultural Education before moving on to educational leadership.
Cardona spent the first five years of his career teaching elementary students before serving as an elementary principal for ten years, while being the Meriden District’s art curriculum supervisor and graduating summa cum laude in his Bilingual Ed MA and his Doctorate in Educational Leadership. He went on to become the district’s assistant superintendent, adjunct professor of educational leadership at University of Connecticut, and then became the state’s Commissioner of Education in August 2019.
“Like many first generation Latinos whose parents came from another country, I had to learn how to code-switch early. At first it was with language, but it soon became necessary for other nuances of the cultures in which I was immersed.,” he wrote in a 2018 article. “Navigating the dominant cultural norms in dress, idiomatic expressions and music, among other things, I was always reminded to stay proud and celebrate my Puerto Rican roots.”
“After several years of teaching, I was fortunate to receive a master’s fellowship in Bilingual Bicultural Education at the University of Connecticut. There I met some mentors and models in education who motivated me to continue my passion for learning and teaching in ways that students enjoy,” continues Cardona in the article. “After graduating, I made the choice not to teach in Bilingual Education, simply because I felt non-Bilingual Education students also need to see Latinos in professional capacities. Like many, I remember what it felt like to be on the wrong side of a stereotype, and I felt it was my purpose in education to evolve the thinking of the next generation. Equity became a foundation for my passion around this time.”
During his 2019 state confirmation hearing, he said, “Education is the great equalizer. It was for me. Our success as a state will be dependent upon how we support students who are learning English as a second language.”
His doctoral dissertation, entitled “Sharpening the Focus of Political Will to Address Achievement Disparities,” suggests solutions to improve the education received by English learners, criticizes the limited opportunities for ELs to participate in extracurricular activities and access to reading materials in Spanish, and contains the telling line, “..it seems that the normalization of failure of the ELL students continues to influence practices.”
Cardona supports the promotion of heritage languages and has encouraged districts to set up dual-language programs. “I think the key thing is making sure we provide support in their native language. We don’t want kids to come in and lose their first language while learning a second language,” Cardona told the CT Mirror in 2017. “It’s really crucial as a state we recognize the assets our English learners have.”


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