Raising the bar on education: US Secretary of Education urges districts to ‘reimagine’ schools

Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 11:12 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is urging school districts across the nation to use federal funding to ‘reimagine’ education as students and teachers work to overcome challenges in the classroom.

“The federal government, our role this year is just as important as in the middle of the pandemic. We want to make sure our kids are coming back to school and are given the opportunity to catch up. They missed a lot the last couple of years,” said Cardona.

The American Rescue Plan allocated nearly $130 billion to education.

“This is the year to really raise the bar on education to give students opportunities that 5 years ago we never thought we could give them. You know with regards to access to technology and devices or programming that involves field trips and after school programs that maybe couldn’t be afforded before,” said Cardona.

A recent National Assessment of Educational Progress shows reading scores for 9-year-olds dropped for the first time since the 1990s and math scores dropped for the first time ever.

“With American Rescue Plan dollars, we want to make sure that their school experience is better than ever. That they have more after school opportunities to engage. That they get tutoring and small group support that their reading skills and their math skills can catch up,” said Cardona.

Cardona believes the money should also be used to invest in mental health programs to support the academic, social, and emotional well-being of students.

He said he is encouraged to see how many districts are already taking a proactive approach.

“They’re looking at mental health support and emotional well-being as a core function. You know, if kids aren’t feeling well or if they’re anxious or they have some other mental health needs, it’s going to be more difficult to learn,” he said, as he applauded the addition of social workers. “In the past it was when kids had an outburst or they had an episode of need or crisis, then we would kick in the support. Now we’re seeing better proactive strategies.”

Cardona said federal funding can also be used to keep teachers on the job and bring other educators onboard.

“We’ve been pushing at the department to use the money to provide bonuses to bring expert teachers out of retirement to work with higher education institutions to get our student teachers into the classrooms earlier,” he said.

American Rescue Plan dollars must be allocated by 2024.

Cardona recently embarked on a six-state trip to help districts find innovative ways to use the federal funding. The “Road to Success Back to School Bus Tour” made stops in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Cardona was joined on some of the stops by Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who has been a college educator for decades.

“We can’t go back to what it was like in March of 2020. That wasn’t good enough,” said Cardona.