During this time of immense change and uncertainty for our nation, the newly elected Biden Administration faces many important decisions. Given the significant disruption to education in America this year due to the pandemic, and the likely long-term consequences, the appointment of the Secretary of Education is one of the most consequential cabinet posts.
Many individuals and organizations are offering suggestions and opining on the relative merit of potential candidates. Some of these candidates have strong ties to special interest groups, rather than the individuals and families who will rely on them to put their interests first.
We find it most productive to focus on a set of characteristics and basic qualifications that a new Secretary of Education must possess. As the president-elect has aptly noted, our nation is divided. To move beyond that division, the Secretary of Education must be someone who deeply values unity and collaboration, is willing to rise above partisan bickering, and will be agnostic about instructional delivery and governance models, so long as they are effective and meet the needs of all students. The Secretary must be committed to supporting the entire public-school ecosystem – both district and charter.
We will gauge the relative fitness of potential nominees against this set of criteria:
- Placing students and families first: The Secretary of Education should first and foremost serve the needs of the young people and adult learners who attend schools, and the parents who send their children to schools. This must supersede all other adult interests.
- Supporting high-quality schools: We must be a nation of high-quality schools, both K-12 and postsecondary. The Secretary of Education must be committed to ensuring students are well served, and to expanding public school opportunities for all. This requires students to be assessed and schools to be held accountable when they are not providing a high-quality education. This includes support for charter schools that have proven to deliver results for students and families across the country.
- Empowering diverse leaders and teachers: Educators deserve respect and support. The Secretary of Education must be a champion for teachers and leaders, committed to elevating the profession. The Secretary must also have a demonstrated commitment to supporting and promoting the empowerment of Black, Brown and indigenous education leaders. Leaders and teachers must be empowered with the flexibility and resources to meet the needs of their specific students.
- Re-imagining learning: The Secretary of Education must move beyond the status quo and support and seek new ideas, new models and opportunities that benefit learners. American students deserve the best educational options available, with an emphasis on evidence-based outcomes.
- Fighting for equity in education: As a nation, we must be relentless about ensuring all students, particularly those who have been historically marginalized – like Black, Brown, and indigenous students, and those from low-income families – achieve academic success, and have access to a high-quality public school. Educational outcomes, and ultimately life outcomes, must no longer be determined by zip code, and the Secretary of Education must have a demonstrated commitment to racial equity in education.
- Experience in K-12 education, preferably at a systems level: Serving the needs of a diverse group of students and families represented within a system of multiple schools requires a balanced perspective and the ability to support the academic as well as social and emotional wellbeing of students. The Secretary of Education must also have a track record of being responsive to all students, especially those impacted by trauma.
- Commitment to supporting the entire public-school ecosystem – both district and charter: All charter schools are public schools, and the Secretary of Education must acknowledge this fact. The Secretary must have a commitment to treating all public schools fairly with respect to funding, facilities and support. Seventy percent of charter school students are Black and Brown; to deny resources to their schools is a racial equity issue.
We urge the newly elected Biden Administration to strongly consider these recommendations when putting forth a nomination for Secretary of Education.
Alliance for Excellence in Education Memphis Lift
Center for Advancing Opportunity National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Charter School Growth Fund National Charter Collaborative
Diverse Charter Schools Coalition National Parents Union
Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools Progressive Policy Institute