Education Secretary Miguel Cardona believes that improving teachers’ working conditions is just as important as increasing their pay. In a recent conversation with Education Week, Cardona emphasized the need for collaboration between the Education Department and teachers’ unions to enhance the education system. The International Summit of the Teaching Profession, which brought together education ministers and union leaders from 22 countries, provided a platform for discussing strategies to improve education.
Cardona highlighted the intentional collaboration between his agency and the two largest teachers’ unions in the United States, namely the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. He expressed his belief that their voices and input will contribute to the improvement of teachers’ conditions. This collaboration was emphasized during the summit, which was co-hosted by the Education Department.
While the summit took place, Republican lawmakers summoned Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, to testify before a U.S. House subcommittee regarding allegations of improper influence on the U.S. CDC’s reopening guidance for schools during the pandemic. Despite these challenges, the U.S. delegates identified four commitments for the upcoming year, including partnering with unions to ensure student well-being and academic success, promoting schools as community centers, offering increased support for educators, and modernizing education.
Cardona wants teachers to understand that the Department of Education values their input. He emphasized that the department considers their perspectives and works toward commitments beyond just increasing salaries. This includes improving working conditions, providing professional development opportunities related to AI, and supporting schools to become hub centers. The department’s interactions with teachers and their input influence the grants and initiatives they develop, all in line with their focus on equity, student-centered policies, and the elimination of unnecessary politics within education.
Cardona acknowledged the need for the United States to lead the world in terms of education. Currently, the country ranks in the middle compared to other developed nations in reading and math, which Cardona considers unacceptable. He also expressed concerns about teacher shortages and the lack of respect for the teaching profession in the United States. Cardona aims to address these issues by leading the world in areas such as holistic student support, multilingualism, and establishing strong connections between high schools and industry partners or higher education institutions.
In an effort to demonstrate progress, Cardona visited a dual-language school and showcased strong multilingual programs to international education leaders. He believes that the United States can improve its education system in various aspects to truly lead the world in education.
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What defines a high-quality community school, and why should schools strive to replicate this model?
The schools that demonstrated the safest reopening procedures were the ones closely aligned with the principles of comprehensive community schools. These schools fostered trust, provided resources in various languages to parents, offered mental health support for students, addressed food insecurities within the community, and established liaisons to connect with community partners, ensuring that students had all their needs met.
We have witnessed the success of this model during the pandemic, but even without a crisis, community-centric schools have proven to be conducive to student development and family engagement. Authentic parent involvement becomes more attainable, and a sense of belonging within a community is fostered. I must emphasize that when the pandemic struck, students didn’t lament the loss of their math class but rather the absence of the inclusive and supportive school community. Comprehensive community schools effectively build a family-like environment and a strong sense of community, which greatly benefits students.
You mentioned that simply increasing teachers’ salaries is insufficient; we also need to improve their working conditions. What concrete steps can the Education Department take to enhance teacher working conditions?
First and foremost, addressing the issue of pay is essential. Teachers earn an average of 20 to 30 percent less than professionals in other fields with similar degrees, which is entirely unacceptable. It is crucial not to normalize situations where teachers have to take up second jobs, such as driving for Uber, during weekends. We must treat teachers as the professionals they are.
Furthermore, once teachers arrive at the school premises, their workday begins, and they interact with students throughout the entire day. Perhaps they have only half an hour for lunch, during which they also need to make phone calls and use the copy machine due to the initial busy schedule. They have long workdays. Therefore, it is essential to incorporate dedicated time within their schedule for professional learning, reflection, and the opportunity to observe other teachers. This is one important aspect.
Another aspect to consider is the provision of adequate support and mentorship for teachers. Teacher-to-teacher mentoring should occur during their workday, not their personal time, to facilitate their growth, reflection, and the opportunity to observe their peers. Are they provided with the chance to seek guidance if they encounter difficulties?
Lastly, teachers should have access to professional learning opportunities that align with their specific needs and interests. Furthermore, it is crucial to evaluate if there is sufficient student support staff available in the classroom. Are there paraeducators to assist students who require extra support? Do teachers have access to appropriate technology to meet the students’ needs? Are there enough social workers, psychologists, school counselors, and school nurses available to ensure adequate support for struggling students? Are the administrators well-trained and supported to provide assistance to educators? Is there an instructional leader or manager within the school? Personally, I would prefer to work in a school with an instructional leader.
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Miguel Cardona, the U.S. Secretary of Education, delivers a speech during the "Raise the Bar: Lead the World" event in Washington, D.C., on January 24, 2023.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Education Secretary Emphasizes the Unnecessity of Teachers Taking on Side Jobs
Libby Stanford, January 24, 2023
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What role do you envision ChatGPT and other AI platforms playing in the classroom, and how can the Education Department regulate their usage?
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Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General, provided testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on February 8, 2022, to address the issue of mental health care for young people.
Promoting the Well-Being of Students
The Surgeon General asserts that the deteriorating mental health of children is currently the most critical issue we face.
Authored by Caitlynn Peetz, April 25, 2023
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How do you think Congress and the Education Department should approach the influence of social media on the mental well-being of students?
Imposing regulatory safeguards is a necessity in my view. Think about what happened when cars were introduced – an incredible advancement. Soon after, we recognized the need for seatbelts and airbags. These measures were implemented gradually over time. However, we did not advocate for banning cars entirely. Similarly, we have the potential to collaborate with stakeholders and companies to discuss responsible use of social media or provide guidelines on how it can be utilized for positive purposes. We must learn from our past experiences and consider the impact on children. As a father, I want to ensure that if my child is using these applications, I have knowledge of how they are being targeted. Social media can be beneficial by enabling students to connect with each other. However, if left unregulated, it has the potential to become the Joe Camel of this generation. (Joe Camel refers to a cartoon mascot used in cigarette advertisements that targeted children.)