Secretary Cardona’s Quagmire
“I think it was President Reagan who said, ‘We’re from the government. We’re here to help!’” That was a recent post from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, who has it wrong. President Reagan actually said: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” It’s a funny mistake for an education secretary, but it’s understandable.
According to his official bio, “Cardona earned a bachelor’s degree from Central Connecticut State University, and a master’s degree and PhD from the University of Connecticut.” The bio does not explain that the degrees are all in “education.” The Secretary also reflects an institutional problem.
Cardona heads a federal Department of Education (ED), which dates only from 1978. The new department was Jimmy Carter’s payoff to teacher unions for endorsing him in his presidential run. Top-heavy with bosses bagging six-figure salaries, ED did nothing to improve student achievement.
The 1983 A Nation at Risk report warned that “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” America’s “once unchallenged pre-eminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world.” And so on.
Education is the purview of the states, so, strictly speaking, ED should not exist. President Reagan failed to eliminate the department, and subsequent presidents made no move to take it down. Despite his ignorance, Cardona may not be the worst bureaucrat to head the department. Consider Arne Duncan, the selection of Barack Obama.
Like Clinton, Obama sent his children to the prestigious Sidwell Friends School, which is unaffordable for the majority of students in Washington, DC. The best alternative is the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships Program, a Congress-run school choice program. The program is popular with African-American parents but opposed by teacher unions and federal education bureaucrats.
Arnie Duncan, who chose to study sociology at Harvard, captained the anti-choice team. As the Washington Post stated in a 2009 editorial, “Mr. Duncan decided—disappointingly to our mind—to rescind scholarships awarded to 216 families for this upcoming school year.” Nine out of 10 students who were shut out of the scholarship program were “assigned to attend failing public schools.”
White Arne Duncan ejected black students from the schools their parents wanted them to attend. That’s much worse than botching a quote from Ronald Reagan, but the comparison shouldn’t end there. In January, Secretary Cardona announced the “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” initiative, which gives no role to school choice.
Secretary Cardona is from the government, but he is not there to help. Like Arne Duncan, he’s part of the anti-choice team, which is rather extensive. Forty years after A Nation at Risk, with failure on every hand, Democrats and Republicans remain unwilling to side with parents as they fight for the freedom to choose the schools their children attend as a matter of basic civil rights.