For some education advocates, the Biden administration brings the promise of conditions more amenable to progressive causes, such as the safe reopening of schools and additional funding for public education in Black and brown communities.
As the national director of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), Keron Blair has spent much of the last four years organizing with legions of teachers, students, parents and community members around these issues.
He vowed to continue along that path, regardless of who now occupies the White House.
“We’re hoping that Education Secretary Miguel Cardona will come to deliver on promises of investing in public schools, making sure we’re leading with equity and reopening schools when it’s safe to do so with the infrastructure in place for Black, brown, and poor students,” Blair said.
More than a year ago, AROS hosted a public forum during which Democratic presidential candidates, including now President Joe Biden, outlined their agenda before an audience of parents, students and educators committed to public education and racial equity.
The organization has since facilitated days of action where activists coalesce around issues of importance for Black and brown communities.
“Those are good signs,” Blair continued as he touted Biden’s choice for education secretary.
“Cardona’s selection signals a willingness to move on a number of things that are important to us [like] making sure that educators and school staff are paid well and there are restorative practices in schools,” he said.
Biden Administration Gets Started Despite Pandemic
An executive order signed by President Biden earlier this month mandates the Department of Education to collect data about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on schools. This includes how schools are measuring students’ academic progress, how many K-12 systems across the country have launched in-person learning and the degree to which students aren’t signing on to virtual learning platforms.
The degree to which the Biden administration may be able to actualize its vision of a safe reopening has been called into debate, particularly due to teachers’ unions apprehensions about reopening. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) recently issued a five-point safe reopening plan that highlighted smaller class sizes, the mass deployment of public health tools and collaborative efforts of teachers, parents and community leaders as key points.
AFT leadership didn’t reply to The Informer’s inquiry about its leadership’s thoughts about education policy and the phased reopening of schools as the Biden administration takes over.
Sights Set on Racial Equity
Other items on Biden’s agenda concern increasing teacher pay, access to mental health resources and other wraparound services in schools and securing investments in early childhood and middle school education.
But well before clinching the presidency, Biden expressed a desire to prioritize racial equity, boosting educator diversity and forging a pathway for students in underserved communities to acquire a postsecondary education.
These points resonated with Serena Lewis, an academy manager for D.C.-based nonprofit Words, Beats and Life (WBL). She has spent the better part of the pandemic preparing to facilitate a virtual learning component intended to allow Black and brown students to study the music business and arts activism.
With the WBL’s first virtual learning cohort scheduled to start next week, Lewis said she’s looking forward to seeing an embrace of arts education by the Biden administration and the additional funding that reflects the president’s goal to improve students’ access to extracurricular programming and instructors of various racial, ethnic and professional backgrounds.
“Representation matters because sometimes students in Black and brown communities don’t connect with their teacher. They simply don’t look like them so they’re not feeling them,” Lewis said. “We make sure we take that into account when we hire our teaching artists for the academy. They’re from the D.C. metropolitan area and want to let [our students] know that they deserve access to all that education has to offer.”