Nation's Top Education Leader One-On-One With NBC 5 On Pandemic Turn Around

The NBC 5 series Beyond The Mask asks leaders how they will help schools dig out of the pandemic academic slump

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One might think the solution to fixing the post-pandemic academic slide may lie with a certain teaching style or tutoring technique but the leaders in Washington D.C. and our teachers in the classroom are touting something else to get schools succeeding.

"I would argue in some places it was working before," said Secretary of Education for the United States of America, Miguel Cardona.

Cardona may be the top education leader in this country, but last year in the thick of the pandemic, like Mike Morath led Texas, Cardona led Connecticut through it as their education commissioner and as that smile suggests, Connecticut was doing a lot better on student performance than Texas.

"I recognized that race and place were still determinants of success in our country and it was made worse with the pandemic before the pandemic opportunity was not equal throughout our country that's my passion," he said from his office on the national mall.

Cardona's rise to this position was fast, he was a principal a little more than five years ago and teacher shortly before that. He says money is already being spent on summer programs, tutoring, and WiFi towers, but he says the big pivot needed in education will actually be fixed outside the classroom.

"If there's anything we learned in the pandemics it that we have to look at the child in totality, we have to make sure they eat, we have to make sure they feel cared for and we have to make sure they feel welcomed," Cardona said.

Just a few blocks away from Secretary Cardona's office, Texas Senator Ted Cruz had a different idea.

"My deep deep passion is school choice, I think school choice is the civil rights issue of the 21'st century," Cruz said.

He pushed to give parents $10,000 to send kids to schools that were open and high-performing saying if the money follows the child, the schools will be forced to perform better.

"Even if one democrat had voted for it, it would have passed, and I think it's a crying shame Congress was not ready to step up and provide a lifeline to these kids," Cruz said.

"Well the answer is to listen to the educators, not the politicians," said Kim Anderson, Executive Director, National Education Association, based in Washington. "If you listen to educators they will tell you what works.

Anderson represents teachers in Washington and says while politics is always a part of it, both sides do seem unified in searching for solutions. 

"What is exciting is we are seeing some of the old fault lines in education begin to drop away, everyone understands we have to come together and collaborate and do what's right for students," she said.

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