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Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona on Nation’s Report Card

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Good afternoon; and thank you.

As your Secretary of Education, I want to be very clear: the results in today’s Nation’s Report Card are appalling and unacceptable—they are a reminder of the impact this pandemic had on our learners, and the important work we must do now for our students.

This is a moment of truth for education.  How we respond to this will determine not only our recovery, but our nation’s standing in the world.

Here’s what we’re seeing in the results.

By most indicators, students’ math and reading achievement, as measured by this one assessment, have declined several points since before the pandemic.  They also tell us gaps in academic achievement between some students and others worsened at our elementary levels.

A once-in-a-generation virus upended our country in so many ways — and our students cannot be the ones who sacrifice most in the long run. We must treat the task of catching our children up with the urgency this moment demands.

But let’s also be very clear: the data prior to the pandemic did not reflect an education system that was on the right track.  The pandemic simply made that worse.  It took poor performance – and dropped it down even further.

As an educator and as a parent — that’s heartbreaking and horrible.  It’s an urgent call to action.  We must raise the bar in education! If looking at these outcomes does not make us want to double down on system-wide academic recovery efforts and use federal funds to provide more opportunities for students, if this doesn’t have you fired up to raise the bar in education, this is the wrong profession for you. 

What we’re seeing today isn’t just the impacts of the pandemic.  While we know our students were tremendously disrupted, as were their families, and that some students dealt with the loss of loved ones in home and school, the results also indicate decades of underinvestment in our students.  If we are serious about leading the world in student achievement, where we belong, we must act with urgency now, but also invest in long term strategies that will keep our students achieving at high levels. 

I’ve been in education for a long time, and I can tell you: in this Administration, President Biden did more for education in the first six months than in the last twenty years. 

It’s why this Administration, unlike the previous one, actually delivered the swift and safe reopening of schools.  This is the leadership that got us from only 46% open for in-person learning when President Biden took office to nearly 100% just nine months later.

It’s why this Administration broke with its predecessor and came in with an actual plan to tackle learning loss from Day One – with concrete support and guidance for schools.

Not only did I say we needed to open schools from my first day on this job, I actually provided guidance on how to do it and worked with those states and districts that were struggling. 

Which is why we fought so hard for the American Rescue Plan – which no Republican Member of Congress voted for, by the way.

Through the American Rescue Plan, we’ve been able to invest in strategies that are showing promising results.

Schools across the country are using ARP funds to invest in tutors, afterschool programs, and hiring more teachers and mental health professionals – in red states and in blue states. These are high-impact strategies that we know result in learning gains and support students’ mental health.

So we know what works for our students – and there are pockets of excellence all over this country.

Initial state assessment results in places like Indiana, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Louisiana show students are making important progress. 

And 65% of urban districts included in the NAEP showed no statistically significant decline in 4th grade reading scores, and 84% showed no such decline in 8th grade reading.

These bright spots are encouraging.  And they show what our hardworking educators, as trained professionals with deep knowledge of how to support their students, can achieve with the right conditions and adequate resources.  But raising the bar means we can’t just be satisfied with pockets of excellence for some — when we have an obligation to build systems of excellence for all.

Raising the bar means keeping standards high for all of our students.  Learning from what we as educators know works for our students – and shaping bolder, sharper plans to accelerate growth in reading and math.

It also means meeting students where they are.

It means supporting our students who’ve been historically underperforming. 

It means supporting students in rural communities who’ve suffered a lot during this pandemic. 

And it means including and supporting students with disabilities—a group do students who I know suffered the most during the pandemic. 

In addition to the work we have been doing since we came on board, we will do three things in the coming days:

  1. The Department will issue yet another resource for educators and state and district leaders on how they can use American Rescue Plan funds to address learning loss. The education field should expect this within one week.
  2. At the Department will also launch a new, expert-led series on the most promising tools to raise the bar and accelerate students’ learning in math and literacy…. We are going to be busy at the Department making sure leading educators and researchers have the ability to share best practices to all 50 states.
  3. And we will push out a Parent Checklist to make sure parents have the tools they need to ensure their children are getting the support they deserve using the Recovery funds President Biden made available. The website is on our page now!

Now is the time for bold action.

To my fellow educators, whether you work in a state education agency, lead a district or school, or are in a classroom every day: we are trained professionals.  We know what to do. We got into this profession to make a difference for children.  We need everyone’s best now!

I’m reminded of what John Lewis once said: “if not us, then who?  If not now, then when?” 

The time is now.  This is our moment.  It’s up to us to raise the bar in education. 

Thank you.



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