"For American educators, this is a great day for you all," President Joe Biden said during his November 7th acceptance speech. "You're going to have one of your own in the White House."
Biden was, of course, referring to First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. The First Lady started her career teaching high school English and spent the last three decades working at community colleges.
Education is a top priority for the new administration. Some of the administration's more ambitious and impactful plans will require legislative action, but other changes not requiring bi-partisan support can be guaranteed. Some quick changes that will directly impact educators and families include:
- Cohesive Pandemic Guidelines- The Trump administration advocated for the reopening of schools. Aside from saying "open," it left the decision up to states to determine what's considered a safe reopening. While the federal government has no jurisdiction over States' decisions around public school openings, Biden's team has released a five-step "roadmap" that will at least give schools a blueprint.
- Restoration of Obama-Era Civil Rights Guidances- The Secretary of Education oversees education issues regarding discrimination, segregation, and bias through the Office of Civil Rights. The Trump Administration's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded many civil rights guidances the Obama administration created. These guidances included directives aiming to reduce racial discrimination in school discipline, reduce discrimination towards LGBTQ students, and support students reporting sexual assaults. We could expect Biden's Secretary of Education to restore these guidances quickly.
- A Teacher-Centric Approach- A common criticism of DeVos was that she came to the role with no public education background. Biden's nominee for Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, is a former elementary school teacher and principal with more than two decades of experience in public schools. "Joe knows that the best policies don't come from politics," Dr. Jill Biden said during an October fundraiser. "They come from educators like us.
- A Focus on Racial Equity- In a significant shift from the previous administration, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris identified systemic racism as a polarizing issue crippling American society. The Biden/Harris administration has committed to advancing racial equity. Conversations trickle from the top down, so Biden and Harris's dialogue on ending systematic racism is sure to be discussed in schools across the country. On Biden's first day in office, one of his first executive orders was disbanding the previous administration's controversial, short-lived 1776 Commission. Historians criticized The 1776 Commission for whitewashing America's history with racism, specifically America's role in the slave trade.
- A Celebration of Diversity- According to Harris, Biden convinced her to be his running mate by promising a commitment to diversity. "When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation," Harris said. Harris herself is emblematic of this promise. She's the first woman, first African American, and the first person of South Asian descent to be elected Vice President. The Biden administration has named the first all-female Presidential communication team, appointed the first Latino to lead the Department of Homeland Security, nominated the first Native American Secretary of the Interior, and appointed the first African American Secretary of Defense. How does Biden's effort to diversify his administration affect education? It's representation. If students can look at the most powerful office in the country and see themselves represented, they can imagine limitless possibilities.
As with any new administration, many unknowns will affect both short-term and long-term policies. But one thing is clear: the Biden/Harris administration will make education and educational reform a top priority.