Educators hopeful Biden administration will enact meaningful changes
President-elect Joe Biden has proposed an expansive education agenda, Dr. Jill Biden will continue her role as a community college professor while in the White House.
President-elect Joe Biden has a close tie to education. His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, is an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College and a member of the country’s largest teacher union, the National Education Association. She will be the first person to hold the title of the first lady while continuing her professional career and the first of few first ladies to be a union member.
(Photo by Phil Roeder/Flickr)
Biden emphasized the representation Dr. Biden would bring during his Nov. 7 election victory speech in Wilmington, Delaware: “For American educators, this is a great day for you all. You're going to have one of your own in the White House.”
Biden campaigned on big promises for education, including tripling the funding for Title I, the federal aid program for schools serving high-poverty students. His plan focuses heavily on the safe reopening of schools amid COVID-19 with at least $200 billion in emergency funding going towards K-12 schools.
In regards to higher education, Biden has adopted progressive policy proposals, including free public college and loan forgiveness.
Biden’s pick for education secretary is highly anticipated, as the administration plans to roll back on many of the policies enacted under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The Trump Administration’s controversial changes to Title IX increased protections for those accused of campus sexual harassment and assault. Stef Feldman, Biden’s campaign policy director, said his administration will return to and expand on Obama’s Title IX policies which emphasized the rights of accusers.
We spoke to professors and recent graduates from UConn’s Neag School of Education about their hopes and expectations for education reform under the Biden Administration.
Safe Reopening of Schools
Asfia Qutub began her teaching career at East Hartford Middle School after graduating from Neag in 2019. She says teaching during the pandemic has revealed the vast inequities in education. When the pandemic hit in March, East Hartford Middle School was not prepared to make the switch to remote learning because many students did not have access to technology.
“The fact that only during a pandemic were we able to get one-on-one computers for our students really showed me that it’s a privilege to have access to technology in that manner,” said Qutub.
She says increasing funding for public schools is a credible and meaningful investment and she hopes the Biden administration will make it a priority.
Isabella “Ivy” Horan says she noticed a lack of consistency and guidance for school districts during the pandemic. Horan is a recent Neag graduate who teaches second grade at Mayberry Elementary School in East Hartford.
“I’m thankful that my school was able to get enough funding to get every student a laptop, but there are still some pieces that I feel like I’m missing to feel extra safe in my classroom right now,” said Horan.
Dr. Todd Campbell is a professor in science education at Neag. He says he is disheartened by the current administration’s lack of reliance on science in regards to COVID-19 and their push to get students back in the classroom without providing the necessary funds and resources for it to be done safely.
“Biden plans to fund schools and provide more resources to be sure that social distancing is possible and that schools have protective PPE,” said Campbell. “He’s thinking about how the federal government should play a role in not letting state and local governments fall so far that they have to cut teachers and professionals at a time when we’re in dire need of them.”
Increased Federal Funding and Oversight
Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos has focused on expanding access to voucher programs for private schools and charter schools. The problem with this, explained Professor Preston Green, is the lack of federal oversight and transparency about where the funding for privatization is being directed.
“The concern that many of us have is that there needs to be more deliberation in terms of what schools get funded and what ideas get funded,” said Green, an expert in educational leadership and urban education.
While President-elect Biden has geared his education policy toward public schools, Green said the administration has also indicated it will also work to ensure other options are also operating under public oversight.
Secretary of Education
President-elect Biden pledged to appoint someone with teaching experience to be his secretary of education. Among the prospective candidates is U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) who was named National Teacher of the Year in 2016 and has worked to make the path to a teaching career easier for minorities.
Educators are hopeful that Biden’s secretary of education pick will be someone who can make informed decisions for teachers and students and who understands the pressures that schools are faced with.
“If you’re making decisions in education, it just makes sense to me that you have worked in the field and you know the ins and outs of what it means to be an educator,” said Qutub.
Green is not only hopeful that the new education secretary will be an advocate for public schools, but adamant about ensuring that students’ civil rights are protected.
“That’s a major concern that I have and I just hope that doesn’t get lost,” said Green.