Students need to regain ground lost to COVID-19

Miguel Cardona, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to become secretary of education, would have a full plate even without COVID-19. But the epidemic has been an education catastrophe, and dealing with the fallout from it simply must be Cardona’s top priority, assuming he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Cardona, whose current job is leading public education in Connecticut, no doubt is painfully aware of the challenge. It centers on the fact that millions of children have been out of their classrooms, sometimes for months at a time, because of the epidemic.

There is no substitute for having children in classrooms with teachers looking them in the face. It is that simple.

To their credit, school districts throughout the country have done great things with the “remote instruction” or “distance learning” to which they have had to resort. One very useful endeavor by the U.S. Department of Education would be to collect and disseminate information about techniques — sometimes innovations — used by school districts and individual teachers to reach out to children stuck in their homes.

The vast majority of “remote instruction” has been via the internet. Easily the biggest challenge in that regard has been that many students do not have access to the internet at their homes.

That needs to change — but making that happen is something in which the education department can be a partner, but should not be government’s leader. Other agencies, such as those already working to expand internet access, ought to lead the charge.

An immediate priority for Cardona — and Congress — should be helping students who have fallen behind to catch up. Some states already are looking at possibilities such as summer schools and tutors to do that. Cardona’s role, again, with funding provided by Congress, should be as an expediter — not a dictator of policy in the states.

We hope and trust those in the education department now have already started work on repairing the damage from COVID-19. Once he takes the reins, Cardona should expedite and, if necessary, expand their efforts.


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