Secretary Cardona Delivers Remarks to the National Education Association

Secretary Cardona Delivers Remarks to the National Education Association

July 5, 2023

On July 3, 2023, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona delivered remarks focused on fighting “toxic disrespect” against teachers and public schools, including through the “ABCs of teaching” and a call to “stop teaching to the test,”at the National Education Association Representative Assembly.

Thank you, Becky, for that kind introduction — and for all you do as a fierce champion for our nation's educators.

How we doing NEA?  I am so happy to be here- I hear this is the place to be—is that right?  We gonna make some noise this week?  So loud they can hear you in Tallahassee? 

Shout out to my Florida teachers. I see what you are going through and what you do for kids!

I’m honored to be here today as Secretary of Education.  But I am also honored to be here as a former 4th grade teacher, a bilingual education certified teacher, husband of an educator, and a parent of public school children.

Any high school educators here?  How about middle school?  Any elementary folks here? 

Yes, despite the divisive drama many want to create in education, let me say it loud and proud—YOU CHANGE LIVES! 

It’s important to publicly acknowledge educators that have changed your life. 

Mine is Linda Ransom — my high school art teacher in Meriden CT.

Any CT folks in the room?
One day, Ms. Ransom saw a mural that I was painting about racial justice, and she suggested that I put it up in the school cafeteria bulletin board.  I did — and it even got me featured in the local newspaper for the first time.  That lifted me up.  I felt seen and heard!

Later on in the year, she gave me a little tap on the shoulder.  And she told me: you know, Miguel, YOU could be a teacher.

That tap on the shoulder put me on the path to becoming a teacher . . . and it made possible the journey that brought me right here today as your Secretary of Education: an educator fighting for educators.

You see, Ms. Ransom saw something in me that I did not even see. 

So when I look out at this room, I don't just think of it as a room of 6,000 incredible people. 

Because together, you represent tens of millions of taps on the shoulder — just like the one I got from Ms. Ransom.

Your passion translates into children being able to fulfill their God-given potential.  Your service leads to dreams coming true.


And these last few years, YOU SAVED LIVES!  Thank you!

Whether you are classroom teachers, special education professionals, mental health educators, School Nurses, Support professionals (I see you and appreciate you), paraeducators, Custodians, bus drivers, early childhood educators, and I could keep going, you have all stepped up and led our reopening with class, commitment and student-centeredness.

As your Secretary, educators, I am here to acknowledge that we, as a country, owe you.

Yet in many parts of our country, you are facing an onslaught of disrespect.  You went from pandemic to persecution. 

In some parts of this country, there developed an intentional toxic disrespect against teachers and public schools.

A toxic disrespect from so-called leaders that complain about public education but sleep well at night knowing their teachers are making less than $40,000 a year. 

A toxic disrespect from those who want to privatize education and starve public schools from the resources they need. 

A toxic disrespect from those seeking to divide our nation by politicizing equity and inclusion. 

There is a toxic disrespect from demagogues who attack the safety and belonging of LGBTQI+ students and students of color, banning books and whitewashing our history.

There’s a toxic disrespect from those that want to xerox privilege by standing against Affirmative Action. 

A toxic disrespect from so called leaders that have gotten millions in debt relief but throw a tantrum when we try to give teachers $10,000.

Sadly, there is even toxicity creeping in from those that rather ban books than assault weapons.  You know the type — the ones that don’t trust you to select books but want you armed in schools.

There is a toxic disrespect from those seeking to silence teacher voice or vilify educators fighting for competitive wages and better working conditions.

I am here to say you can fight for competitive salaries and be student centered.  In fact, I believe fighting for professional wages and benefits is fighting for students—it is fighting for the profession—it is fighting for public schools!

The time has come for us, as a nation, along with the NEA, to fight unapologetically against toxicity. 

My fellow educators, it’s time for a detox! 

It’s time to detoxify those who seek to destroy public education. 

It’s time to detox them from ignorance.

It’s time to detox them from racism.

It’s time to detox them from hate.

It’s time to detox them from privatizing the great equalizer.

You see, schools are the best intervention to fight ignorance, and educators are the antidote, or dare I say in Florida, the vaccine against vitriol. 

We need you now more than ever!

I keep hearing talk about a teacher shortage issue.  When are we going to talk about the teacher respect issue?!

Better yet, enough with the talking.  Let’s see action. 
Action like lifting the teaching profession. 

I call it the ABCs of teaching.

A – Agency.  Let’s treat our educators like the professionals that they are.  You know what you’re doing.  You need the agency to get it done. 

That means that educator voice is woven into how schools work, along with the autonomy for teachers to make decisions based on what they know is best for their students. 

B – Better Working Conditions.  Better working conditions means we are not normalizing 95-degree classrooms or buildings that were designed for the turn of the 20th century. 

That’s not all. 

Let’s make sure you have enough planning time to learn collaboratively with colleagues like other professions, and that there is high quality professional development available during work hours, so you don’t have to choose between professional growth or seeing your family. 

Let’s make sure there are pathways for career growth where you don’t have to leave the classroom to lead, and let’s end the professional learning practices that expect you to be trauma experts after an hourlong meeting. 

To improve working conditions, let’s support our building leaders to ensure there is a positive culture in school.  Poor working conditions and terrible school climates are pushing teachers away!

Better working conditions also means having a beautifully diverse workforce that represents the mosaic of diversity that we see in our students and our country.  Ya es tiempo que nuestros niños aprendan otro idioma!

And last, but definitely not, least, we have: C – Competitive Salaries. Teachers earn 24% less than other college graduates.

Pay our teachers what they deserve!

As of last school year, 35 states still started their teachers with a salary of less than $45,000 and 17 states with salaries below $40,000.

How can we expect to lead the world or create the career pathways needed in this country if we are expecting teachers to drive Uber on the weekends?

Shout out to states like Maryland and Idaho for lifting salaries of educators without attaching it to a voucher plan. 

Educators, again I repeat, do not let our advocacy for competitive wages be reduced to being anything but protecting public education. 

Don’t mistake our selflessness with submission! 

When we invest in the profession, we invest in our students – and we invest in our nation.

At the U.S. Department of Education, we are not just talking about it.  We are putting our actions and funding behind it. 

We have budgeted $3 billion in teacher development, recruitment and retention programs, and much more in salary increases through the American Rescue Plan.  We’ve also pushed out $400 million for teacher pipeline programs already.  We believe in this and will not stop fighting for you. 

In addition to the ABCs of Teaching, we are Raising the Bar in education.  Recovery is not enough. We must Raise the Bar. You can see our plan on

This is our moment.

It’s also time to focus on a comprehensive education.  An education strong in the arts, music, and hands on learning.  An education that values college and career.  One with strong pedagogy, high standards, and authentic assessments. 

We must stop teaching to the test.

Too many generations of students, particularly black and brown students, missed out on STEM, hands-on learning, experiential learning, or project-based learning because teaching was reduced to test prep.

Enough is enough!

I was a school principal when my awesome bilingual students and teachers reduced their worth to the percentage of mastery on a standardized test in a language the students didn’t even know. 

This, despite the fact that the students were growing at double the rate and their bilingual teachers were working twice as hard to help the students learn a new language and culture.  It felt like educational neglect that we allowed this to happen. 

We must take steps in this country to recognize the power of formative and curriculum-embedded assessments that drive instruction and curricular decisions. 

Yes you can have high quality formative assessment that connect to high standards taught by highly qualified professionals.  Isn’t that what we should be doing?

I was a teacher and principal during the era of bubble kids, and I don’t want to go back.  And quite frankly, our literacy and numeracy rates in this country are too low.  Apparently, that didn’t work. 

Let’s get back to high expectations and high standards for all kids, not just the ones in affluent neighborhoods, let’s get rid of the Aye Bendito! effect or poor kid mentality, pobrecito, and let’s invest in great programming with better authentic assessments. 

These assessments need to be flashlights to drive instruction and support, not hammers that put a scarlet letter on teachers or schools.  We are proposing $100 million in that to get the ball rolling.

I want to thank NEA for all the work it’s doing to develop principles of authentic assessments. 

We know we have to make sure our innovative assessments program is working for more states – so that we can demonstrate how authentic assessments can work, and secure the real, lasting change our students and educators deserve.  This is an area I will continue to focus on—one where my experience as an educator matters.  One where your voice matters. 

Look, we are not going to solve all of our needs today, but as your Secretary of Education, I commit to engaging, listening, and standing side by side with you as we fight for the soul of our nation and work to detoxify those seeking to harm public education. 

Along with our students and parents, there is nothing we cannot accomplish if we work together.

Together, we will lift public education to greater heights.  We have to.

Our kids are watching.

Thank you! Pa’lante Siempre!