Upon the confirmation of Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Walton Family Foundation Executive Director Caryl M. Stern and K-12 Education Program Director Marc Sternberg shared a letter offering the foundation’s partnership in achieving our shared goal of increasing access to high-quality K-12 education that puts opportunity and a self-determined life in reach for every child.
Dear Mr. Secretary,
On behalf of the Walton Family Foundation and our K-12 Education Program, we are honored to congratulate you on your confirmation to be the Secretary of the United States Department of Education.
Our program is dedicated to the ideal that every child in America deserves the opportunity to succeed. To achieve this, it is essential they receive a high-quality K-12 education tailored to their needs. This is why we are heartened to have a leader with a track-record of transforming K-12 education, especially for students from low-income communities, and who has demonstrated visionary stewardship of schools during the pandemic.
As the nation works to overcome the tumultuous period brought on by COVID-19, our fervent wish is that you take this opportunity to forge a new civic compact among K-12 stakeholders that involves a consensus and a set of coalitions that serve the interests of all our young people and their families. We stand ready to help you, as appropriate, in any effort you undertake to do this.
We believe that American public education has reached a critical point. In more than 30 years of work in K-12 education, we have never experienced a more unsettled time for our schools and our children.
Before the pandemic, our system was already fundamentally unequal. Access to an excellent education and the social mobility that comes with it was conditioned more by the color of a student’s skin and the size of their parents’ bank account than by their own talents and skills. COVID-19 has not only thrown these disparities into new and particularly harsh relief, it has made them worse as students of color and students from low-income households have fallen further behind.
Even as the opportunity gap has grown, our students have faced a new set of difficulties specifically related to the pandemic. Separated from their teachers and classmates, they have been cut off from a vital source of social and emotional development. They have had to cope with stresses -- big and small -- from online learning to sharing space to trying to learn while dealing with the digital divide. Worst of all, many young people have confronted the severe illness and even death of a parent or loved one.
As the nation starts to emerge from the pandemic, our must-do list is long, including: undoing the endemic disparities in US education that have existed and further developed; supporting better measures of student success that help students who have fallen behind; ensuring all our young people have access to the resources they need, especially broadband; and repairing all the other damage caused by COVID-19. All this will take the concerted effort of a broad and innovative coalition of educators, parents, students, philanthropies, policymakers and community organizations. It is sure to be a herculean task, to which the Walton Family Foundation is willing to commit our efforts in support of your work to unify these groups as they advance the interests of all our young people and their families.
As daunted as we are by the size of the challenge before us, we are also firmly convinced that our ability to harness America’s spirit of innovation and our shared commitment to excellent schools will help us come through this period of crisis with a better, more equitable and more resilient public education system.
This hope is based on all proven possible throughout the pandemic. Educators, parents and community leaders have put aside traditional divisions to find new and creative solutions to help students thrive. Your appointment gives us further hope. You represent the commitment at the highest levels of our education system to build a just and equitable public school system and to focus our efforts on the students most in need.
Since our founding, the Walton Family Foundation’s K-12 Education Program has worked to give all children, especially the most disadvantaged, equitable access to excellent schools that will place them on the path to upward social mobility. With you at the helm of the United States Department of Education, we are excited to have a leader who is devoted to closing the racial and socio-economic opportunity gaps that stop so many of our children from reaching their full potential. In the months ahead, we look forward to being a strong partner in the shared effort to bring a quality education to all students.
Caryl M. Stern & Marc Sternberg