52 mins

The Problem Podcast

Our Education System Is Broken. We Asked the Secretary of Education How to Fix It.

This week we’re joined by Miguel Cardona, the U.S. Secretary of Education. We cover why schools aren’t evolving fast enough to keep up with current challenges, how the shifting roles of schools and teachers are leaving many educators without the resources they need, and remaking the system so that it’s more about students and less about test scores and resume-building.


Our Education System is Broken. We Asked the Secretary of Education How to Fix It.

Ep. 219 Transcript

Deniz: I also wanna say, this is the first year that I started having grays. I have like three grays right here.

Jon: Is that true?

Deniz: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I turned 30 this year. Three grays here

Jon: Look, look what this has done. You to yet – the erosion, the constant wind and rain of disappointment and, and failure from our government. Look what it hasn’t done. Look, I don’t know. People can’t, this is on the rad –  I don’t know what podcasts are. They’re not on the radio, but they’re on wherever they are. 


Jon: Hello everybody. Welcome to the podcast. It’s the problem with me, Jon Stewart. This is almost, it’s not quite, it’s almost, I think the last episode of the year. I think we’re gonna have one more that’s like, kind of a wrap up episode of the year. And then we also got them, damn Apple TV+ television programs, which you can, watch or you can re-listen to the podcast or you can watch the YouTube channel. You can see us on TikTok. actually, the show now I think should only be on Instagram and we should just do it, uh with a filter. Today’s show is gonna be, we’re talking to the US Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona. We’re gonna be talking to him about, finance. We decided to switch it up on them and just see if we can fuck around a little bit. No we’re gonna talk about education, but first of course, writer Kasaun Wilson is joining us and research producer Deniz Cam. 

Kasaun: What up Jon, what’s going on?

Deniz: Hello.

Jon: Chum. Is it Ch-, how do you pronounce your last name?

Deniz: Yes, so it’s Chum like a good old chum.

Jon: A good old chum. Like a pal.

Deniz: Yes.

Jon: Like a chum. But can you tell me about that signifier because generally, I’ve seen the ones that are superscripts but not subscripts. It’s underneath the C.

Deniz: I believe it’s called cedilla and it’s a So it’s like a cha, like a C H. So in Turkish–

Jon: Okay, so the cedilla is always in Turkish it denotes, not ha but cha.

Deniz: Yeah, it’s a cha. And then if you get it with an S, then it’s a sha.

Jon: Okay.

Deniz: Yeah.

Jon: And then if you get it with a Jew, it’s cha-. [KASAUN AND DENIZ LAUGH]

Kasaun: Let’s do it.

Jon: Guys, it’s, it’s December.

Kasaun: Mm-hmm.

Jon: Everybody is sick with everything.

Kasaun: Yeah.

Jon: We had a Christmas party. We had our holiday party.

Kasaun: We did.

Jon: I should say, to be inclusive. And I just wonder what the, what have you guys seen as far as the uptick in viral load since the holiday party?

Kasaun: Everybody who danced, uh, to the Beyonce Renaissance album caught it. I don’t know what that means, but everyone who stood still when “Cuff It” came on is fine in our office.

Jon: That’s why, Kasaun you and I have talked about this–

Kasaun: Mm-hmm.

Jon: I only dance to “Formation,” [DENIZ AND KASAUN LAUGH] Kasaun: You are surprising me today, Jon.

Jon: Did you dance Kasaun at the party?

Kasaun: I danced, Jon.

Jon: Deniz, did you dance at the party?

Deniz: You know, I did not 

Jon: Deniz was lovely, looked like a lovely festive–

Deniz: Disco ball? [DENIZ LAUGHS]

Jon: Uh, disco ball. That’s what I was gonna say. It was, and Kasaun looked, lovely as well. And I stood in a corner in my normal clothes, like a fucking idiot. [KASAUN LAUGHS] “Do you want something to drink, Jon?” No, I’m good.

Kasaun: I lost 20 bucks because you came, Jon. [JON AND DENIZ LAUGH] I bet, I bet bucks that you were gonna call us on Zoom and be like, “I love you guys. Thank you so much, thank you so much for getting the PACT Act signed.” [JON AND DENIZ LAUGH]

Jon: I am notorious. I can tell you this from many years of holiday parties, from over at the Daily Show. It was always, uh, what they would do is, generally I would go then, cause I was younger and there was no pandemic, but there was always an over under on minutes. Sometimes seconds.

Kasaun: Okay.

Jon: How long old Jonny would show up–

Kasaun: Okay.

Jon: And, and do this. And then be like, “Hey man, my car, double parked. I gotta go.” 

Kasaun: We did time you at three minute laps. You did two of ’em and you were back out the door. [JON LAUGHS] You stood in the corner like you were on Zoom, like you were not live.

Jon: That’s right. But you know what? Six minutes means you’re my best friends in the whole world.

Deniz: Oh wow.

Kasaun: But you came and that’s what matters most Jon.

Jon: That’s exactly right. We had, we had a lovely time. How are you gu–, is there anything as the year winds down that you find particularly on your minds, what’s been, Deniz, what’s been happening for you? What’s, what’s on your mind as, as we wind down? 

 Deniz: So Jon, there’s actually this story that I really want to talk about and I feel like it didn’t get a lot of airtime in the news and, uh, I’m an immigrant myself and I feel like there’s so much talk about, um, you know, immigration and the so-called border crisis. And there’s so many important stories that kind of like really get lost in kind of all of the fear mongering that’s going on and it is about these kids called Documented dreamers. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them. 

Jon: Yeah. The dream isn’t that daca, that’s, uh,

Deniz: It’s not actually DACA. So DACA Dreamers,they, come to the US with their parents who are undocumented and there are these documented dreamers.

Jon: Right.

Deniz: And they move to the U.S.

Jon: Wait, you said documented dreamers?

Deniz: Documented dreamers. 

Jon: No, that, I am not familiar with that.

Deniz: Right? So I’m an immigrant. I grew up in Turkey and I, you know, in order to survive in America, you kind of like need to learn a lot about immigration. So, um, I had–

Jon: And sodas, different sodas. [KASAUN AND DENIZ LAUGH] It’s important that you understand the various brands.

Deniz: Yes, so, um, I recently found out about this group of kids, they’re called Documented Dreamers, and they basically, um, move to the US with their parents who are on visas. So they come here, um, on visas. They’re here legally.

Jon: So they’re here legally?

Deniz: Yeah, they’re here legally. And–

Jon: But they’re kids.

Deniz: But they’re kids and they usually come here around like the age five. 

Jon: Okay. 

Deniz: And basically what happens is that they’re on this thing called a dependent visa until they turn . And the idea is that you know, the parents are here for decades. During some time their visa is going to turn into a green card. They will have permanent residency and they’ll be allowed to stay in America.

Jon: Okay.

Deniz: But because of our archaic immigration system.

Jon: How dare you. [JON AND KASAUN LAUGH]

Deniz: I went there, I went there, I went there.

Jon: Deniz, how dare you? [DENIZ LAUGHS] And so close to Christmas.

Deniz: I know, I know. And, um, look, love America, archaic immigration system. But basically this country hasn’t updated its quotas for green cards since before the internet. So the last time we did that was like early nineties. And–

Jon: Is this a yearly allotment of green cards?

Deniz: Right. Yes.

Jon: Okay.

Deniz: And basically what happens is because of the backlog, and also there’s certain visas, for example, if you’re an immigrant here on a small business visa–

Jon: Mm-hmm.

Deniz: –you can be on it forever, but there’s no path to a green card and to a citizenship. So because of the way immigration is structured–

Jon: Mm-hmm.

Deniz: –once these kids turn 21 , they cannot be dependent of their parents. So they,

Jon: I know where we’re going here.

Deniz: I know.

Jon: Can I guess the ending, spoiler alert.

Deniz: Yes.

Jon: So when these kids turn 21, their parents have yet to get their green card. They’re on a dependent visa. So they are at that moment, no longer legally living within the United States.

Deniz: Yes.

Jon: F*** at 21. They’ve been here since they were, let’s say five, what happens Deniz, please.

Deniz: They have to self-deport.

Kasaun: Dang.

Jon: Jeez.

Kasaun: Dang.

Deniz: Yes. So basically, you know, they’re more than 200,000 thousand kids right now facing deportation in the United States and , 10,000 deport every year,

Jon: All who have been on dependent visas. 200,000?

Deniz: Yes. And 10,000, deport every year. And you would think the government doesn’t know, but they know. So Chuck Grassley met up with these kids in May. He took a photo with them, talked to them about this. So they have this nonprofit called “Improve the Dream.” It’s a bunch of documented dreamers, you know, lobbying for legislation.

Jon: Right, right.

Deniz: He took a photo with them and then tweeted it out. And guess what? One of the kids in the photo is already deported.

Kasaun: Dang.

Jon: Deniz, are you suggesting that Chuck Grassley may be somewhat hypocritical in his stance here? Are you, are you suggesting in any way, shape, or form that Chuck Grassley, who is now, I mean, he has killed more immigration bill like Chuck Grassley is the single worst senator of anybody. I mean, and it’s so crazy cause he’s the one senator who’s probably. I mean, look, I’m not talking out of school, just talking actuarial tables, leaving this earth and this country sooner [KASAUN LAUGHS] than almost any of the other ones like but he stops it. Why, why was he meeting with them to just disappoint them? What, do you have any idea what the meeting was about?

Deniz: You know, the funniest thing is there is bipartisan support. 

Jon: There has to be. It’s nuts. It’s nuts.

Deniz: Exactly. And they all agree. And they’re actually two bills introduced. There’s one in House and one in Senate. It’s called America’s Children Act.Jon: Wait, it’s called, it’s the ACA?

Deniz: I guess so, yes.

Jon: Oh my god.

Deniz: Maybe that’s why. [JON LAUGHS]

Jon: Everything is the ACA in this country. All right, so it’s the American Children’s Act.

Deniz: Yeah. And you know, it has bipartisan support like in in the Senate, Rand Paul is behind it.

Jon: What?

Deniz: I know.

Kasaun: All the Avengers are coming together. [DENIZ LAUGHS]

Deniz: And uh, the idea was, you know, outside of the act that this would be included in the defense bill–

Jon: Okay.

Deniz: It was not.

Jon: Which just passed, the NDAA.

Deniz: Exactly. And it did not pass. It was not involved.

Jon: Wait, wait, wait. So it was not included or it, it got taken out?

Deniz: So there was a hope that it would be included. There was like–

Jon: And it was not included.

Deniz: It was not included, yet. And now it might be in the Omnibus.

Jon: Knowing how the NDAA works, what happened means is somebody used that as a bargaining chip to get something else.

Jon: Somebody said, “Well, if you want that, then I’m taking out the American, the ACA for–

Kasaun: Mm-hmm.

Jon: “Documented immigrants.”

Kasaun: Mm-hmm.

Jon: Because everything down there is, well, then those 200,000 people have to suffer if you want that.

Deniz: Right.

Kasaun: We were–

Jon: Because you can’t fix everything because we’re, that’s just who we are.

Kasaun: The NDAA is actually, it’s really bad.

Kasaun: Uh, so a, a lot of people know, uh, we did an Afghan episode. 

Jon: So Kasaun is talking about the, the Afghan translators who helped the troops when they were over in Afghanistan, we’ve left like a hundred thousand of them behind. And uh, we were supposed to have The Afghan Adjustment Act, uh, which makes them eligible to, to come here. Now they are all on the run from the Taliban because, uh, we left behind all the biometric analysis. [JON LAUGHS] “Sorry guys, we forgot the biometric analysis and they know who you are.”

Kasaun: And I don’t know why, but it seemed like every time we put out a clip from the show–

Jon: Yeah.

Kasaun: Within that, within the hour, Herschel Walker would come out and say something, dumber and dumber. And so we had to be like, it’s literally we would put out a clip being like, “we made a promise to these people, our translators, and we gotta take care of ‘em”

Kasaun: And as soon as we put out a clip saying that Herschel Walker would be like, “I saw Vampires in my sleep last night.” [LAUGHTER]

Jon: You’re saying he’s there specifically to draw attention away from–

Kasaun: A hundred percent.

Jon: The, uh, SIV program and things like that.

Kasaun: A hundred percent. So when you, so you look at, uh, no, No One Left Behind, which is a great organization that tries to help our translators get out and–

Jon: That’s right.

Kasaun: We talked about the SIV program, and you look at the NDAA and they tweeted out all of the ways that Congress failed our Afghan allies, uh, the SIV program, struck–

Jon: Again, supposed to be in the NDAA, along with, I guess this, this other program as well.

Kasaun: Obviously Chuck Grassley’s in the middle of that, they struck out on a provision that would extend the, uh, Afghan Interpreter’s eligibility, wounded in combat. Took that out.

Jon: That’s right.

Jon: Which has to be renewed, I think. I dunno if it’s every year or every two years, but it has to be renewed.

Kasaun: Yeah.

Jon: And it’s, this is the year that they just decided not to renew it.

Deniz: Yep. 

Kasuan: They, they took out a provision that would reimburse the troops who were actually using their own money to help their interpreters get out.

Jon: They, what the f**k do you think they get for that? Like, what, what is the horse trade there? like? Was it something that Chuck Grassley said, “Hey man, we’re gonna legalize pot or we’re gonna make it so that we decriminalize it. But then if I give you that, all those Afghans who helped our troops f**k them,” is that like, what trade could they possibly be doing?

Kasaun: He, here’s the, here’s the best part. Uh, in the statement about the provision not being added, obviously says “the agreement does not include this provision,” and then right after it says in the statement, “we acknowledge the incredible heroism and professionalism of these members of the armed forces who participated in the United States transition out of Afghanistan, and are grateful for the Afghan nationals who supported the United States military in Afghanistan.”

Jon: Wow.

Kasaun: So–

Jon: That’s so much worse than just saying nothing. [KASAUN LAUGHS]

Deniz: Yeah.

Kasaun: Thanks though.

Jon: It really is one of those like, “Hey man,” – so it, it’s like if somebody is like trapped in the bottom of a well, and, and what they do is, so “here’s what we’ve decided to do: pull up the rope without you, but in lieu of the rope to pull you out of the well, we are going to say to you, we do appreciate you being at the bottom of it.”

Kasaun: “Here’s a Home Depot gift card where you can buy your own rope.” [KASUAN & DENIZ LAUGHS]

Jon: Uh, guys, I, you know, this was the end of the year episode. I thought we were gonna be having some uplifting anecdotes, [KASAUN LAUGHS] and instead I got, “we’re failing a good 400,000 vulnerable people that we could easily f***ing help.” Easily.

Deniz: Yep.

Jon: With, with almost, it’s, it’s the lightest lift a country could do.

Jon: It’s nothing. You know, I really thought when I said, did you have anything, I thought it was gonna be White Lotus finale. [DENIZ LAUGHS] I did not know we were, I didn’t know we were going deep. 

Kasaun: You care too much about the world for us to have a truly uplifting, like, if, if, if you didn’t care about the world, we could just talk about rom-coms all day. 

Jon: This is crazy. Uh, Deniz, is there anything we can do a, about this?

Jon: Who do you, I mean, all roads lead to Chuck Grassley.

Deniz: Yes.

Jon: Obviously on all of these things. So I guess going after Grassley is probably, he’s the linchpin.

Deniz: Absolutely

Jon: The cowardice on the SIV and the Afghan programs, that’s expected because the, I think underlying prejudice for people from that part of the world is overwhelming, to this day. And it’s the easiest thing to excise because “terror.” But Deniz, the situation that you’re discussing, it seems incomprehensible.

Deniz: Yeah. And the thing that I think about is like, you know, Republicans love to say, “do it the right way. Get in line. Get in line.”

Jon: And this was the right way.

Deniz: This is the right way. Right now, for an Indian immigrant with an MBA, the wait for a green card is years. 

Jon: Get the f**k outta here. 150 years. 

Deniz: Yeah. That is not a line. And I think they love to make it about like the border crisis and like, you know, all of that stuff. Everything is about legal immigration. You know, refugees are about, um, legal immigration.

Jon: Yeah.

Deniz: This situation is about legal immigration. It’s a big system. They don’t wanna address it, and they’re just saying, to be quite honest, like racist stuff.

Jon: It’s pathetic.

Deniz: Yeah. It is pathetic. 

Jon: It’s, it’s, it’s pathetic. And when you say to somebody, how long do I have to wait for a green card, 150 years? You have to do it in quotes. You just have to do it in quotes like, oh, how long do I have to wait for my green card? Oh, you’ll get it, in 150 years. 

Kasuan: Come, come to this country, to white way And, and get in here in 2175 .

Jon: Come to this country on one of those, uh, specialist visas because we need your expertise.

Jon: Uh, and chances are your kids are also gonna, do quite well. But we’re gonna ask them to leave at 21.

Kasaun: Self deportation as a concept is crazy.

Deniz: I always say like, I pay taxes. And I’m like, I don’t even get my own ICE agent. I have to self-deport. Like that’s just kind of crazy. [JON LAUGHS]

Jon: “My taxes, they don’t even pay for me to get driven to the airport to get the f**k outta here.”

Deniz: [KASUAN LAUGHS] Yeah.

Jon: Unacceptable. Uh, you know what I can tell during this conversation, you know, when you guys first started, you looked young and vibrant and I can tell it’s.

Jon: Even in these 15 minutes, it’s wearing on you. I can, this is, this process has already started.

Kasaun: I can feel the gout coming onto me.

Jon:. [[JON LAUGHS] All right. We’re gonna talk to, uh, secretary Miguel Cardona and he’s gonna talk about all the things we can’t fix in education, which I think is just, it’s a wonderful follow up to our end of the year sad-fest that we’re, that we’re having. [LAUGHTER]  Uh, alright, thanks guys. We’ll talk to you in a second.


Interview with Secretary Miguel Cardona Begins

Jon: We’re delighted to be joined today by the Secretary of Education. That’s right. You’ve heard me, the Secretary of Education. Uh, Miguel Cardona is joining us today. Uh, sir, first of all, welcome to ” The Problem.”

Cardona: Thank you!

Jon: And we have, I don’t know how much time we have, but we are going to fix Would you like to fix elementary education today? Would you like to fix, elementary education, uh, high school educa — do you wanna fix, uh, let’s say college? Where, where, where do you want to? Where do you want to go here?

Sec. Cardona: Listen, all of the above. We signed up to do all of the above today. I, I know higher education is an issue of, of importance to many, many listeners, uh, everything that’s going on. So we can focus there, but I’m — listen, uh, elementary, uh, high school, higher education, whatever you choose

Jon: Pre-K, Post-K, Detention. Uh, let, let me ask you this, Secretary, we have desperately tried to fix an education system that basically was designed for literacy for the masses and has been incredibly successful on, on that goal. Uh, but it seems as though it’s a bit stagnant and, and hasn’t been able to be as agile as maybe, uh, society now would, would need it to be. What would your diagnosis be for what you would change about it? Where do you, where do you see it working and, and where do you see it wanting?

Sec. Cardona: Love this topic, right? Um, I, I think in general, education has to evolve or become irrelevant in, in our country. And we’re not evolving at the pace that we need to evolve –

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: – to compete internationally to make sure that our students have access and opportunity. All students, not just some. Um, so, you know, it does work in, in many, in many ways. I mean, we have, uh, some of the best higher education institutions in the world. Um, the challenge is it’s not really open and they’re not pathways for all students. So what we need to do is make sure that we’re providing better pathways. And I’m gonna expand that a little bit. Not only higher education, cause I think there’s a mentality in this country of four years or bust. Four year colleges or bust. There are so many opportunities now in our two year schools and even in our K- system or pre-K system, uh, getting credentials or microcredentials and joining the workforce in high skill, high paying jobs. So when I say we need to evolve, I think our pre-K system needs to evolve. Our higher education system needs to evolve to be more connected to the opportunities that exist in this country and beyond. Uh, for all of our students.

Jon: I like the idea of micro-credentials. I, I think that, I think, I think mini credentials, micro-credentials, whatever, whatever tiny credentials you could have. And you could even make tiny diplomas for everybody that gets ’em, like little stamps – 

Sec. Cardona: [CARDONA LAUGHS] Yeah, that’s the plan. 

Jon: – That you put on.

Jon: So, let me tell you, so my, my kids are, uh, a senior in high school and a, and a junior in high school, and, and they’re very fortunate to go to a, a really nice school in a really nice place and all those different things. Uh, and my mother was a teacher for I think for 186 years. Uh, and she reminds me of that, uh, on almost a daily basis. What’s interesting to me about education is the teachers I think, feel disassociated from it in that they’re – the ideas they’re teaching to kind of standardized testing that so much of, of what they have to do is based on a testing regimen that’s attempting to, uh, assess students on certain standardizations. But I think, as you know, that doesn’t work for all students in all communities. What I’ve noticed about their enthusiasm for learning is the more relevance, subjects have to the actual world that they live in. But it’s a really difficult thing for teachers to pull that off because so much of their time has to be spent on boiling things down to this standardized box that everybody has placed in.

Sec. Cardona: You know, we’ve had a fascination in this country with standardized assessments. And unfortunately in many places we lost our way and we lost students in the process who were overly enamored with, uh, misusing those data and labeling schools and putting scarlet letters on districts that are working twice as hard to meet the needs of students. Jon, when I was a school principal, I had this young girl from the Dominican Republic come into the school where I, uh, where I was serving. She was about nine years old. Uh, she was learning English, very little English. Um, she had exceptionality, so she had a an IEP. Uh, and I understand your mother was a special education teacher —

Jon: She was.

Sec. Cardona: — so you know, it, it might have been a student that your mom might have supported. So the day of the assessment, I remember this young girl sobbing. I had to go visit her cause I was one of the few in the school that spoke Spanish. She was sobbing in fear that this test in a foreign language was being put in front of her. And those data were gonna be used to determine in many ways what she’s capable of. We’ve done —

Jon: And what the school is capable of. I mean, probably the funding of the school was reliant on this.

Sec. Cardona: I’ll take it a step further. When those data came out, Jon, we had many students who were bi— in bilingual education program who didn’t dominate English yet. 

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: So the school was classified as a school in need of improvement, or as some would call it a failing school.

Jon: Right.

Sec. Cardona: So now I had to defend, to the community, no, these students are learning the language. It doesn’t mean that they’re not capable. Um, but it became, I had one person ask me, is it because of those kids.

Jon: Wow. Right. 

Sec. Cardona: Think about what it did for the school community. Think about what it did for that little girl. So we’ve become overly enamored with using the test for things that it’s not intended to use. So my alternative, my, my thought is how about we have a quality curriculum and have performance based tasks in the curriculum, have formative assessments that actually inform instruction on a day-to-day basis. I look at the standardized test as an autopsy, right?

Jon: Right, but can you do that from a national level, isn’t it? You know, isn’t the battle here you’ve got local control, which is sort of the tradition of American education, and then you’ve got federal standards imposed on that, which are gonna naturally group people in, in wildly divergent circumstance. So how does the federal government then, cuz you’ve seen it from both sides. How do they then assess those tests for local communities while also empowering the local communities to understand best what their population is all about.

Sec. Cardona: Absolutely. So yeah, it’s worth repeating. Cause a lot of times people don’t, uh, realize that we have a decentralized system in the United States. 

Jon: That’s right. 

Sec. Cardona: And I think that’s a good thing. You know, states are responsible for education. And I came from Connecticut, right? Small Connecticut. There were 169 municipalities there with 169 different boards of education, determining curriculum and standards. As a commission of education. We had, you know, oversight of student success around some standardized assessment. And, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing because right now I’m using those data to determine where the American Rescue Plan dollars should be going. 

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: But we shouldn’t be putting all of our eggs in that basket. And I think unfortunately in parts of our country we do that. So what we’re trying to do, not only look at the standardized assessments that states are doing, but talking about good pedagogy and how to get kids engaged naturally, and how do you assess that, right? Sometimes I think the cart is before the horse, we shouldn’t be leading with assessment. We should be leading with good instruction and having authentic assessment follow that.

Jon: Does it make it difficult because you know, every four years we switch administrations and the education department and all those kinds of things change over and they go into different directions. And so all the things that you’re talking about take time. And by the time you maybe have done your assessment and you’re ready to maybe implement some changes on there, you’re gone. And the new administration comes in and, and, and they check over. Is there a broader construct that the Department of Education could take where they’re looking at things maybe with less specifics and, and more purpose?

Sec. Cardona: Absolutely, just like everything else, there’s a pendulum swinging in education, we’re singing out with the reading wars, right? But for me, our approach at the Department of Education is not to do something and hope it sticks. What we’re trying to do is, bring in different stakeholders, 

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: Right, different perspectives so that the ideas that come out of this has shared ownership, uh, red and blue, rural, urban. It’s really important that, you know, in education we should be unified around helping children and by and large, that’s what we have. So, the development of the policies and the practices should outlast me as secretary and the impact, the positive impact should outlast me as secretary. So we’ve been very intentional to try to bring in different perspectives, talk to both sides of the aisle, and really come together around what we believe is the best way to move forward and —

Jon: So what are the — what are the complaints? Like what, when, when they come to you, is it just, “Hey, uh, secretary, we could use more money?” You know, I, I can assume everybody needs more money, but we do have a lot of money within the system. But let’s say they come up to you with their, what are they asking you for? Are they asking you to back off? Are they just asking you —

Sec Cardona: Who’s they?

Jon: The different districts and superintendents and state heads of education. What do they — what do they want from you?

Sec. Cardona: You know, first of all, I can’t get into this response without saying how inspired I’ve been by our educators, and I’m talking bus drivers, cafeteria staff, custodians who have had to deal with cleaner air and, and updating systems. School leaders who have really worked to try to navigate some of the division in their communities, board members. So, you know, I tip my hat to these folks. But what they’re saying to me is, “Look, we know what our kids need. We need some autonomy. We need clarity around what practices are the best and we need funding to support that.” Let me give you an example, if I could, right? All you hear about in September and October was teacher shortages, right?

Jon: Sure.

Sec Cardona: Everywhere there’s teacher shortages everywhere. Yet when we get back into the routine of things, that kind of goes by the wayside, but we haven’t addressed the issue. Our educators are overworked. They’re expected to fix every issue, 

Jon: That’s right. 

Sec. Cardona: – And they’re getting paid much less than people with degrees in other fields. And we’ve normalized this, Jon, for decades. We’ve normalized this — so now Covid hits, and sadly, over 200,000 children are returning to school without a parent or caregiver because they lost them due to Covid. And now we expect our teachers to be trauma informed, right? 

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: No additional training. You know and whatever training they get, they get during their workday and they’re expected to become experts. So what I’m hearing from the field is “just acknowledge how hard we’re working, how difficult it is to be at the crosshairs of so much divide and you know there’s a lot of anxiety and frustration out there. And just acknowledge us, support us and make sure we have the tools.” But they’re not fighting for themselves. They’re fighting for their kids. 

Jon: Right.

Sec. Cardona: They’re fighting for their students. If we support teachers, we students.

 Jon: No. It’s all, listen, every, everything that you’re saying is correct. I mean it’s — teachers and schools are in every community that they’re in are meant to fill in all the different gaps of that community. For instance, if you’re in a school where poverty and insecurity is a big issue, well that school is then called upon to be not just a place of education, but a place of nourishment if you’re in a school district, where there’s high crime or chaos. The school is meant to be a place of, uh, calm and the teachers, there have to be Swiss Army knives when it comes to whatever ill is facing that community so that, that goes without saying . It was the same idea in the pandemic, we learned who the real essential workers were in our economy. The issue I have and, and it’s the thing that I think bedevils so much of education is, what then is the purpose of these schools? Is it straight literacy? Is it to be the backstop of every social ill that affects that community in that time? And if so, how can the teachers possibly have the skill sets, to be the, the panacea to all those ills.

Sec. Cardona: No, that’s a, that’s a great question. And look, we have an antiquated mindset of schools, and that’s why I say we need to evolve. So yes, literacy and numeracy, uh, STEM. Um, that’s critically important for our teachers. 

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: They are the ones that the buck stops with them, right? However, if a child’s tooth hurts when they go to school, that’s gonna affect their ability to learn. If a child’s stomach is grumbling, that’s gonna affect their ability to learn. If they’re concerned about where they’re gonna sleep at night, that’s gonna affect their bandwidth for learning.

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: Right now, it’s unfair to expect a classroom teacher. To solve all that, we need-

Jon: But we do.

Sec. Cardona: Tools. But we do. You’re right.

Jon: Now we’re gonna arm them and make them our, our kid’s bodyguards. But you know, my point, my point is basically that these teachers have to go in there, solve all these social ills, and also are expected to give up their lives if necessary, whether it be through the pandemic or through, uh, gun violence. So I, I guess I’m referring back to when you said there’s a teacher shortage. I don’t know how a system could create individuals. Forget about even at that pay scale, who can handle all the things that we ask of teachers and educators. It doesn’t make sense.

Sec. Cardona: Absolutely. But that’s why what we’re doing is not saying teachers, we’re gonna give you more. And it’s about giving the right tools, right? More school social workers. The, uh, the Safer Communities Act provided over a billion dollars for more social workers. 

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: So that teacher whose child is dealing with some issues has a social worker right down the hallway. We we’re putting in our proposal for our budget, 400 million dollars for community schools so that we could have more clinics so that when students are not well, they can get the support that they need, the health support that they need. So they could be in the classroom ready to learn, and the classroom teacher could focus on, uh, literacy and numeracy. So what we’re trying to do is build out a new definition of what effective schools are – 

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: – and there are schools that are meeting the whole needs of the child, but not placing it squarely on the shoulders of the classroom teachers, which is how the model was set up. And the Biden Harris administration’s really effective. 

Jon: That’s right. And it’s also not just what’s effective schools, but what are effective communities and what’s the school’s role within that. And certain schools are gonna play a larger role in communities of need because there’s so much more that. That needs to be done there. And yet, so much of what we do in terms of funding is just based on the numbers. What is your standardized testing scores? What are your different things? It doesn’t take into account the various headwinds that so many schools have to face that also affect their testing, and we penalize them if they don’t do that. So the second part of the question is, once we determine what an effective community is versus an effective school, then you get to the real core issue here, which is what is the purpose of the curriculum in a school? What are they trying to do? Because as it’s been standardized over these years, society is evolving at a much more agile pace, then curriculum. I think if you look at schools today, they probably closer hue to Horace Mann than they do to, Steve Jobs, and, and what this new economy is. 

Sec. Cardona: Absolutely.

Jon: How do you, how do you evolve the purpose of schools and make them more relevant?

Sec. Cardona: You know, and again, this is where I think at the federal role, while we. . We don’t really, uh, we don’t dictate, we don’t mandate, we don’t promote a specific curriculum. We recognize state’s role is to do that. What we’re saying is you need to modernize. You need to evolve. You need to understand the fact that students are sitting in our high schools, uh, in the same way that they did a hundred years ago.

Jon: Right

Sec. Cardona: When we have internship opportunities, we have career pathways that could be explored in ninth grade. Jon, my, my own children, they were in high school during the, uh, height of the pandemic. They, uh, you know, the first three or four months, everything was shut down. The following year, they went in, in a hybrid fashion, which I would imagine –

Jon: Right? Right. My kids too.

Sec. Cardona: many kids across this country did. So my children went to school Monday, Wednesday, Friday, on A week, Tuesday, Thursday on B week. And guess what? They were able to function that year that way. When we got through the worst part of the pandemic, they went back to school and now they’re in the same model. I’m encouraging leaders to say, use that hybrid model, but instead of the students being home, let’s have them out in the field doing externships, doing internships for credits. Um, let’s let them see how the math skills that they’re learning on Monday, Wednesday, Friday can be applied in these careers. 

Jon: But doesn’t that have to be modeled? Who’s providing the model for that? You know, I, I almost look at, this is gonna sound like a strange example, but, you know, I look at these, uh, IMG Academy sort of, uh, schools that look at kids that have exceptional abilities and athletics. And so they’ll take the kids and, you know, from nine to , they’ll do the, uh, you know, uh, some more academic stuff. But in the mornings they’ll do some training, and then, uh, later in the afternoon, they’ll really work on, uh, the sport that they’re really in. Who’s creating those models for not athletic prowess, but civic prowess or, uh, you know, internships or community prowess or those things. Those models have to be developed, whether it’s through pilot programs or through other things. So, that these schools, which are already so strapped for resources have something to look towards that they can implement and how do we do that?

Sec. Cardona: So, uh, we’re announcing in January unlocking career success. It’s like a GPS system for students, uh, to promote pathways. I was in Chicago recently with, uh, Marty Walsh, uh, Department of Labor secretary at Rolling Meadows School, where they had, really deep tentacles into the community, into the businesses. As a matter of fact, the business leaders were a part of the school planning process. They were planning the curriculum. It was like backwards mapping, right?

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona:  Uh, who do they need to hire and what skills do they need and how are the schools, uh, working with them to make sure students have real life experiences in the school? And then out into the field. Models exist, Jon, but we have pockets of excellence in our. We need to systematize this and, um, I’m really excited because this is a purple issue, Jon. You know, both sides of the aisle believe in this. What we’re trying to do now is elevate those best practices, put some funding toward it, 

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: – and make sure that it’s aligned to the Chips and Science Act. Make sure it’s aligned to the climate provisions under the, uh, inflation reduction act, to the infrastructure plan where there’s high skill high paying jobs.

Jon: Aligned in the sense where the money Oh, I see, I see what you’re saying. Because all that, all that

Sec. Cardona: Yeah, the jobs.

Jon: All that stuff is going to shift. Uh, you know, what I would imagine is, is so important is for us to redefine what going through that system is right now, because there’s an awful lot of redundancy in it. There’s an awful lot of busy work in it. There’s an awful lot of things that don’t make sense to the students or the teachers alike because they’re geared towards, you know, this idea of standardized testing and then they move into a higher education system where the opening bid to just get into it can be a hundred thousand, 150 thousand, 200 thousand. And the return on investment for an engineering degree is very different than the return on investment on maybe an art history degree, but they cost the same. And they last four years where you could probably do it in, you know, in two. So our, our, our whole system feels like it is rife with not fraud, but waste and, and, and a lack of direction. 

Sec. Cardona:Yeah, it’s really protecting the status quo and it’s not centered around students.

Jon: No, it’s centered around the industry that’s come up around education. Yeah.

Sec. Cardona: Right, so what we’re trying to do is fix a broken system in the pre-K space.  

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: Making it more relevant, making it more connected to life outside of those four walls, um, and in higher education. Let me tell you, Jon, like. Some of the proudest, uh, work, uh, we have going on here is breaking up a system that I was told you can’t touch higher ed. That’s, that you’re not gonna be able to touch that. You know, and we’re, we’re working on, we’re $48 billion in, uh, approved debt relief, 2 million borrowers. we’re talking about return on investment in colleges. And I’m not just talking about your Corinthians or your ITTs, I’m talking about your public schools too, if. 

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: Having students pay $150,000, for an education that’s gonna get ’em a job making $40,000, a year, we’re gonna call you out. I don’t care if you’re a prestigious university. I don’t care if you’re public or private. Like we need to do better. And we’re, we’re, we’re working on creating that culture. We’re working on elevating those institutions. That provide upward mobility, uh, for students, you know, as opposed to xeroxing privilege, uh, in some of the universities where exclusivity gets them higher rankings, like, we’re done with that. We need a change, we need a culture shift. 

Jon: Is the first step here and, you know, and I hate to go back to these kinds of Bills of rights things, but, you know, a student bill of rights are those types of things. But is there a document that you work off of that basically states the purpose of, of what you believe education should be, right now because everything that you’re talking about it, it makes sense. But I worry, you know, two years from now, you’re not gonna be here and without anything concrete. These are all just aspirational and, and really general.

Sec. Cardona: [CARDONA LAUGHS] One thing I learned, um, when I got here, cuz I’m a, I’m a practitioner man. I, you know, I, I I know kids. 

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: That’s where I, I, I love being in schools. I love being around students. But what I learned here is that, There are, uh, policy revision processes that often take a year or two years because we go through the public hearing and then they become new policies.

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: Um, and that will outlast me. Uh, we work on legislative proposals, uh, that will outlast me. And yes, I mean, we take every opportunity to stand up and talk about the values that should be driving education. We choose where the money goes with some of these discretionary grants, um, and we’re focusing on supporting college completion programs, um, career pathway programs in our K- system and working with our leaders across the country. Our state education chiefs, our governors, our state legislators to help build capacity around where we need to go in education. And as I said before, like I’m proud of the work that they’re doing. Um, we have to keep our foot on the gas and we have to maintain Jon a level of urgency around this work– 

Jon: Right. 

Sec. Cardona: – like we had when we were trying to open schools

Jon: You’ve seen it from the retail level of being inside schools and you’ve seen it from the federal level. And I guess my question is, do you see this as a top down or as a bottom up, uh, thing? And is there, uh, uh, a question of what does the federal government do well for schools and what does it not do well at all? And really should take a backseat to helping, uh, from the, the grassroots and, and the bottom up? 

Sec. Cardona: Top down, bottom up. We need bottom up approaches to fuel innovation. Uh, but we need top down support, right? My policies have to allow for those bottom up strategies that may not be conventional. Um, and, and you need people in DC fighting, because they’re listening to the voices of our students and our educators and our parents across the country.

Jon: Right, right. 

Sec. Cardona: So I think top down, bottom up, they have to meet in the middle. Um, what we’re doing well is number one, we’re calling out, the discrimination against certain marginalized students in a way that needs to be called out. Um, two years ago, schools were safely reopened, right? We went from 70% of them, uh, open full-time when the president took office to about 90%, uh, seven, eight months later. So we’re fighting for the things that are right and we’re protecting students who are being marginalized or are pushed aside. What we need to do better is empower the voices of our students, empower the voices of our parents, uh, to make sure that their voice is at the table when decisions are being made at the local and state level, and we’re gonna continue to do that.

Jon: Right. Well, I very much, uh, appreciate you taking the time. Uh, Secretary Cardona, good luck. Good luck, uh, with your kids in school as, uh, I know they’re probably heading off to their, uh, higher education, all those things. So, uh, thank you very much. 

Sec. Cardona: I appreciate you putting a spotlight on education and shout out to your mom. Someday I want to talk to your mom.

Jon: She’ll talk your ear off. For God’s sakes. 

Sec. Cardona: All good, man,

Jon: It’ll be you, you have no idea what you’re stepping into. Thank you very much. 

Interview with Secretary Miguel Cardona Ends


Jon: Whew. All right. We are back. Kasaun and Deniz.

Kasaun: Yeah.

Jon: Uh, I’m glad. See, here’s, here’s the problem.

Kasuan: Okay.

Jon: Lovely man.

Kasuan: Yes.

Jon: Very bright. I don’t doubt his sincerity. They were all fine statements of intent, but at some point we gotta fucking get to brass tax. 

Kasaun: There are very smart people on both sides.

Jon: That’s my favorite thing to hear is when people say things are purple issues. “This is a purple issue.” You talking about education? Purple? Yeah. What about healthcare? Purple.

Kasaun: You know what I love about this podcast, Jon?

Jon: What’s that?

Kasuan: I feel like two weeks ago you made sure your dog was okay. And then this week you make sure your kids are okay. I feel like you just make, you’re just using this podcast to ensure – [LAUGHTER] 

Jon: It’s too late for them. They’ve gone through this system already.

Kasaun: You’re just here to make sure your house is fine. There’s gonna be a carpenter on next week. 

Jon: It’s not going get, get fixed. How did you guys feel? Were you frustrated by your education. I am frustrated with my children watching how little what they learn has to do with the world. They’re about to enter. 

Denis: Right.

Jon: I’m frustrated for them.

Kasaun: So what’s the difference between what you’ve noticed as an adult and then what you know now as a parent in terms of how you interact with the education system?

Jon: You mean, uh, when I was going through it versus now?

Kasaun: Yeah. Now that your kids are like school age and now you’re thinking about college, like, how’s, how’s that changing?  

Jon: That’s a great question. It’s the exact same fucking system. That’s what’s so frustrating. I’m an old man and it’s the same system as it was when my parents were coming up through it. And that’s the part that’s so frustrating because the world is so different and I see the difference in their enthusiasm and their when, when there’s relevance, when it’s applied learning versus learning. It’s a whole different game. And there’s still those things where they go in and it’s like, “Remember, you know, you gotta memorize the equation.” You’re like, “I have Google” [KASUAN LAUGHS] Like, we live in a different world and I think we have to find a way to make education an applied skill you know what I would do, and this sounds so ridiculous, coming from a so-called, you know, progressive, leaning, whatever I am. I would make the early grades more wrote. Like kids, you fucking go play at home. You probably have a fort somewhere. Go play there,

Deniz: Right.

Jon: You’re gonna probably peek-a-boo, hide and seek. You’ve got an imaginary friend. You’re gonna dress up like Elsa, blah, blah, blah. Fine. 

Kasuan: Little nativity schmivity. 

Jon: While you’re here. A, B, C, D, E, And then the switchover should be, and here’s how shit works. And everything from there on in should be civics, uh, practicality and how shit works.

Kasuan: Yeah.

Jon: So that I want kids to understand the matrix. I don’t want them to know the component parts. I want them to know the matrix.

Kasaun: Uh, I have two things to say about that. One, my nephew Caleb, is, uh, 10 years old and since he was in the first grade, he’s been having socio-emotional classes in his school.

Jon: What is that? [JON LAUGHS] 

Kasuan: Okay, it’s essentially therapy for children, but it’s incredible. He is more mature emotionally than I am.

Jon: But why does his school have that and –

Kasaun: It’s a really great school in PG County, Maryland, and he’s, he’s developed, he gets straight A’s. He’s a great kid, but he’s to the point now where, uh, we’ll be at home and he’ll be like, “Uncle K, I’m very disappointed in you, but I forgive you. I just want you to know, I, I might need a second to reset, but I love you. Give me a hug.” And I’m still over in the corner, still going to therapy as a kindergarten–.

Jon: They’re giving them tools. See, that’s a tool. That’s what schools should be. Tools.

Kasaun: Yeah. 100%.

Jon: School shouldn’t just be time. It should be tools. And they don’t give them enough tools. And I’m not talking about financial tools, emotional tools, uh, uh, comprehension tools. They should be teaching kids how to discern good information from bad. That’s almost the whole game. Tools.

Kasaun: I’m hiring SBF to teach the finance class. [DENIZ LAUGHS] How do you feel about that?

Jon: He’s got time. [KASUAN LAUGHS] Deniz, where, where were you educated?

Deniz: Uh, so, uh, in Turkey. And it’s so funny to me because, uh, they teach you 600 years of Ottoman history and you have to memorize every single war. And let me tell you, there are too many and I don’t even remember a single one.

Jon: You know what, Ever since Vietnam, we don’t even count those wars. You don’t even have to study those anymore. In America, it’s basically, there were only, I think, two wars, the Revolution and World War II. Other than that, uh, just police actions, right? Just different things that happen. Is the education in Turkey practical, or is it even more removed?

Deniz: I mean, I don’t have like, experience with the American system, but it sounds like very similar.

Jon: Mm-hmm.

Deniz: And I did go to an American high school and even that one – 

Jon: Okay. 

Deniz: – you know, it was like largely, memorizing and not really like super practical.

Jon: Mm-hmm. .

Deniz: But what’s also crazy to me is like, I went to private schools. Entire life, basically. Um, I was able to afford it and like for college here, some rich person decided to pay for it. So I was able to go to college here.

Jon: Thank you. Oprah. . . [JON LAUGHS] 

Deniz: Well, you know, the more practical stuff is always like, Packaged as like, you know, when you buy something organic, it’s like $2 more expensive.

Jon: Mm-hmm. .

Deniz: And then with like private schools, they call it like IB or like all of those things and like –

 Jon: Mm-hmm. 

Deniz: It’s still like not really a good system, but it sounds fancy and sounds more practical, but it really isn’t. And it’s just like a scam for people to like pay more basically.

Jon: Welcome to America. That’s what we’re doing. I’m putting out the call, so this is great guys. But I’m putting out the call on the podcast about education. I am inarticulate, uh, about solutions and, and what I want, but what I want is a more clearly defined system of relevance to the world that we live in, to the challenges that people are gonna be facing. And I want anyone out there who is listening. Who has, uh, an idea for a program that can point to some way. The only metrics that these kids are being judged on is standardized tests that have been made by an education corporation that has been stuck in the mud for 50 fucking years, uh, or academic rigor based on an industry of advanced placement that like has, again, has no connection to what’s coming up. Let’s design a system that is more relevant, reactive, and that the metrics of which are the life that these children could aspirationally lead, not a resume that they are, or a boiler plate that they’re filling out to, to, to just get through. Let’s change this thing. [JON HITS DESK] Ow.

Kasaun: [KASAUN LAUGHS] If Secretary Cardona says there is a model, I’d love to see it.

Jon: Let me just say this. We want – we need an effective purple solution. 

Kasuan: Yeah.

Jon: I think that more importantly we need something purple.

Kasaun: Politician’s favorite color. [JON LAUGHS] 

Jon: Guys, thanks so much. Kasaun, Deniz, uh, have yourselves a wonderful break. Uh, I hope you do something super fun and, uh, check out the problem. You can uh – what do you got there? We got our podcast and then we got our shows are airing on Apple TV+. One more episode this year, a wrap up. You know cuz that’s how, that’s how you end years.

Kasaun: Yeah.

Jon: You wrap ’em up.

Kasaun: Yeah, nice bow.

Jon: And then they’re done.

Kasaun: Mm-hmm.

Jon: Then you bury ’em in the backyard with the f***ing gerbils and the birds.

Kasaun: Oh, okay. [JON LAUGHS]

Jon: Oops. I said too much. [LAUGHTER] All right guys. Good stuff.

Deniz: Goodbye. 

Kasaun: Have a good one, yall!


Jon: “The Problem with Jon Stewart Podcast” is an Apple TV+ podcast and a joint Busboy Production.