Cardona Vows to Support Undocumented Educators and Students

U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona listened intently as undocumented educators shared their stories about the importance of higher education.

On Tuesday afternoon, Cardona was late getting to a phone call with a United States senator because he was determined to hear the stories of the educators who gathered virtually to tell him about their experiences as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients, Dreamers without DACA and TPS (Temporary Protected Status) holders.

The 11 participants spoke about growing up in the U.S., working towards a higher education, seeing their undocumented status impact those plans and navigating life as best they could. Cardona said these stories would inform his advocacy, adding that the educational system should look at bilingualism as an asset.

Dr. Miguel Cardona

“It is my goal to serve as Secretary of Education and unapologetically address achievement disparities, opportunity disparities, to make sure that our students have access to higher education,” said Cardona, himself a first generation college student. “My goal is that I leave with stories to help support our shared mission. … Really paint a picture when I’m advocating on your behalf.”

Some of the participants in the roundtable discussion are currently teachers and have shared their status with their students, helping the students navigate their own issues. They all hope that the recently proposed Dream and Promise Act, which will provide them a pathway to citizenship, will be enacted.

A recurring theme among the participants was the role that high school counselors and teachers play in helping undocumented students access higher education.

Marissa Molina, a DACA recipient and the Colorado state director for (focused on reforming the immigration and criminal justice systems), lauded her high school counselor who championed her desire to attend college.

“He’s the reason I got to college even when there was no DACA, no in-state tuition or financial aid for undocumented students like me in Colorado,” she said. “[DACA] allowed me not just the opportunity to get my first job, but to get a loan that would allow me to stay in school. In 2014, it allowed me to become the first person in my family to graduate college.

“After graduating, I actually became a high school teacher because I knew many other students like me who didn’t get the same chance only because they didn’t have someone championing them,” she added. “I wanted to be that champion for young people and create spaces where students knew they belonged and were safe to own their stories.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated tensions and fear for undocumented individuals.

“We still don’t have permanent protections for Dreamers,” said Molina. “We know these protections can only come through Congressional action and legislation.”

Astou Thiane, now an assistant principal of humanities at a middle school in Brooklyn, New York, recalled how she sobbed to her friends after a high school counselor told her there was no way she could attend college.

“She said it very plainly and very definitively as if this was kind of the law,” said Thiane. “As an educator reflecting about it, I still get really emotional.”

Thiane researched scholarships, but found she was ineligible for most. The passage of DACA in 2012 enabled her to gain employment. She attended a City University of New York (CUNY) school, and was able to get in-state tuition, paying her way through school by working in retail 40 or more hours a week while also being a full-time student.

“I really want to take part in the work to serve my community,” said Thiane. “I wanted to stand in front of Black kids like me, who may be undocumented and share with them that I am undocumented. If that is you, there is a way for you to move forward.”

Yadira Garcia Apodaca was seven when her family came to the U.S. She grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. The passage of AZ Prop 300 led to all financial aid being terminated for undocumented individuals, which meant her merit-based scholarship was pulled. She literally fundraised her way through Arizona State University, graduating with a degree in math education, but it wasn’t until after the passage of DACA that the possibility of teaching became a reality. She’s been teaching high school since 2015.

“Every two years I find myself wondering what’s next,” said Garcia Apodaca. “I always like to share my story with the students and letting them know I do have DACA.

“We’re here now, but it’s so imperative that we have a permanent solution,” she added. “There’s a shortage of teachers. Hundreds of teachers graduate each year, but you can’t necessarily use your degree depending on your situation.”

Denise Panaligan is in her fifth year of teaching in Los Angeles through Teach for America. She didn’t find out she was undocumented until she was 18 and planning for college. Initially afraid to apply for DACA, she did so when she saw friends applying.

“I am very fortunate to be in front of many diverse groups of students—Asian American students, Black students, Mexican students, Central American students,” said Panaligan. “By sharing my story, I really hope to number one, just lift up the narrative that Asians can be undocumented too. Immigration for us is an issue. And number two, we need permanent protections for everybody so we’re not living our lives in two-year increments.”

Other participants spoke about wanting to be teachers and college professors. Cardona concluded the roundtable by sharing his own experiences as an education.

“Your stories have strongly influenced me,” he added. “I’m going to take these stories with me. … I’m going to do everything in my power to support you and support students like you. They are the fabric of this country. It’s such an asset when we give all of our students an opportunity to thrive.”



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Vanita Gupta Confirmed as Associate Attorney General

Vanita Gupta, President Joe Biden’s associate attorney general nominee, has been confirmed by the Senate 51-49 on Wednesday after Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska broke party lines to support Gupta, CNN reported.

Vanita Gupta

Gupta will be the first woman of color to be associate attorney general.

Murkowski explained her decision, saying she was troubled by some of Gupta’s past statements but ultimately chose to support after a long conversation with the civil rights attorney.

“I asked her point blank, ‘Why do you want this? Is this worth it?’ Because this has clearly been very hard on her as a nominee,” Murkowski said. “And she paused and reflected a moment, and just spoke to how she feels called to serve in a very personal way that I thought was impactful.”

Murkowski added: “I am going to give the benefit of the doubt to a woman who I believe has demonstrated throughout her professional career to be deeply, deeply committed to matters of justice,” Murkowski said.

Gupta led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under the Obama administration. She then served as president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.



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Webinar Highlights New Approaches to Assessment Design

During the Educational Testing Service’s (ETS) virtual webinar on Wednesday, two key issues around standardized testing emerged: time limits and access to tutoring sessions create barriers for students.

During the second day of the series, “A Different Kind of Thinking,” higher education scholars continued the conversation around developing new approaches to assessment design.

Dr. Deborah Bial

“Standardized testing for college entry was initially promoted as a fairer, more reliable assessment of students’ capabilities than grades because it puts everyone through the same evaluative process,” said Dr. Myra Burnett, vice president of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness at Spelman College. “Although the process in some ways may be the same, the experience differs widely.”

There’s a perception that standardized testing scores correlates to one’s “worth, value and intelligence,” according to Posse Foundation President and Founder Dr. Deborah Bial.

“That this one score is somehow going to send a message to someone,” she said. “Even though I’m 55 years old, I’m still worried about telling you what my score is. I think we need to look at that. Why is that happening?”

But, how can testing be changed?

Panelists suggested implementing assessments in shorter blocks over a span of time. Under this model, assessments would be focused on growth abilities rather than just learned knowledge.

“That would put a lot of the earnest of assessment into the school curriculum itself and take a lot of the burden off a group of people who very rapidly have to assess one-time assessments in order to make decisions,” said Dr. Patricia Gándara, research professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project at University of California, Los Angeles.

With the mindset of tracking progress and improvement overtime, technology advancements such as artificial intelligence could be utilized, including operating tests like gaming.

As for changes within college admissions, the process could be handled at the local level, where high schools would indicate which of their students would be selected at institutions, according to Bial.

Going one step further, she questioned what would happen if students were randomly admitted to college?

Using a lottery system, the standards of measurement would not distinguish students. Dr. Steven Culpepper, associate professor of statistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said he doesn’t see why a lottery wouldn’t be “optimal” if students meet the “broad” definition of college readiness at each institution.

Dr. Patricia Gándara

“I agree that a lottery would be radical but it certainly seems like it would be a fair process,” he said.

The panelists noted that reevaluating assessments also starts within the classroom.

“The entire system is set up where they feel the pressure that every assessment matters and every assessment they have to do exceptionally well on at all costs,” said Dr. Catherine Good, associate professor of psychology at Baruch College of the City University of New York.

Students’ testing abilities can be impacted by “context,” whether that’s food insecurity or heat. Through his research, Dr. Jonathan Smith, assistant professor of economics at Georgia State University, found that students performed worse on “unusually” hot days. Despite air conditioning mitigating the negative impact, disadvantaged communities often lacked those resources.

“Context matters,” said Smith. “Where people live and go to school is impacting how they perform. This is very different from a single day assessment. This is talking about learning over the course of an entire year, grades, the ability to sit in a classroom and consume information.”

When giving an assessment, it should be of value to students, noted panelists. Rather than focus on unrelatable information, Dr. Aditi Pai, associate professor of biology at Spelman, instead chooses to develop case studies that are relevant to her students. For example, mercury pollution in Georgia.

“Make it for the learner, make it relevant to the actual context they are in and personal to them,” she said. “Something that they could actually benefit from learning so they are motivated.

Similar to learning, assessments also have to be engaging, according to Smith.

With ongoing experiences of cheating in her classroom, Good is leaning towards a more radical approach—eliminating assessments entirely.

Students will be able to choose courses and schools based on their own “curiosities.” The college admissions process would then be about students finding institutions that fit their learning goals and interests rather than solely seeking out top-ranked schools, said Good.

“Eliminating assessments as a barrier to access to opportunity could be an important first step in creating a more equitable education system,” she added. “It could unburden students from the stress and the waste of time that our current assessment system imposes.”

Sarah Wood can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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