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Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Thursday the upheaval of the U.S. school system from the coronavirus pandemic should be “embraced” as an opportunity to build a better one for students. 

“We have to embrace this disruption in education and not build it back the way it was before,” Cardona said at The Atlantic’s Education Summit.

The session with the secretary comes the week the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores came out, showing major drops in mathematics and reading for fourth and eighth graders during the pandemic. 

Cardona said he is “very confident we can reverse” the drop in scores, but that even the ones from before the pandemic in 2019 were not acceptable. 

“In 2019 … our Black and brown kids were underperforming by 10, 15 points on average, and nobody was talking about it,” he said. 

Cardona emphasized the need to “invest in education differently” to build a new system that works for all students. 

In rebuilding that system, Cardona pointed to addressing the teacher shortage, calling it a “crisis,” as well as efforts on student debt relief. 

The Biden administration rolled out applications for its student debt relief program this month, but a court ruling from last week will prevent the relief from being given out until the legality of the initiative is resolved. 

Cardona encouraged borrowers to keep applying and said the federal government is ready to fight these lawsuits.