This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard Robinson and guest co-host Kerry McDonald talk with Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He shares his background working with curriculum expert E.D. Hirsch, Jr., who has emphasized the importance of academic content knowledge in K-12 education as well as civic education to develop active participants in our democracy. They discuss why civics and the study of U.S. history have fallen out of favor over the last several decades, and what that means for the health of our representative government and liberties. Pondiscio explains some of the findings of his book, How the Other Half Learns, on New York’s Success Academy charter schools network, and how the charter movement can overcome growing political obstacles, especially among Democrats. Finally, they explore his recent National Affairs essay on the need to restore trust in the institution of public schooling.
Stories of the Week: The Economist offers a thought experiment: 20 years from now, will children be taught by artificial intelligence-powered personalized learning assistants? America celebrates the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which helped bring about gender parity in sports, the many women whose lives were changed, and the impact on women in leadership roles in corporate America.
Robert Pondiscio is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he focuses on K–12 education, curriculum, teaching, school choice, and charter schooling. Before joining AEI, Mr. Pondiscio was a policy analyst and education reform expert at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank. He previously worked for the Core Knowledge Foundation and as an adviser and civics teacher at Democracy Prep Public Schools. Mr. Pondiscio became interested in education policy issues when he started teaching fifth grade at a struggling South Bronx public school in 2002. Before that, he worked in journalism for 20 years, including in senior positions at Time and BusinessWeek.
The next episode will air on Weds., June 29th, with a member of the Institute for Justice’s legal team discussing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin.
Tweet of the Week:
The Supreme Court STRIKES DOWN a Maine education program that provides tuition assistance for students to attend some private schools but excludes schools that provide religious instruction. SCOTUS says the exclusion of religious schools is unconstitutional.
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) June 21, 2022
The Economist: “The future of education – How might artificial intelligence change the role of teachers?”
AP: “Title IX – 50th anniversary”
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Read a Transcript of This Episode
Please excuse typos.
[00:00:21] GR: Hello listeners. This is Gerard Robinson coming at you from beautiful Charlottesville. Every week, we bring really interesting guests and topics to talk about education at large, but also social science. We talk about economics. We talk about money and other things every now and then we have an opportunity to be blessed by having a guest cohost.
[00:00:41] And today’s one of those days and we have Kerry McDonald, who’s been with us before. Always glad to partner with her. How you
[00:00:50] Kerry: doing Kerry? I’m doing well. Gerard. It’s great to be back with you.
[00:00:53] GR: Yeah, I think the last time we were together, would’ve been early spring. And so this is a good way to, [00:01:00] to move us into the summer.
[00:01:02] And I don’t know what this weather’s like, where you are, but it’s 82. Today’s gonna be nineties plus moving forward. So it’s gonna be pretty humid over the next four or five days.
[00:01:12] Kerry: Yeah, it’s beautiful here in Boston. And I’m heading up to New Hampshire this week for the porcupine freedom festival for some great talks there.
[00:01:23] And I’ll also be recording some episodes of my podcast the liberated podcast, which will be focused on education entrepreneurship, and some innovations in homeschooling and all kinds of good things. So the weather looks great here for.
[00:01:38] GR: Excellent. Well, what story has you excited today?
[00:01:42] Kerry: I’m really interested in an article that was linked to a podcast at the economist this week about the future of learning.
[00:01:50] And it’s always interesting to kind of imagine what education will be like, 10, 20, 30 years from now and in this. [00:02:00] Particular article and episode they were focused on 20 years from now. What would learning look like? And you could tell from the sort of snapshot that they gave the concern was that, , technology was gonna take over, it was going to replace teachers.
[00:02:15] It was going to create sort of this stale stifling kind of learning environment that wouldn’t be serving. Students. Well, and it reminded me a little bit of this fear about new technology or fear about the ways in which technology could negatively impact our lives. That of course has been with us for centuries really.
[00:02:35] And in fact, in my unschooled book, one of my favorite quotes was from a journalist. Who said, speaking about a new piece of technology, this will make us nothing but transparent heaps of jelly to one another. And this was a journalist in the late 19th century talking about the telephone. And so it makes me think a little bit more.
[00:02:59] [00:03:00] Suspiciously about kind of doomsday predictions about technology. And instead recognize that really technology improves our lives in many ways and the same can be true for our learning. So it was worth listening to , the economist podcast did bring in Salcon from Khan academy, who I think offered a more optimistic view of the future of learning and technology.
[00:03:23] But definitely worth listening to, and.
[00:03:26] GR: Got it. It’s amazing how we pick and choose how to be offended when it comes to technology. When it’s technology for us to build a muscle in other right arm, left arm or somewhere else in our body, or it’s AI to actually help us think better, we’re all for it.
[00:03:46] But somehow we don’t think the same AI that helps our body helps our mind that somehow when it’s outside of us, Or if it’s created within the, for profit sector and not per se use solely in the nonprofit that somehow [00:04:00] it’s evil I’m with you and others who say that there is a role for technology, there’s a role for AI and there’s a role for entrepreneurship and investments.
[00:04:09] And so makes a lot of sense to me. None of this means that I’m not aware that there are. Horrible ways in which people have used AI the dark web and some of the things that take place. There is simply one example, but technology and education, it’s here to stay rather than fight against it. I think we need to fight for it fight for it in ways that are smart.
[00:04:30] That are ethical. And then at least we’ll raise some philosophical questions for all of us to answer because our children and grandchildren getting to your point, they’re gonna inherit a very different America than we know today. We don’t know how many amendments will be made to the constitution.
[00:04:46] If one of those amendments in fact will focus on technology and what it means to make us a more perfect union. So I’m glad we’re continuing to have the conversations about uh, technology and education and glad see we’re focused on the future. My. [00:05:00] Article today is a reflection on the past and it goes back 50 years on as many know that on June 23rd, 1972 Congress enacted or basically added title IX to an education amendment.
[00:05:13] And it was signed into law by Richard Nixon. And what it did was to start. A platform, a creative platform in which we can talk about the role of women, not only in American society, not only in sports, but the role of women in the American economy in general. And so we’re celebrating 50 years. And when we think about title IX, understandably, we primarily think about sports because that is one arena.
[00:05:40] Where we put sports under a microscope and began to look at numbers, investments in sports whether or not women were getting equal access across the board. Well, I want to use the sports analogy, but I also want to use it to talk about what women. Did after they played sports. And this is from an AP article [00:06:00] titled title nine, propelled women from college courts to CEO offices.
[00:06:05] And there’s just a few women they highlight. So one is Gail. Boudro. She played basketball at Dartmouth. And in fact, she’s still the school’s career scoring leader and rebound leader. She was three time Ivy league and she moved on to be also earned academic all American status. Now in her business career, she earned actually an MBA from Columbia and that led to several businesses.
[00:06:29] She’s the former CEO of United healthcare and took over as president and CEO of Anthem incorporated, which. Fortune , 500 company in 2017. Another example is Jenny Gilder. She’s a two time Olympian, 1980 and 84. She was the American roarer of the year at Yale in the 1970s. She took that and moved forward.
[00:06:53] Earned an MBA from Washington in 1991. And then she founded Washington works. It’s a Seattle based [00:07:00] foundation which helped women receive public assistance in the 1990s. And later became the CEO and founder of the Gilder office for growth, which was a family and investment office. Closer to home on my neck of the woods is Jackie MC Williams.
[00:07:15] Many of you know, I’m in Virginia. She went to Hampton university. She was a star on Hampton basketball and volleyball team. She helped Hampton win the NCAA division two basketball title in 88. She was also a freshman of the year. She took her progress on the court and then moved it into management.
[00:07:33] She earned a master’s degree from temple. She later coached at Virginia union, an P C U in Richmond, and later became the first female assistant in the central intercollegiate athletic association. Men’s basketball team, which is something we rarely see. And then she moved forward. Ultimately in 2012 becoming the first black female commissioner of the sea.
[00:07:53] I I a and as Meg, Whitman, of course, many of our leaders know who she is across the board, [00:08:00] but these are examples just of four women. There are 400, 4,000 more actually that we can see how they used what they learned playing sports and took that into the field of work, corporate America in the nonprofit sector, fortune 500, as well as small business, also public assistance.
[00:08:17] So 50 years and things are. What are your thoughts?
[00:08:20] Kerry: Yeah. So it’s interesting. The associated press did a nice spread of related articles connected to title IX for this 50th anniversary tribute. And it, I think it’s really interesting Gerard that you and I both sort of gravitated to the articles around some of.
[00:08:39] Women business owners and CEOs who were kind of the pioneers in pushing for title IX years ago and, now have had success in their careers. And of course were instrumental in making women’s sports come to be and able those of us who kind of came after them and participated in both high school and [00:09:00] college sports able to enjoy that.
[00:09:02] So just a wonderful commemoration and again, interesting to see how many of these pioneers turn into entre.
[00:09:10] GR: absolutely. And naturally we also know there’s a great deal of controversy and concern and conversation and applause, as it relates to the role of men who began to transition into women’s sports.
[00:09:23] So, these articles that not focus on that, these are the ones that I read, but it’s also one that’s part of the conversation. All right. Well, as you know, we have great guests. We’re shortly going to be joined by Robert Pondiscio. He is a senior fellow at the American enterprise Institute. He’s also a former journalist with 20 years of experience in the field.
[00:09:45] He’s also the author of a book to help us think seriously about what education looks like. And he’s probably one of a hundred people in the country. Within the school reform segment where people listen to his voice. And so he’s gonna join us soon and look forward to that
[00:09:59] Robert: [00:10:00] conversation.
[00:10:27] Kerry: Welcome back to the learning curve podcast. We are thrilled to be joined today with our guest Robert PIO, who is a senior fellow at the American enterprise Institute, where he focuses on K to 12 education curriculum, teaching school choice and charter schooling. Before joining AAI penici was a policy analyst and education reform expert at the Thomas B Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank.
[00:10:56] He previously worked for the core knowledge foundation and as an [00:11:00] advisor and civics teacher at democracy prep, public schools. Punic became interested in education policy issues. When he started teaching fifth grade at a struggling south Bronx public school in 2002, before that he worked in journalism for 20 years, including in senior positions at time and business week.
[00:11:21] Robert Punic, welcome to the learning curve podcast.
[00:11:24] Robert: Oh, thanks for having me. How do they say it? Longtime listener first time, caller or guest it’s a pleasure to be with.
[00:11:30] Kerry: It’s great to have you here today. I’m gonna ask you a few questions and then Gerard has a few that he wants to ask you, but let’s begin by talking about the fact that you’ve been a protege of the curriculum expert ed Hirsch, Jr.
[00:11:46] Would you share with our listeners why you find his work on K to 12 education, so compelling and why it’s not been more widely embraced among the education establishment?
[00:11:56] Robert: Oh, man. We, could talk about that till the cows come home. That a [00:12:00] long, complicated topic. the short version is and boy I’ve said this a thousand times over the years Don Hurst, the D and ed Hurst stands for Don.
[00:12:08] So, we call him Don. He was the one educational theorist whose work described what I saw in my south Bronx classroom every single day. just to paint the picture for you literally 20 years ago, almost to this day, I started teaching at what was the lowest performing school in the lowest performing district.
[00:12:27] In New York city, PS, 2 77 in the south Bronx and having knocked , set foot in an elementary school since I was myself, an elementary school student, I had virtually no, background in education. I was a, you know, an alternative certification teacher. So, , There was a bit of a willing suspension of disbelief that went into my work.
[00:12:45] In other words, you know, I didn’t know how to teach reading. I, I was a proficient reader and whatnot and, the way I was taught to teach reading to my struggling fifth graders went from willing suspension of disbelief to kind of skepticism, to almost [00:13:00] Milt and anger, because I just realized that the way we were trying to teach kids how to read was just not effective.
[00:13:06] then I discovered ed Hirsch’s work on my own and it. Off like a lightning bolt in my mind, it just described exactly what I was seeing in my classroom every day, kids who could decode, in other words, they could read the words, but they struggled with comprehension and everything that I had been taught as a teacher was that, oh, well, they’re struggling with comprehension because they don’t find it engaging it doesn’t.
[00:13:28] Reflect their experience or interest first was the guy who would say no it’s background knowledge, it’s vocabulary. In other words, if everything we were teaching kids was to read things that were of interest to them that reflected their own experience. what I’ve since come to say, or describe as all mirrors and no windows.
[00:13:46] Well, then that’s going to limit their literacy , , and when I would bring it up in, my ed school classes and my, , professional development, I’d say, Hey, what about this guy? Hirsch? you would always hear some version of, oh, that’s that dead white guy stuff. Nobody takes [00:14:00] that seriously.
[00:14:01] and this is where the skepticism turned to militants and. And anger. So wait, his work is not about that at all. It’s about literacy. It’s about background knowledge. , we’re just giving these kids kind of like starvation ratios of rich curriculum of science and history.
[00:14:14] This is why they’re struggling with comprehension. It’s not that they can’t read. They’re reading out of their depth all the time. I mean, that was the soul of Hersch’s works still is. I became so animated by his work that I. Almost literally ended up knocking on his door to say, Hey, look, this is who I am.
[00:14:29] This is what I do. Let me help you because you’re the guy who’s figured it out. And trust me as a, recent departing teacher, we are not learning what, you know, as, teachers and we need to.
[00:14:40] Kerry: Mm, I love that, that you reached out to him and really wanted to connect , and learn more.
[00:14:45] So, you know, Hearst has been unique in that he’s an academic UVA, English professor who also dedicated much of his intellectual energy and professional time emphasizing academic content knowledge in K to 12 education, which you’ve just talked about. Why haven’t we [00:15:00] seen more higher education figure? in the core academic disciplines, English, math, science history provide leadership in primary and secondary schooling.
[00:15:09] And, and how do you think we could encourage higher quality content experts to lend their voices to school reform?
[00:15:15] Robert: What a fascinating question. And you’d think after 20 years I’d have a good answer for you. it’s almost like there’s this kind of church, state or Chinese wall in between higher ed and K12.
[00:15:26] I mean, for the last 20 years or more in the education reform movement, I don’t think I’m wrong about this. I think we’ve more or less given. Schools of education, a bit of a pass. So, there’s not that much interplay, I think, between higher ed and K12 and look, I mean, it’s just, I, I think, and this is, again, a lot of the stuff that Don Hirsch has written about over the years.
[00:15:45] there’s a lot of kind of, and I don’t wanna be overly dismissive feel good notions about what kids need to learn. In other words, we are more concerned or are often more concerned with kind of. What I would describe as , the Hollies of, K12 education, [00:16:00] as opposed to more the nuts and bolts, the rich content knowledge, the subject matter knowledge.
[00:16:05] and it’s kind of interesting. I, just thinking about how, you know, ed reform, I think has just given a pass to K12 or to, ed schools in reforming K-12 education. It, it continues to astonish me the, the degree to which we just assume that, schools of education are just kind of damaged goods are broken and, really can’t be, fixed or that we can’t uh, As a policy matter exercise, more influence of them having said that, I mean, it’s a lot better off now than it was a few years ago.
[00:16:31] I mean, I just wrote a piece for the Fortive Institute just last week based on Iran report that is noting that there’s this kind of quiet work being done under the gist of a group put together by the, council of, chief state school officers. Where you’ve got about a dozen or so states looking to influence curriculum and instruction.
[00:16:50] and this ran report suggests that they are at the very least changing teacher habits in terms of curriculum adoption and use. mean, that’s the [00:17:00] first steps you really kind of need to get to enthusiastic and, and informed use. So it’s, a long process, so don’t wanna leave the impression that it can’t be done.
[00:17:07] But we need to do more of it. And, those states may be providing some leadership as to how we might go about it.
[00:17:13] Kerry: So let’s switch now to talk about civic education, which has been a topic that you’ve written about in the past, and certainly an element of Hirsch’s work. And I wonder if you could discuss how and why civics and the study of us history have fallen out of favor in so many K to 12 schools over the last several decades.
[00:17:32] And what do you think that means for the health of our representative government civic, mindedness and Liberty?
[00:17:39] Robert: Boy. I hope at some point you ask me a question I can answer in 10 seconds or less. this is gonna be another kind of long that’ll be for dry it’s it’s a great question. And a fascinating one.
[00:17:51] I often joke that that ho man went to his grave without ever having a once uttered the phrase collagen career ready. and what I mean by that joke is that we [00:18:00] had a very. And concept of, schools and you’re right to invoke Hersh again, because he wrote a terrific book a few years ago called the making of Americans, which really unpacked some of the earliest thinking about the purpose of public education in America, even before Homan.
[00:18:16] I mean guys, like, you know, Benjamin Rush and Noah Webster and even the founders, writing the constitution, the Federalist papers who were so concerned about faction , and there was. A surprising amount of content, written by those, in the founding generation that really, thought deeply about education and said, look, you know, schools are the mechanism by which I think it was the Benjamin Rush phrase you create quote, Republican machines, meaning, Ordinary people who were capable of self-government, you know, that was a overriding concern of, thinkers of 250 years ago.
[00:18:50] That means civic education. That means preparation, not for the private ends of, , college and career readiness as we term it now. But preparation for public life or [00:19:00] active participation and civic engagement. and I think it’s, fair to say. We have just drifted. So far from that shore, that now when you, even suggest that to some people, they’re like, well, you know, why would you think that should be a purpose of, schooling now, maybe that pendulum has come back a little bit more in the last couple of years.
[00:19:19] you can’t open a paper anymore without somebody, saying that our democracy is imperiled. So the conditions should be ripe because of that for a return to civic education, the obvious downside. Is I think whenever you say civic education, particularly to those of us who are, right of center we tend to view that as, code for a kind of aggressive activism in civics and civic education, that kinda leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.
[00:19:45] But there is always going to be that work to be done. Right. I mean, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about exactly this question , and what is the purpose , , of the school. And, it’s the time to rethink the kind of, you know, social contract, if you’re like that we have between [00:20:00] families and parents and children and the outcomes that we seek in schooling.
[00:20:04] And you can come at this many number of different ways. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking at the kind of technocratic focus on just outcomes while important has been, you know, minimal caloric content as it were. In other words, I’m not sure that things are that much better off than they were say 20 or 30 years ago before we fetishize test scores as kind of the alpha in omega.
[00:20:25] So it’s Long story short. I think the time is long overdue just to kind of rethink that kind of civic function of education. but it’s gonna be di difficult to do that in the, in the current political environment.
[00:20:36] GR: So Robert you’ve written a book, how the other half learns equality excellence and the battle over school choice.
[00:20:44] I’ve got a copy. I’ve read it, loved it. And when I initially saw the title, it reminded me of a book I guess published 129 years earlier called how the other half lifts and Jacob risk book about tenement slums in New [00:21:00] York. Your story. Is about New York. It’s about really the network of charter schools called success academy.
[00:21:08] Eva’s been on our show before, but your story is really just a microcosm of the American story of reform of politics and change. Talk to us about some of the larger lessons that we as listeners should draw from your book, not just from New York, but the broader conversation about let’s the phrase you just used, the social.
[00:21:30] Robert: Thanks Gerard. and by the way, go to the head of the class, you were one, of the few readers who was made that immediate connection that I kind of thought was obvious between my title and the homage to Jacob Reese. I guess I’m a thorough going ed Hershey and, you know, core knowledge guy that I just assumed that was part of everybody’s cultural literacy, but it was not, but you got it.
[00:21:48] So thank you. Yeah, it, it, it’s interesting. I mean, the exact conceit of the book Gerard was exactly that. I mean, if listeners know success academy, then they, know the basic contours of the [00:22:00] backstory, which is that, Eva Moskowitz has succeeded in building something that is literally unprecedented in American education, which is a network of charter schools.
[00:22:09] In which there is quite literally not a bad one and I’m making air quotes around, as I say bad, because I mean, they are good by the standards by which we hold schools accountable. I don’t have the data in front of me, but, the weakest success academy still gets like 80, 90% of their kids passing , the New York state ELA and math test.
[00:22:28] And, and to my knowledge, no other charter network in America has grown to the size. Of hers without at least one or two outliers and sometimes quite a few outliers. So, based on the way we keep score in education and ed reform, she seems to have figured out something that nobody else has managed to figure out.
[00:22:45] So if you’re me, you know, or a guy like me or you, I, so we wanna figure out, okay, what’s going on here. What is she solved and how can we translate that to American education at, at large? So that was the, premise by which I spent a year embedded at a success academy [00:23:00] school.
[00:23:00] And interestingly, it was literally in the same neighborhood where I was a, fifth grade teacher for five years directly across the street, almost from where I was a student teacher, when I started teaching. So I was looking for exactly that, what are the lessons? And, , the bad news I suppose, is I don’t think that there are a lot of lessons.
[00:23:17] And that’s because not only are these schools of choice but they are very demanding schools of choice demanding for families. In other words, it’s just damn hard, frankly, for a family to, Persist at success academy. They, make a lot of demands of families, , read with kids every night.
[00:23:35] be very accountable to the schools. I’ll oversimplify here broadly, but I think the basic idea, what she’s kind of figured out how to do. Is get every adult in a child’s life, basically singing from the same hymnal. And that’s difficult to do in K12 at large. Right? In other words, if you sign up willingly in a school of choice and you sign up for this intensive form of education well then, buying in, you’re a knowing consumer.
[00:23:59] You’re much more [00:24:00] likely to be able to, do that than, in a run of the mill K12 school at a slightly more granular level. The demands are such that, and this is just observation. I always feel the need to point this out. This is not data. This is just kind of a journalistic observation.
[00:24:13] It’s unmistakable that the demands mean it’s a lot easier for a certain kind of families to persist and be successful here. I think this was in the book. At one point I went on a field trip with some second graders, and I think there were more dads chaperoning , that second grade field trip than I had seen in five years of parent teacher conferences.
[00:24:32] So in other words, the school culture kind of valorizes or requires a lot of parental bandwidth. So you end up seeing families who are. Intact employed, ambitious for their kids, religious and spiritual, for example, they have more, a little bit more social capital perhaps than other families in that same neighborhood.
[00:24:49] That’s not a criticism by the way. I mean, I think , some folks, including frankly, some folks at success academy misinterpreted the book of saying, oh, well, you’re saying that we’re just Parents? No, because the point I [00:25:00] made it repeat, made repeatedly in the book is that yes, there’s a certain bar for entry, , you gotta have a certain amount of parental bandwidth to get in there at all.
[00:25:08] Because of the hurdles they put in front of families uh, But once they’re there, they are outperforming, literally outperforming the gifted and talented programs in New York city that do in fact hand pick kids. So there’s considerable magic going on there, but it’s a complicated picture of what can be done when you have dedicated employees, a real clear school culture a, a demanding and.
[00:25:30] Program and, high and ongoing levels of, parental bandwidth. All of those things make it phenomenally powerful for low income families, but phenomenally difficult , to apply to K12 at large.
[00:25:42] GR: So let’s stick to New York city again, because it’s another microcosm for a larger conversation about.
[00:25:50] Education and politics in this instance, it’s charter schools. So right now as we speak the bite administration and others are pushing [00:26:00] to really slow down the growth of charter schools. Well, this is 2020 two let’s back up to October 7th. 2015 in New York city, when it estimated 18,500 families children’s and children, educators gathered at the Camden Plaza in Brooklyn under the motto, I fight in equality at that time.
[00:26:19] Democratic mayor bill de Boggio was trying to end. Charter schools, as we know it again, 18,500 families, children, educators, employees gathered to say, no, we don’t want this to happen. Even then within the school reform movement, both public and private school sectors, people began to say, there’s a breach.
[00:26:41] In this social contract and people like NA Democrats have always supported charters. It won’t change well, we’re now in 2022. And when vice president by then was under president Obama, who supported charters, it’s a different place. What have you seen? , not only unfold in New York [00:27:00] city, but just, writ large in our movement.
[00:27:02] Robert: that’s a great question. And I guess I’m gonna run the risk of kind of scooping itself a little bit. I’m actually working on a big piece as we speak for education. Next on almost exactly this question. So I’m here in New York. Just shortly after that rally that you described we ran up against a, a cap in charter schools.
[00:27:22] if you wanna open a charter school in New York state, you literally cannot do it anymore. At least down in New York city. There’s, still some cap space. in upstate New York. but most of the energy and dynamism of charters in New York have, has been in the last couple of decades in New York city.
[00:27:39] I mean, we, mentioned success academy. There’s also uncommon achievement. First Kip democracy prep, where I used to teach and others. These fairly large well established and by any reasonable metrics, successful schools run by so-called CMOs or, charter management organizations. I can’t help, but think in, in a less [00:28:00] polarized time, If education were kind of less of a political football, those of us in New York, we would look at the, at our charter sector in New York city with no small amounts of civic pride and say, look, , , these schools, dozens of them are serving the cause of equity.
[00:28:16] , they are accomplishing and have been for quite some time. the thing that our previous mayor who you just alluded to bill de Blasio. Claim to wanna create with the so-called selective high schools, which is getting large numbers of black and brown students on the path to, college and, career and, and elite educational opportunities.
[00:28:35] Well, well, charters have been doing that for quite some time. But they’re in bad odor. So it’s, bizarre, right? To, in other words, they, all they’re doing is all they’ve been asked to do. And here we are in New York with, you know, a charter cap. We’re not opening any more of them. And when we are opening new charters, they tend to be now those that are still opening upstate New York.
[00:28:55] Kind of little mom and pop charter schools community responsive charter schools, not the, big [00:29:00] CMO schools. Now, meanwhile, parents still are swelling. the waiting list for those, more established CMO network schools. So it’s kind of interesting, no matter how you slice it, it does seem like this is a very hard time to be in the charter community in New York, either you are being thwarted in any attempt to open new schools.
[00:29:19] If you’re opening new schools, well, then you’ve got a lot of work to do because you don’t have the resources of a CMO it’s it almost feels like you’re, back to 25 years ago, when we were opening schools in church basements and whatnot, and everything was being bootstrapped. I’m tempted to suggest that that’s a bit of a bellwether.
[00:29:35] For the way charters are going nationally, where, once that bipartisan coalition that we enjoyed for a couple of decades in the ed reform world, once that fell apart it just became another way to say it is that ed reform sneezed and, and the charter world caught cold.
[00:29:50] GR: Makes a lot of sense. And since we’re discussing charter schools, we wanna say hello to all of our colleagues who are in Washington DC for the national charter school conference [00:30:00] held there for the next few days. So by the time you hear this, you may still be in DC. And those of you who will listen later, thank you for getting together.
[00:30:07] Both folks on the right left, middle, all stripes and everything in between. So here’s my last question for you. You’ve recently wrote. Good piece in national affairs about how to restore trust and public institutions, really public schooling. For some of our listeners, they may not be aware of national affairs.
[00:30:26] Tell us a little bit about that medium and then kind of give us an idea of why you think the topic of public schooling and trust is important at this.
[00:30:35] Robert: Yeah, thanks. It, it just came out today as we’re speaking and it’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to write for national affairs, which is a, quarterly founded by my AAI colleague.
[00:30:45] Yuva Lev who is maybe the, preeminent public intellectual that we have in this country at this time. So it’s, it’s an honor and a thrill to have anything appear between those covers. reason this interests me. It’s funny. I’ve been accused of being a contrarian and, and [00:31:00] I don’t think I am.
[00:31:01] But maybe I, I dwell in complexity and if you’ve been in the reform world for any period of time and, you know, tell me if you disagree, George, a lot of us who are, and I’m a, you know, school choice, charter school parent advocates. If we think long and hard about our advocacy, we probably recognize a tendency to kind of take advantage of weakness in public education because it creates the conditions, right?
[00:31:27] that further our agenda. To drive demand for school choice. , , both among parents and politically there’s something a little bit unholy about that. Right. and again, I hope my, choice advocate in charter advocate, you know, bonafide are in good order. but I, I always remind my friends in this world that look, the sun will likely go out before we have in America where the majority of kids are not in traditional public schools.
[00:31:54] it’s not because we can’t do anything differently. It’s because it’s a cultural habit. It’s because [00:32:00] we value it. So let’s just kind of tap the breaks before we try to. unseemly advantage of weakness in public education because that’s where the kids go to school. So we need to be no less invested in their outcomes and the quality of education that they receive than we are interested in what happens to kids in schools of choice.
[00:32:20] and as soon as I say that, your then I also wanna make sure this critique applies to the left as well, because the second that you are envisioning your job as a public school teacher or administrator as, Playing a quasi activist role, , viewing schools as, social justice institutions, well, then you’re kind of playing fast and loose with the expectations around public education as well.
[00:32:42] So this long piece, and it’s, it is quite long. It’s about 5,000 words. I think is, is hopefully a reminder to, to partisans of both stripes, to just kind of, again, tap the brakes before you kind of play fast and loose. With damaging this institution that educates the majority of American children and [00:33:00] probably always will be because either you don’t have the permission as a public employee to, impose your social justice agenda or whatever your activist agenda is on education.
[00:33:10] And on the other hand before you really try to take political advantage of, the weakness of public education, let’s remind ourselves that this is where most of the kids go to school and probably always will. So we need to remind ourselves that we have a vested interest in, those kids who will probably be the majority of kids for quite some time to come.
[00:33:29] GR: Robert, thank you for articulating. What many of us in the school reform movement have said for decades? Because we support charter schools, vouchers, ESAs, and everything else homeschooling as well. We realize the majority of our public schools will educate our children and we have to make them work. I’ve also said that, , we should make all the best examples, charter schools alone.
[00:33:49] There’s some great high performing title, one schools in rural areas, in urban areas as well. So thank you for that. Thank you for joining us. Also thank you [00:34:00] for bringing ed Hirsch. So for listeners, after you listen to this podcast, you can also go to our August 18th, 2021 podcast. You can find at the pioneer Institute where we actually interview ed Hirsch on common knowledge, equity and educating citizens.
[00:34:14] So you may find some good things there. Robert, again, keep up the good work. I look forward to reading your article that you just discussed and look forward to seeing you in person at some point when. We’re in the same room together.
[00:34:28] Robert: Here’s hope. And thanks for having me take care.[00:35:00]
[00:35:00] Kerry: So Jared for the tweet of the week, this week, it was a big week at the us Supreme court with the opinion in Carson V Macon. So the tweet of the week is the SCOTUS blog at SCOTUS blog. Talking about the vote being six to three and really a, victory for school choice.
[00:35:17] GR: Absolutely. And in fact next week we’re gonna have someone from the legal team.
[00:35:23] Who represented the family in that case, as our listeners know we’ve had other guests on our show who actually were the name either plaintiff often in the cases. So look forward to that next week uh, bid win for families, for educators, and really for the whole idea of what choice means in American.
[00:35:44] We often focus on it in one aspect and forget that it actually is pretty ubiquitous across American life. So Carrie, with that, thank you so much for joining me. Look forward to us. Tag teaming again in the future.
[00:35:55] Kerry: Great to be with you Gerard this week, and I will be back again next week to join you again.[00:36:00]
[00:36:00] GR: Sounds good. Take care.