The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews on An Optimist’s Guide to American Public Education

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on
LinkedIn
+

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Jay Mathews, an education columnist for The Washington Post and author of the recent book, An Optimist’s Guide to American Public Education. Jay describes the three key trends in K-12 schooling that he views as cause for hope. They also discuss the tensions between high-profile, college prep-centered school reformers and the dominant pedagogical outlook found across many of the major schools of education. They explore teacher-driven school reforms, whether led by legendary figures such as Jaime Escalante in traditional public schools, or in charter networks such as KIPP, which have established high-caliber teacher preparation programs. Drawing on his decades spent covering K-12 education for The Washington Post, he shares observations about the quality and success of the U.S. Department of Education’s policymaking, and the strengths and weaknesses of federal education efforts in contrast to what he has observed in states, districts, and schools. They also talk about the most effective ways to spend the massive infusion of federal money school districts are receiving through COVID relief. Next, he offers insights on American journalism, print media’s struggles to adapt to a digital world, the impact on K-12 education coverage, and suggestions for improvement. As someone whose education background and early career focused on Asia, he offers thoughts on U.S.-China relations and the wider implications for America’s global competitiveness in K-12 school reform. He concludes with a reading from his new book.

Stories of the Week: Are unnecessarily severe middle school discipline policies and practices that disproportionately target students of color exacerbating the school-to-prison pipeline? Writing in The Wall Street JournalEducation Next‘s Ira Stoll explores the debate in Boston about changing admissions policies at exam schools, and whether outside organizations, such as the Red Sox baseball team, should weigh in on the issue.

Guest

Jay Mathews is an education columnist for the Washington Post and washingtonpost.com. His column appears once a week. He has been with the Post 50 years and is the author of 10 books, including five about high schools and a New York Times bestseller, Work Hard. Be Nice, about the birth and growth of the KIPP charter school network. He is the biographer of Jaime Escalante, the most influential U.S. teacher of the last 40 years. His book, Question Everything, explores the nation’s largest college prep program, AVID. He recently authored, An Optimist’s Guide to American Public Education.

The next episode will air on Wednesday, April 21st, 2021 at 12 pm ET with guest, Professor Arnold Rampersad, the Sara Hart Kimball Professor Emeritus in Humanities at Stanford University, and the recipient of the National Humanities Medal for his books, Life of Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison: A Biography.

Tweet of the Week:

News Links:

Suspensions, handcuffs, jail — middle school discipline falls heavily on vulnerable kids

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2021/04/08/middle-school-discipline-still-falls-heavily-most-vulnerable-kids/7125491002/

WSJ/Ira Stoll from Ed Next: The Red Sox Speak Up for Racial Engineering in Boston Schools

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-red-sox-speak-up-for-racial-engineering-in-boston-schools-11617920491

Get new episodes of The Learning Curve in your inbox!

Recent Episodes

Johns Hopkins’ Ashley Berner on Educational Pluralism & Democracy

Johns Hopkins’ Institute for Education Policy director, Dr. Ashley Berner discusses educational pluralism's role in improving K-12 performance, exploring European models and the impact of U.S. school choice programs. Dr. Berner analyzes universal ESAs and vocational-technical schooling, addressing persistent academic struggles and civic knowledge gaps.

39th U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky for National Poetry Month

 Boston University professor, Robert Pinsky discusses his memoir Jersey Breaks: Becoming an American Poet; the enduring influence of sacred texts like the Psalms; and the wide cultural significance of classic poets like Homer and Shakespeare.

U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Hilary Crow on K-12 Civics Education

U.S. Chamber Foundation VP, Hilary Crow discusses the state of K-12 civics, emphasizing the Chamber Foundation’s role in addressing America’s wide civic education deficits. Crow highlights a recent national civics survey, alarming civic literacy gaps, and links between political unrest and our nation’s educational shortcomings in K-12 civics.

UCLA’s Ronald Mellor on Tacitus, Roman Emperors, & Despotism

Dr. Mellor delves into the enduring influence of Tacitus, the great Roman historian, on both America’s Founding Fathers and contemporary understanding of politics and government. He discusses Tacitus's insights on the early Roman emperors, unchecked authority, moral judgment of leadership, and the decline of the Roman Republic, as well as ancient lessons for modern governance.

Tufts Prof. Elizabeth Setren on METCO’s Proven Results

Prof. Setren discusses her recent study of METCO, a pioneering voluntary school desegregation program under which Massachusetts students in Boston and Springfield are bused to surrounding suburban districts. She discusses METCO's history, the academic performance of students in the program, enrollment challenges, long-term benefits, and disparities among students.

Pulitzer Winner Joan Hedrick on Harriet Beecher Stowe & Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Prof. Hedrick discusses Harriet Beecher Stowe's wide literary influence on U.S. history. From her abolitionist activism to the publication of international bestseller Uncle Tom's Cabin, they explore Stowe's New England upbringing, anti-slavery convictions, and lasting impact on American literature and social reform in the 19th century.

Dr. Adrian Mims on The Calculus Project & STEM

Dr. Mims navigates through the contentious "math wars" and underscores the pivotal role of Algebra I as a gateway to higher math. He also evaluates the negative impact of Common Core math standards, and proposes strategies to combat pandemic-induced learning setbacks and bridge the gap in math proficiency between American students and their international counterparts.

Yale University Pulitzer Winner Beverly Gage on J. Edgar Hoover & the FBI

Yale Prof. Beverly Gage, author of "G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American," delves into the enigmatic life and career of J. Edgar Hoover, tracing his formative years in Washington, D.C., his rise to prominence as director of the FBI, and his enduring influence on American law enforcement and politics.

UK U-Warwick’s Benjamin Smith on Mexico’s Cartels & Drug Trade

Prof. Benjamin Smith, author of The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade, provides insights into various aspects of the Mexican drug trade, including its historical context and the evolution of illicit drug products over time. He discusses key cartels and their methods, the impact of the drug trade on Mexico's murder rates, the immense financial scale of the trade, its effect on Mexico and the U.S., and the challenges law enforcement face in combating it. Smith explores the relationship among Mexican cartels, other foreign countries, and the illicit drug market in the U.S.

DFER-MA’s Mary Tamer on MCAS & Teacher Strikes

Mary Tamer focuses on the historic impact of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act on the commonwealth’s students’ high achievement on national and international measures. She explores the politics of the Massachusetts Teachers Association advocating against the MCAS test as a graduation requirement. In closing, Ms. Tamer also discusses the rise of teacher strikes and their implications for education reform in the Bay State.

U-TN’s Robert Norrell on Booker T. Washington & Voc-Tech

Prof. Robert Norrell explores Booker T. Washington's early life in slavery, his transformative leadership at Tuskegee Institute amidst Jim Crow racism, and his advocacy for vocational education as a means for racial uplift. He also discusses Washington’s 1901 autobiography, Up From Slavery; his controversial White House dinner with President Theodore Roosevelt; and his often overlooked legacy following the activism of the 1960s Civil Rights era.

BC’s Dr. Matthias von Davier on TIMSS & K-12 Global STEM

Dr. von Davier explores his educational background and its influence on directing TIMSS & PIRLS, shedding light on psychometrics and standardized testing. He discusses the shift in education policy's focus, the global education data landscape, and the pandemic's effects on K-12 education around the world. Dr. von Davier addresses the alarming decline in U.S. educational performance, emphasizing the urgency to bridge achievement gaps. Drawing from international experiences, he highlights global examples for American policymakers from higher-performing countries, emphasizing the crucial links between education, skills, and innovation on the global economy.