The Learning Curve Podcast

Wednesdays at 12 pm

“The Learning Curve” is where you’ll find straight talk about the nation’s hottest education stories – news and opinion from the schoolyard to the 2020 campaign trail. Co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal serve up provocative commentary and interview school leaders, innovators, bestselling authors, policymakers and more. Listeners can find “The Learning Curve” on iTunes (Apple Podcasts), StitcherSpotify, and the Choice Media mobile app. They can also find it online at Ricochet and Pioneer Institute.

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

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.

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About Our Co-Hosts

Cara Stillings Candal, Ed.D., serves as Director of Educational Opportunity, focusing on private school choice, for ExcelinEd. Cara has spent the last 10 years working in education policy as a Senior Fellow with both Pioneer Institute and the Center for Education Reform. She was also a founding team member of the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education (NAATE) and a research assistant professor at Boston University in the Department of Educational Leadership and Development. Cara has authored/edited more than 25 papers and three books on education policy. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Indiana University, a Masters of Arts in Social Science from the University of Chicago and a Doctorate of Education from Boston University. Cara is the author most recently of Pioneer Institute’s book,The Fight for the Best Charter Public Schools in the Nation.

Gerard Robinson is the Vice President for Education at the Advanced Studies in Culture Foundation (ASCF) in Charlottesville, Virginia. ASCF uses basic and applied research to educate the public and key societal leadership groups about the nature and challenges of late-modern society and conducts inquiry into humane and democratic responses to these challenges. Previously, he was Executive Director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity, in Washington, D.C. Robinson is a fellow with AEI, and was Commissioner of Education in Florida and Secretary of Education in Virginia.

Browse all episodes below:

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

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.

BBC Classics Prof. Bettany Hughes on Athenian Democracy, Socrates, & the Goddess Aphrodite

This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Professor Bettany Hughes, award-winning historian, BBC broadcaster, and author of the best-selling books Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore; The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens, and the Search for the Good Life; and Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess. Prof. Hughes shares insights from her most recent book about the ancient deity known as Venus to Romans and Aphrodite to the Greeks, and her impact on our understanding of the mythology and history of beauty, romance, and passion.

Dartmouth’s Prof. Susannah Heschel Discusses Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel & the Civil Rights Movement

This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Susannah Heschel, the Eli M. Black Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, and the daughter of noted 20th-century Jewish theologian and Civil Rights-era leader, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. They discuss what teachers and students today should know about Rabbi Heschel’s life and legacy.

Hoover Institution’s Dr. Eric Hanushek on COVID-19, K-12 Learning Loss, & Economic Impact

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. They discuss his research, cited by The Wall Street Journal, on learning loss due to the pandemic, especially among poor, minority, and rural students, and its impact on skills and earnings.

UK Classics Scholar Kathryn Tempest on Cicero, Brutus, & the Death of Caesar

This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Kathryn Tempest, a Reader in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Roehampton in London, UK, and author of Cicero: Politics and Persuasion in Ancient Rome and Brutus: The Noble Conspirator. They discuss the historical, civic, and moral lessons political leaders, educators, and schoolchildren today can learn by studying the Roman Republic and the lives of key figures from that era such as Cicero and Brutus.

Best-Selling, Netflix Author Loung Ung On Surviving Pol Pot’s Killing Fields

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Loung Ung, a human-rights activist; the author of the bestselling books First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Lucky Child, and Lulu in the Sky; and a co-screenwriter of the 2017 Netflix Original Movie, First They Killed My Father. Ms. Ung shares her experiences living through genocide under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, which resulted in the deaths of nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population. 

American Federation for Children’s Tommy Schultz on School Choice & Edu Federalism

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Tommy Schultz, CEO-elect of the American Federation for Children (AFC). They discuss how COVID-19 school closures have increased the interest in alternatives to public schools, and what AFC's polling shows on shifts in attitudes toward school choice options in both urban and rural communities.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, International Best-Selling Author & Human Rights Activist

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, founder of the AHA Foundation, and author of the books Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women's Rights, Infidel: My Life, and Nomad: From Islam to America - A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations. 

WSJ Drama Editor Terry Teachout on Jazz Greats Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington

This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and guest co-host Kerry McDonald continue our celebration of Black achievements with Terry Teachout, drama critic at The Wall Street Journal, and author of such books as Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong and Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington.

UGA Prof. Valerie Boyd on Zora Neale Hurston, the Harlem Renaissance, & Black History Month

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard celebrate Black History Month with Professor Valerie Boyd, the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer in Residence and Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Georgia, and the definitive biographer of Zora Neale Hurston. Boyd discusses why Hurston is such an important novelist and cultural figure, and the influence of Hurston’s 1937 classic novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, on American literature.

Boston Catholic Schools Supt. Tom Carroll on National Catholic Schools Week

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard celebrate National Catholic Schools Week with Tom Carroll, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Boston. He shares his view of the value that Catholic schools add; the reasons for their success at improving student outcomes and creating a sense of community; and their commitment to serving children from underprivileged backgrounds, regardless of religious affiliation. 

AZ Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick on National School Choice Week

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard kick off National School Choice Week with Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick, co-author with Kate Hardiman of a new book, Unshackled: Freeing America’s K–12 Education System. Justice Bolick shares his experiences serving on a state supreme court, and how it has shaped his understanding of America’s legal system.

Pulitzer Winner Taylor Branch on MLK, Civil Rights History, & Race in America

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard are joined by Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a landmark trilogy on the Civil Rights era, America in the King Years. They discuss the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday the nation observed on Monday. They review Dr. King’s powerful, moving oratory, drawing on spiritual and civic ideals to promote nonviolent protest against racial injustice, and how, as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he shared leadership of the movement with organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Ignat Solzhenitsyn on His Father’s Nobel Prize-Winning Fight with Communism

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard talk with Ignat Solzhenitsyn, a pianist, conductor laureate of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, principal guest conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, and son of the Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. They discuss his father’s legacy, his courageous work to debunk the Soviet Union’s utopian myths, and key lessons American educators and students should draw from his life, writings, and battle with Soviet communism.

Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy on Charter Schools, Achievement Gaps, & COVID-19 Learning Loss

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This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard kick off the new year with Eva Moskowitz, CEO & Founder of Success Academy Charter Schools, a network of 47 schools enrolling 20,000 K-12 students in New York City. Eva shares her own education path, and how it influences her leadership and philosophy.

USED Asst. Sec. Jim Blew Talks Sec. DeVos, School Choice, & K-12 Politics

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Jim Blew, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development at the U.S. Department of Education. Assistant Secretary Blew shares lessons from leading and implementing K-12 public education reform efforts in often contentious policy environments, and the unique challenges of the current partisanship and gridlock in Washington, D.C.

Oxford & UCLA Pulitzer Winner Prof. Daniel Walker Howe on Horace Mann, Common Schools, & Educating for Democracy

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Daniel Walker Howe, Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus at Oxford University in England and Professor of History Emeritus at UCLA. Drawing from his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, he provides background information on Horace Mann, the first secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, founder of the common school movement in public education, and a prominent abolitionist in Congress.

Stanford’s Prof. Caroline Hoxby on Charter Schools, K-12 Ed Reform, & Global Competitiveness

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Caroline Hoxby, the Scott and Donya Bommer Professor of Economics at Stanford University and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution.

SABIS® President Carl Bistany on International Education, Charter Public Schools, & At-Risk Students

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Carl Bistany, the president of SABIS® Educational Systems, an education company founded over 130 years ago that serves young women in the Middle East, and poor and minority students in the U.S.

UConn’s Prof. Wayne Franklin on James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans, & American Democracy

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Wayne Franklin, professor of English at the University of Connecticut and definitive biographer of the American literary figure James Fenimore Cooper. As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, Prof. Franklin reviews Cooper's background and major works, especially the "Leatherstocking Tales," including The Last of the Mohicans, which are distinguished for their enlightened and sympathetic portrayal of the disappearing tribes.

Wall Street Journal Columnist Jason Riley on the 2020 Election, School Choice, & Race in America

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Jason Riley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Jason shares insights on the 2020 election, its implications for the next two years, and assuming Vice President Biden becomes president, how he may govern on K-12 education.

Nationally Recognized Author Tara Ross on the Importance of the Electoral College

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Tara Ross, the nationally recognized author of Why We Need the Electoral College. On the eve of the 2020 election, they discuss the critical and controversial role of the Electoral College in determining which candidate will become the next President of the United States.

Pulitzer-Winning Author Stacy Schiff on the Salem Witch Trials

In our special Halloween edition of “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Pulitzer-Prize winner Stacy Schiff, whose most recent book is The Witches: Salem, 1692. They discuss why, in Schiff’s view, the Salem witch trials are the “the best known, least understood chapter” of American history, and why the trials, false charges, and finger pointing, remain relevant today in our Internet culture.

LSU’s Prof. Andrew Burstein on Washington Irving, the Headless Horseman, & the Presidency

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Andrew Burstein, the Charles P. Manship Professor of History at Louisiana State University, and author of The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving, and with Nancy Isenberg, The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality.

NCTQ’s Kate Walsh on the Crisis in K-12 Teacher Prep, Quality, & Evaluation

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. They discuss the qualifications of those who enter the teaching profession, explore teacher preparation, and key differences between teacher preparation, accreditation, and job prospects in the U.S. and other countries. They also speculate about what a Biden presidency might mean for K-12 education policymaking, and discuss how to diversify the teaching pipeline.

Cheryl Brown Henderson, Daughter of Lead Plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Ed., on Race & Schooling

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Cheryl Brown Henderson, president of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Research. She shares her experience as the daughter of the lead plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, and thoughts on how the historic decision contributed to advancing civil rights in our country.

Harvard PEPG’s Prof. Paul Peterson on Charter Schools, Digital Learning, & Ed Next Polling

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Paul Peterson, the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and Director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University.

Award-Winning Writer Brenda Wineapple on the 170th Anniv. of The Scarlet Letter & Pres. Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Brenda Wineapple, author of the award-winning Hawthorne: A Life and The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation. They discuss her definitive biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne and the 170th anniversary of the publication of his classic novel, The Scarlet Letter.

International Best-Seller Dr. Jung Chang On Wild Swans, Mao’s Tyranny, & Modern China

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dr. Jung Chang, author of the best-selling books Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China; Mao: The Unknown Story; and Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China.

Kelly Smith, Prenda CEO, on Microschooling & the Future of K-12 Learning

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Kelly Smith, founder and CEO of Prenda, a company that helps create flexible learning environments known as microschools. Often described as the “reinvention of the one-room school house,” microschools combine homeschooling, online education, smaller class sizes, mixed age-level groupings, flipped classrooms, and personalized learning.

U-Ark Prof. Jay Greene & EdChoice’s Jason Bedrick on Yeshivas vs. New York & Religious Liberty

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Jay Greene, the Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, and Jason Bedrick, the Director of Policy for EdChoice. They discuss their timely new book, Religious Liberty and Education: A Case Study of Yeshivas vs. New York, about the recent battle between Orthodox Jewish private schools and New York's state government over the content of instruction.

Michelle Rhee, Former Chancellor, D.C. Public Schools, on Leading Urban District Reform & the COVID-19 Moment

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and guest co-host Kerry McDonald are joined by Michelle Rhee, founder and former CEO of StudentsFirst and prior to that, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). 

Award-Winning Author Devery Anderson on the 65th Anniversary of the Murder of Emmett Till

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Devery Anderson, the author of Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement. Today, August 28th, marks the 65th anniversary of the brutal murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, a story which is central to understanding America's ongoing struggle for civil rights and racial justice.

Christensen Institute’s Julia Freeland Fisher on K-12 Disruptive Innovation, Professional Networks, & Social Mobility

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute.

President of D.C.’s AppleTree Institute, Jack McCarthy on Charter Schools and Fall Reopening

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Jack McCarthy, president and CEO of AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation and board chair of AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School. Jack shares what animated him to establish this highly innovative early childhood charter public school network that serves the most vulnerable children in Washington, D.C.

“Call Me Ishmael” Melville Scholar Prof. Hershel Parker on Moby-Dick & Classic Literature

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and guest co-host Kerry McDonald, senior education fellow with the Foundation for Economic Education, are joined by Hershel Parker, the H. Fletcher Brown professor emeritus at the University of Delaware and the definitive biographer of the 19th-century American novelist, Herman Melville.

NYT #1 Best-Selling Science Author, Dava Sobel on Copernicus, Galileo’s Daughter, & Astronomy

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dava Sobel, a former New York Times science reporter, and author of Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter, and Letters to Father. Dava describes what inspired her interest in some of the most gifted mathematicians and astronomers in history, including Copernicus and Galileo, and the tensions between religion and science.

Widow of Civil Rights Icon, Dr. Sephira Shuttlesworth on Desegregating Schools & Racial Equity

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dr. Sephira Shuttlesworth, a retired teacher and charter school leader, and the widow of the late Birmingham, Alabama, civil rights leader, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.

WSJ Children’s Book Critic & Author, Meghan Cox Gurdon on Reading Aloud to Children in the Age of Distraction

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Meghan Cox Gurdon, the Wall Street Journal’s children’s book reviewer and author of The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction.

Boston Uni.’s Dr. Charles Glenn on School Choice, Civil Rights, & Espinoza

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dr. Charles Glenn, Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Boston University. Dr. Glenn shares his early experiences in the Civil Rights movement, and how it inspired his work to expand school choice, as well as his thoughts on the Espinoza Supreme Court case's impact on racial justice and religious liberty.

Brown Uni.’s Pulitzer-Winning Prof. Gordon Wood on American Independence & the Founding Fathers

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Gordon Wood, Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Radicalism of the American Revolution.

Lead Plaintiff Kendra Espinoza & IJ’s Attorney Erica Smith on Landmark SCOTUS School Choice Decision

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This week, in a special segment of “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are honored to be joined by Kendra Espinoza, lead plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, just decided yesterday, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, and Erica Smith, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represented the plaintiffs.

U-Arkansas Prof. Patrick Wolf on School Choice, Espinoza, & Students’ Civic Prep

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U-Arkansas Prof. Patrick Wolf joins The Learning Curve to discuss school choice, the Supreme Court's Espinoza case, & students’ civic preparation.

Pulitzer Winner Diane McWhorter on Civil Rights History & Race in America

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard mark the Juneteenth commemoration of the end of slavery with an episode devoted to Civil Rights history. They are joined by Diane McWhorter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution.

NYT Best-Selling Children’s Author Carole Boston Weatherford on Fannie Lou Hamer & Race in America

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Prof. Carole Boston Weatherford, a New York Times best-selling children’s book author, and Caldecott Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Award winning biographer of Harriet Tubman and Fannie Lou Hamer.

MA Commissioner Jeff Riley on Remote Learning, Voc-Techs, & Reforming Boston’s Schools

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard open with commentary on the George Floyd tragedy and K-12 education’s role in addressing racial injustice. Then, they are joined by Jeffrey Riley, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, to talk about the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19.

Acclaimed Poet & Former NEA Chairman Dana Gioia on Poetry & Arts Education

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dana Gioia, a poet, writer, and the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, to talk about why the arts are so pivotal to the intellectual and civic development of America’s K-12 schoolchildren.

Homeschooling Expert Kerry McDonald on Harvard Law Professor Controversy & COVID

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are happy to be joined by Kerry McDonald, a homeschooling expert and Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education, on the major lessons we all should be learning from this educational moment, now that COVID has turned most of America’s 50 million schoolchildren and their families into "homeschoolers."

Kaya Henderson, Former Chancellor, D.C. Public Schools, on Leading Urban District Reform

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are happy to be joined by Kaya Henderson, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. They discuss the historic reforms Henderson oversaw, including increasing enrollment and improved test scores in an urban district that had been one of the lowest performing in the country.

UVA Law Professor Kimberly Robinson On Legal Debate About Education As Federal Right

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Kimberly Robinson, Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and the Curry School of Education, about her new book, "A Federal Right to Education: Fundamental Questions for Our Democracy," and the need for states to establish a “floor of opportunity” to ensure educational equity.

New York Times #1 best-selling author John M. Barry on the 1918 Influenza Pandemic & lessons for COVID-19

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by John M. Barry, author of the #1 New York Times best seller, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.

Ashley Berner of Johns Hopkins on Academic Quality, Educational Pluralism, & the Providence Public Schools

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Ashley Berner, Deputy Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. 

Christensen Institute Co-founder Michael Horn on Digital Learning & COVID-19

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.