The Learning Curve: National Education Podcast

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“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), StitcherSpotifyGoogle Play, and the Choice Media mobile app. They can also find it online at Ricochet and Pioneer Institute. Listen to all the episodes below:


The Learning Curve S1E37: Acclaimed Poet & Former NEA Chairman Dana Gioia on Poetry & Arts Education

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. Dana discusses why the arts are so pivotal to the intellectual and civic development of America’s K-12 schoolchildren, allowing them to grow spiritually, emotionally, creatively, imaginatively, and even physically. He also explores how some of the specific skills students learn through music, drawing, poetry, and theater go well beyond traditional subjects. Dana explains why he believes the lack of arts education in our schools is a national problem, and addresses some misconceptions about why schools are not offering it. He delves into why poetry has such a profound connection to the human experience, and the many ways in which it builds self-confidence, emotional maturity, and can lead to intellectual transformation. Dana shares stories about learning from his Mexican-American mother to love the arts, teaching students to appreciate poetry at the University of Southern California, and the success of a national contest that he launched at the NEA, Poetry Out Loud. Throughout the interview, he treats listeners to recitations from Shakespeare and Poe, and concludes with a special reading of one of his own sonnets.

Stories of the Week: A new poll finds that 1 in 5 teachers say they are unlikely to return to their classrooms if schools reopen this fall, and in a separate poll of parents, 60 percent will likely pursue homeschooling options. A USA Today series highlights the benefits of high-quality dual-language programs to close achievement gaps among America’s five million English language learners, especially in states with a growing non-native population.


The Learning Curve S1E36: Homeschooling Expert Kerry McDonald on Harvard Law Professor Controversy & COVID

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are happy to be joined by Kerry McDonald, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education and author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom. Drawing on her experiences as a homeschooling parent and researcher, Kerry shares thoughts 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.” Kerry reviews which education choice mechanisms, such as education savings accounts, would most effectively support homeschooling, and which states have policies that encourage entrepreneurship and innovative K-12 models, such as microschools and virtual charter schools. They also explore the increasing diversity of the two million children in the U.S. who were homeschooled before the pandemic, changing public perceptions, and a Harvard Law School professor’s controversial call for a presumptive ban.

Stories of the Week: Over 100 Catholic schools across the country are permanently closing as a result of the financial losses associated with COVID, impacting an estimated 50,000 mostly low-income and working-class students. How will the closures affect cash-strapped district schools facing an influx of these new students? Kudos to Kelley Brown, a history teacher from Easthampton, Massachusetts, who led her high school history students to win the national “We the People” civics competition. The achievement – a first for the Bay State – was all the more impressive considering the contest was held in the midst of a global pandemic and conducted entirely via Zoom, requiring extraordinary coordination.


The Learning Curve S1E35: Kaya Henderson, Former Chancellor, D.C. Public Schools, on Leading Urban District Reform

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. Kaya talks about her unique and authentic leadership style and her focus on re-building the D.C. Public Schools into a viable option that restored confidence among parents. She shares some of the key ingredients for success, the challenges of navigating political forces, her thoughts on the D.C. voucher program, and what really motivated district change. She also credits her controversial predecessor Michelle Rhee with challenging the district’s bureaucracy and creating some of the conditions for success. Lastly, she reflects on how the relationship-building skills she brought to her position are serving her well in her current role with Teach for All, which runs “Teach for America”-style programs in 53 countries; as an independent consultant in the U.S.; and on numerous boards, where she is involved in COVID relief efforts.

Stories of the WeekDr. Anthony Fauci, speaking at a U.S. Senate hearing this week, cautioned that reentry of students in the fall term would likely be “a bridge too far” due to the lack of available COVID treatments or a vaccine. Are American families and schools prepared for long-term digital learning? This week is National Charter Schools Week, the annual celebration of the charter schools that are educating over three million students, and have been so successful in bridging achievement gaps. Gerard and Cara reflect on the history of the charter movement, the many teachers, families, and local leaders involved in launching it, and the bipartisan political support that it has enjoyed.


The Learning Curve S1E34: UVA Law Professor Kimberly Robinson On Legal Debate About Education As Federal Right

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. Kimberly discusses 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. She explores models of equity, including funding disparities, achievement gaps, and participation in democracy; and reviews the history of educational equity cases and the relative effectiveness of federal as opposed to state courts as an avenue of reform. She shares analysis of a recent United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruling that set a new precedent for its recognition of a right to a basic minimum education, under the U.S. Constitution, for Detroit students, after that school district was experiencing teacher shortages, out-of-date learning materials, and poor sanitary conditions. Lastly, she describes the inspiration for her work: her parents’ involvement in the Civil Rights movement, and the sacrifices they made for better educational opportunities.

Stories of the Week: New guidance from the U.S. Department of Education expanding federal aid through the CARES Act to private schools struggling to meet new pandemic-related challenges has drawn criticism from public school trade associations. American colleges and universities’ growing dependence on the increased revenue from international students, who pay larger tuitions than domestic students, has some concerned about the financial impact, especially in the COVID-19 era, on the ability to recruit skilled and talented applicants from abroad.


The Learning Curve S1E33: New York Times #1 best-selling author John M. Barry on the 1918 Influenza Pandemic & lessons for COVID-19

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. John shares two major lessons from the previous pandemic on the importance of social distancing and transparent communication from leaders, and notes some surprising differences between the two crises, not just regarding their contagiousness, incubation period and duration, but also the extent of the government’s closing orders in each case. John discusses his New York Times op-ed this week on the likely impact of warmer weather, and the possibility of a second wave. He also addresses how to talk about this crisis to our children, who are experiencing something that nobody alive has lived through, and the increased responsibility it requires of them. They explore the impact on our global economy, our collective efforts to strike a balance between saving lives and minimizing economic cost, and who was and was not caught by surprise in terms of preparations for a pandemic.

Stories of the Week: In Detroit, where 40 percent of households lack Internet access, one charter school network of 2,400 students has distributed equipment and redirected federal funds toward technology to grow participation in online learning from 30 percent to 90 percent. In a call with the President, Catholic school leaders, including Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, pressed for federal aid to meet the challenges presented by the pandemic, including potential loss of tuition as a result of layoffs, and the expense of converting to online learning.


The Learning Curve S1E32: Ashley Berner of Johns Hopkins on Academic Quality, Educational Pluralism, & the Providence Public Schools

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. Ashley discusses what America can learn from other countries about how to shift from a uniform system in which district schools focus on workforce skills, to one that embraces a liberal arts curriculum delivered by many different models to advance excellence and equity, and close achievement gaps. She reviews which districts and states are incentivizing the use of robust curricula, assessment, and teacher preparation, with successful outcomes, and discusses her team’s alarming report that made national headlines last year on the Providence, R.I. public school system. They also talk about the new NAEP results for history, geography, and civics; the Founding Fathers’ view of the liberal arts’ centrality to democratic citizenship; and how to reverse troubling knowledge gaps. Lastly, they explore what COVID-19 is teaching us about our nation’s readiness, relative to other countries, for the transition to remote learning, and socioeconomic inequities.

Stories of the Week: In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt received criticism from the state’s schools superintendent and teacher union this week for announcing plans to use some federal CARES Act relief funds to support a tax credit program for scholarships that help low-income children attend private schools. In Utah, where only 40 percent of Navajo families have Internet access, schools are working to provide wireless hot spots for about 200 homes. Are issues with Wi-Fi access revealed by the COVID-19 crisis transforming the way we think about equity and states’ duty to educate all children?


The Learning Curve S1E31: Christensen Institute Co-founder Michael Horn on Digital Learning & COVID-19

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. Michael shares his thoughts on his mentor, the late Clayton Christensen, a renowned Harvard Business School professor, influential thinker, and best-selling author. They discuss the lessons we are all learning from the COVID crisis about technical advancements that allow schools to innovate, in ways that were unthinkable just 20 years ago. Michael explains his view of online learning as a means of shifting the focus from schooling en masse to individual growth and mastery, and the need to provide incentives for meaningful student outcomes. They also explore which states are leading in digital learning, which are lagging behind, and specific initiatives that are making a dramatic difference in children’s preparedness for kindergarten and academic achievement.

Stories of the Week: How should states move forward on online learning during COVID-19? A new Pioneer report by digital learning innovator Julie Young offers tips for state policymakers and district leaders seeking guidance on equipment, teacher preparation, meeting special education needs, and more. In California, Governor Newsom is identifying strategies for re-opening in the aftermath of the pandemic, including staggered start times, classrooms reconfigured for social distancing, and more online learning.


The Learning Curve S1E30: The Institute for Justice’s Tim Keller on Espinoza v. Montana DOR & ongoing school choice litigation

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Tim Keller, Senior Attorney with the Institute for Justice, which has been defending school choice from legal challenges, largely from state Blaine Amendments, for 30 years. Tim describes IJ’s work on behalf of the plaintiffs in the high-profile Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the impact of the pandemic on the timing of the ruling. They explore the case’s prospects for success, and some potential political and legal responses in the event of a favorable outcome. They also delve into the national implications of another recent case in Maine, involving families battling a long-standing state law prohibiting public tuition payments to religious school parents. And Tim shares the backstory of Arizona’s popular Empowerment Scholarship, an education savings account program that he helped design and defend.

Stories of the Week: Despite COVID-19 school closures, the College Board will move forward with Advanced Placement exams; but will the increased security measures enacted to prevent cheating raise controversy? Around the world, temples and churches have emptied as a result of the pandemic, but religious leaders are using technology to stream their services, and help congregants celebrate Passover and Holy Week even in the absence of physical connection.


The Learning Curve S1E29: Stanford Pulitzer Winner David Kennedy on Lessons for COVID-19 from the 1918 Flu Epidemic & Great Depression

This week on “The Learning Curve” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Pulitzer-winning historian David Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History Emeritus at Stanford University. Professor Kennedy describes some of the distinguishing characteristics of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to the 1918 flu and the Bubonic Plague in terms of rapidity, scale, mortality rate, and death toll. They also delve into differences, such as our society’s technological advancements, that help ease the disruption; governments’ data gathering capacity to fully understand the impact, and ability to mobilize; and the credibility of our leadership and institutions. They explore whether public health crises have received sufficient attention in K-12 history instruction, and what goes unreported in most accounts; and discuss the delicate balance between protecting civil liberties while avoiding the dangers of spreading misinformation.

Stories of the Week: The Florida Virtual School is gearing up to train teachers to deliver over 100 K-12 courses in mathematics, English language arts, history, science, electives, Advanced Placement, and career and technical education to 2.7 million students, at no cost, until June 30. A Gallup survey reveals that 42 percent of parents are concerned about COVID-19 school closures’ negative impact on their child’s education, and 11 percent are not using any educational resources to fill the instructional gap.


The Learning Curve S1E28: The Washington Post‘s Jay Mathews on schooling during COVID-19 & lessons from teaching great Jaime Escalante

This week on “The Learning Curve” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Jay Mathews, Washington Post education columnist. They discuss the unique moment presented by COVID-19, and how it has reinforced the value of classroom teachers, but has also increased uncertainty about the future of testing and accountability. They also talk about Jay’s widely acclaimed biography of Jaime Escalante, the great East Los Angeles high school calculus teacher, who became nationally renowned for dramatically raising the academic bar for urban students and delivering amazing results. Jay shares the five key ingredients for success that he learned from Escalante and excellent charter schools across the country.

Stories of the Week: As millions of parents struggle with homeschooling, one mom shared her son’s hilarious reaction in a Facebook post that went viral. Are we all learning some hard lessons through this pandemic about the value of teachers? In Milwaukee, the 30,000 underprivileged children enrolled in private schools through the parental choice program are continuing to attend class each day through distance learning, while their public school counterparts are being offered free meals and some enrichment material that won’t be graded. How can we overcome the digital divide to ensure rigorous instruction for all students?


The Learning Curve S1E27: Ambassador Ray Flynn on Public Leadership During Global Crisis & the Case for Catholic Schools

This week on “The Learning Curve” (St. Patrick’s Day edition), Cara and Gerard discuss COVID-19’s ongoing toll on families and K-12 education. They interview Raymond Flynn, former Ambassador to the Vatican and three-term Mayor of Boston. Ambassador Flynn shares thoughts on the world-historical moment presented by the Coronavirus pandemic, how public leaders are responding, and how it compares to past crises. He recalls his background as an Irish-Catholic product of religious schools, who rose to service on behalf of a sainted Pope, to remind us of the benefits uniquely offered by Catholic schools, especially for urban poor and minority communities. He also calls on clergy members, elected officials, and policymakers to strengthen their advocacy efforts on behalf of faith-based education, so that we can finally end the bigoted legacy of 19th-century Blaine Amendments that block access to opportunity for all children.

Stories of the Week: In Philadelphia, the school district is refusing to provide remote instruction during the Coronavirus shutdown, claiming concerns about inequity on behalf of those who lack computers or high-speed internet at home. Is this a genuine recognition of the digital divide, or an excuse to deny 200,000 schoolchildren a quality education? The U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines specifically for America’s 7 million students with special needs, who are especially vulnerable as a result of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Learning Curve S1E26: NC State’s Anna Egalite on School Choice in America & Abroad

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Dr. Anna Egalite, Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University. They discuss Anna’s experiences as a student growing up in Ireland and teaching at Catholic schools there and in Florida. She was inspired to pursue education policy after observing the differences between the two countries’ views of “public” and “private” education, and was surprised to find that families here didn’t have the same range of school options available to them as those in Europe. She also shares her research on the benefits of school voucher programs in India, which allowed students to attend private schools with longer days and lower rates of multi-grade teaching, with positive impacts on English language skills, especially for females. Lastly, they explore the role of family background on students’ long-term outcomes and intergenerational economic mobility.

Story of the Week: As the nation deals with COVID-19, Cara and Gerard discuss the implications for K-12 and higher education. Students across the country are shifting from campuses and classrooms to virtual learning; how prepared is our education system to deliver quality, online instruction? Are we doing enough to maintain community ties and minimize the disruption for low-income students and families, who have fewer supports?


The Learning Curve S1E25: Kevin Chavous on the Promise & Potential of Quality School Choice Options

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Kevin Chavous, President of Academics, Policy, and Schools of K12, Inc. They talk with Kevin about how his background and experiences visiting local state prisons and schools as a D.C. City Councilor led him to become one of the first Democrats to support charter schools. Kevin describes his work with other education reformers on behalf of the Opportunity Scholarship Program for D.C.’s low-income children and the “three-sector” system of combined federal support for public, charter, and private school scholarships that has resulted in 90-percent graduation and college attendance rates. Kevin calls for reframing public education from a robotic, factory approach to a model that is more responsive to the diverse needs of kids and parents. He discusses his current work in digital learning, promoting an innovative, state-of-the-art online learning curriculum now used in 100 schools, in over 30 states, to engage students unable to thrive in a traditional setting.

Stories of the Week: In Tennessee, the ACLU and other organizations have filed suit against the state over an Education Savings Account program that expands school choice for families in Memphis and Nashville, claiming public schools will be “irreparably harmed” by so-called “illegal spending.” In New Hampshire, some lawmakers are again pushing the state to accept $46 million in federal grant funding that was rejected by Democratic legislators because it was designated for charter school expansion. Are politics getting in the way of what’s best for the Granite State’s 1,300 children on charter school waiting lists?


The Learning Curve S1E24: Citizen Stewart on Changing the K-12 Education Power Structure

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard engage in a candid conversation about education policymaking with Chris Stewart, Chief Executive Officer of Brightbeam, known to many by his popular Twitter & blog feeds as “Citizen Stewart.” Chris shares his background as a student, parent, school board member, and longtime activist, and how those experiences have shaped his outlook on the challenges facing school reform. They delve into the obvious and lesser known barriers to changing the status quo, including the lack of involvement among rank-and-file parents in policy decision making and the disproportionate influence of labor unions in politics and the media. Chris voices concerns about the Democratic political candidates’ growing hostility toward ensuring African-American schoolchildren have access to better learning opportunities, and how the focus on class warfare has misdirected attention from the reality of our public schools graduating individuals who cannot participate in the economy. They also discuss the relationship between education and other issues such as criminal justice reform.

Stories of the Week: This week, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, the inspirational icon featured in the 2016 film, “Hidden Figures,” passed away at 101. All schoolchildren should know her story, unacknowledged for so long, of struggle and triumph in the face of race- and gender-based segregation and discrimination. In Ohio, a new plan from the state superintendent would reduce the minimum scores on the graduation assessment so that students could qualify for a diploma if they demonstrate basic competency, rather than proficiency, in math and ELA. What impact will the lower bar have on graduates’ preparedness for options in higher education and employment?


The Learning Curve S1E23: CREDO’s Macke Raymond on Charter Schools’ Quality & Growth

This week, Cara and Gerard talk with Margaret “Macke” Raymond, President of Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). Macke describes CREDO’s unique role and methodology in analyzing a wealth of data from state education departments to quantify the effect of charter schools on the amount of learning a student receives in a year’s time. They discuss charter performance on average, as well as in pockets of excellence; the performance of urban charters, including Boston; the types of charters that are succeeding consistently and replicating; and the formula for quality both in instruction and policymaking. They also delve into the waning policy support for charters despite favorable public opinion; what the data show about whether charters select or “counsel out” students; “diverse-by-design” charter schools; and the federal role in the charter movement.

Stories of the WeekThe New York Times highlights renewed interest in teaching phonics, a long-debated approach, especially in the wake of recent NAEP results showing only a third of American students are reading at proficiency. In Maryland, to address students’ declining academic performance and teacher retention issues, a state commission is proposing sweeping reforms – but the billion-dollar price tag is raising concerns about accountability for results.


The Learning Curve S1E22: Cato’s Neal McCluskey on School Choice & Educational Federalism

Special thanks to Bob Bowdon & Choice Media for helping us launch “The Learning Curve”! 

On this episode of “The Learning Curve,” Cara welcomes new co-host Gerard Robinson and guest Neal McCluskey, Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. They discuss America’s growing interest in school choice, with 500,000 children now attending private schools through vouchers, tax credits, or Education Savings Accounts, and another three million enrolled in charter schools. They also review President Trump’s federal tax credit proposal, its questionable constitutionality, and its prospects in Congress. Neal describes his public schooling “Battle Map” project that catalogues social conflict in K-12 education, and demonstrates the merits of greater school choice as a mechanism for ensuring government remains neutral in disputes between religious liberty and civil rights. Plus, the avid grillmaster shares his BBQ tips!

Stories of the Week: A proposal to give the New York state education department more regulatory authority over private and religious schools has been put on hold. Is increased oversight of private school curricula necessary to ensure accountability, or an infringement on local autonomy? Military families addressed Congress this week to fix the Exceptional Family Member Program, which is supposed to cover services, including private school tuition costs in some cases, for children with special needs. The program has been meeting with resistance from public school districts claiming they can provide sufficient services, forcing families to fight costly legal battles. Is the program a well-deserved benefit for those serving our country, or an unnecessary financial drain on public school systems?


The Learning Curve S1E21: Julie Young, Virtual Schooling Pioneer

This week on “The Learning Curve,” guest co-hosts Alisha Thomas Cromartie & Kerry McDonald talk with Julie Young, Deputy Vice President of Education Outreach and Student Services for Arizona State University and CEO of ASU Prep Digital High School. In 2019, 2.7 million K-12 students had an online schooling experience, an 80 percent increase since 2009, with 32 states offering fully online schools. Julie explains the wide appeal of online education for students of all kinds, especially those with learning differences, who are seeking a positive academic experience and more flexibility. They also discuss which states are leading the way and lagging behind, the variety and growth of digital learning programs, and how they enable students to accelerate their learning and contain the costs of higher education.

Stories of the Week: In his State of the Union Address this week, President Trump called on Congress to pass a tax credit scholarship program for low-income students to attend private and religious schools. But is this the proper role of the federal government? Where are the administration’s other proposals for improving public education, and is the rhetoric around school choice becoming politicized? A new report finds that 21 states have made it a high school graduation requirement that students pass a financial literacy course. Is this a welcome opportunity to help young people develop responsible budgeting skills and habits, or is it a form of state-mandated intrusion into subject matter that should be covered at home?


The Learning Curve S1E20: Susan Wise Bauer on Classical Education & Homeschooling

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Bob Bowdon & guest co-host Kerry McDonald talk with Susan Wise Bauer – writer, historian, homeschool parent, and author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, as well as numerous other books. They explore the impact of technological innovation, online tools and social media, and the plethora of resources now available to the increasingly diverse and growing population of American homeschool families. They also discuss Susan’s approach to writing and teaching about major world historical figures and eras, and why classical education’s developmentally appropriate approach to instruction in grammar, logic, and rhetoric is a model worth preserving.

Stories of the Week: Despite widely covered teacher strikes this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ newly released data on union membership shows a decline – but will this reduce organized labor’s power? In Maryland, a school desegregation proposal that would redistrict over 5,000 children to address educational inequity is meeting parent resistance. A tweet-up timed to counter National School Choice Week, using the hashtag #ILovePublicSchools, backfired when 8,000 public school students posted overwhelmingly negative comments about their experiences.


The Learning Curve S1E19: Dick Komer on Espinoza v. Montana & the Bigoted Legacy of Blaine Amendments

On this episode of “The Learning Curve,” Bob & Cara are joined by Dick Komer, Senior Attorney with the Institute for Justice. Komer led the oral argument this week before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the plaintiffs in the high-profile school choice case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. They review the details of the Montana case and the nativist history of the Blaine amendments that remain in nearly 40 states. Komer also compares Espinoza with the recent Trinity Lutheran case, shares his take on the justices’ thinking and the outlook for success, as well as the political challenges that persist even if the plaintiffs prevail.

Stories of the Week: In Tennessee, a contentious new education savings account program for students from low-performing districts is attracting nearly 60 participating private schools. Alaska is considering consolidating 54 school districts into 18 – will this erode communities, or bring about long-overdue cost savings? West Chester, Pennsylvania is using a new online learning program to win back students who left the district for charter-run cyber schools.

 


The Learning Curve S1E18: Derrell Bradford on the Future of Education Reform


This week on “The Learning Curve,” Bob Bowdon is joined by guest host Alisha Thomas Cromartie, personal growth coach, education leader, and former Georgia state legislator. They talk with Derrell Bradford, Executive Vice President of 50CAN, about the myth that school choice programs siphon funds away from traditional public schools, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the impact of the 2016 election on the education reform movement, shifts and divisions within the Democratic Party on charter schools and vouchers, and the legacy of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Stories of the Week: In Kentucky, a school board is about to restrict magnet schools’ ability to remove students for behavior issues, a practice that disproportionately affects minority students. In New Jersey, a judge ruled that a lawsuit can move forward against the state that alleges racial and socioeconomic segregation in the public school system. Is this an issue of race and wealth, or the effective distribution of school resources to ensure high-quality instruction for all students? The New York Times found wide disparities in the content included in commonly used American history textbooks (such as capitalism, immigration, and the legacy of slavery) by the same publisher and authors in California and Texas – what are the implications for the future of our democracy?

The next episode will air on January 24th, with guest Dick Komer, Senior Attorney, Institute for Justice. Programming note: Co-host Cara Candal is off this week.


The Learning Curve S1E17: Montse Alvarado on Protecting Religious Liberty in Schools & Society (Air date: January 10, 2020)

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara talks with Montse Alvarado, Vice President & Executive Director of the Becket Fund, about the implications of the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court school choice case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the pervasiveness of 19th-century, anti-Catholic Blaine amendments across the country, and some of Becket’s legal victories in high-profile religious liberty cases. Montse also offers encouraging insights from a recent Becket poll on younger generations’ commitment to religious freedom. She shares the inspirational stories of human rights champions recognized by the Becket Fund, such as former Cuban religious dissident and political prisoner Armando Valladares, and the Nobel Prize-winning writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

Stories of the Week: A new partnership between Southern New Hampshire University and charter school networks in Boston, Chicago, and Texas promises to boost college completion rates for their largely low-income, minority alumni. Three Maine families residing in rural communities with no public high school are battling in a federal appeals court for the religious schools their children attend to be included in the state’s out-of-district tuition program. A National Council on Teacher Quality survey of over 100 large school districts shows nearly half offer performance pay based on teacher evaluations – is this the most effective approach to attract and reward excellence?


The Learning Curve S1E16: Lance Izumi on How Charters Are Meeting Diverse Learning Needs (Air date: January 3, 2020)


Happy New Year! This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Bob talk with Lance Izumi, Senior Director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He discusses his new book, Choosing Diversity, and the wide range of both the student populations served, and the variety of learning models offered, by the charter schools that he visited. Some schools were geared toward students suffering from autism, or homelessness; others focused on technology and using online platforms, foreign language immersion, and classical learning. They also explore some of the challenges facing charters across the nation, including accountability, parental engagement, California politics, and the fallout from the Los Angeles teacher union strike.

Stories of the Week: A New York Times feature presents what students themselves think about how to improve education – with some surprising insights. In Kentucky, a local school board rejected the state’s first charter school application. Is this approval model a conflict of interest, and a bad sign for charter expansion? An upcoming Los Angeles school board election with four open seats raises important questions about the politicization of education.


The Learning Curve S1E15: Will Fitzhugh on the Enduring Relevance of History Research & Writing (Air date: December 20, 2019)

Will Fitzhugh, founder and editor of The Concord Review, an international journal that has published high school students’ history essays for 30 years, joins “The Learning Curve” this week. He discusses the importance of assigning serious history research and writing, and reading non-fiction, in K-12 education. Will describes the diverse backgrounds and successful college and career paths of some of the students published in The Concord Review.

Stories of the YearNew Orleans became the first city in the U.S. to convert all of its district schools to charters – with promising student achievement results. A new California bill will make it illegal for public schools to suspend disruptive students in grades K-8. Will this experiment address overreliance on punishment in the classroom, and racial imbalances in school discipline? A U.S. News story found that 20 percent of federal Title I funding meant for low-income, rural students instead went to larger urban districts with a higher proportion of wealthy families.


The Learning Curve S1E14: Joy Pullmann on the Fallout from Common Core (Air date: December 13, 2019)

Co-host Bob Bowdon talks with Joy Pullmann, executive editor of The Federalist, about the mediocre NAEP and PISA results, after a decade of the Common Core national education standards and the failed experiment with federal involvement in standards, curricula, and tests. They also discuss social emotional learning, parental involvement, and the media’s coverage of K-12 education policy issues.

Stories of the Week: The Denver Public School system is expanding its transportation options to enable more students to attend schools in different neighborhoods.  Will this innovation improve student outcomes? In Election 2020, presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a new $1 trillion education proposal for expanded access to childcare and early learning, teacher salary increases, Title I funding, workforce development, and more – can America afford this plan, and where’s the accountability?


The Learning Curve S1E13: E.D. Hirsch, Jr. on Background Knowledge & Educational Equity (Air date: December 6, 2019)


Co-hosts Cara Candal and Bob Bowdon engage in a thought-provoking conversation with Professor E.D. Hirsch, Jr., founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, and acclaimed author. Professor Hirsch elaborates on his career-long thesis that the critical ingredient of academic achievement is the shared background knowledge needed for language proficiency and cultural literacy. Thousands of schools across the U.S. are using his Core Knowledge curriculum and language arts program, with proven success in bridging socioeconomic gaps. Hirsch also discusses problems he sees with a content-free, skills-focused approach to instruction; discovery or constructivist modes of learning promoted in education schools; and the rise of cultural sensitivity in K-12 curricula.

Stories of the Week: 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results out this week show U.S. students have made no improvement compared to 2015, and rank behind many other countries. Do the results prove the failure of American education reforms or are standardized tests flawed measures of success? A report from Purdue University claims 3.6 million students of color are being left out of gifted and talented programs due to racial discrimination. Are we too narrowly defining students’ talents?


The Learning Curve S1E12: “Steven Wilson on Anti-Intellectualism in K-12 Education” (Air date: November 22, 2019)

Co-host Bob Bowdon talks with Steven Wilson, Founder and former CEO of Ascend Learning, a charter school network in Brooklyn, New York. They discuss the emergence of anti-intellectualism in K-12 schooling, the topic of a controversial blog post in which Steven raised concerns about the increasing politicization and radicalization of the curriculum. He argues that this troubling trend threatens our ability to arrive at a shared, rather than subjective, understanding of reality and to pursue objective truth. This could ultimately lead to a totalitarian-style suppression of ideas rather than their free exchange. He also laments the loss of bipartisan consensus about the beneficial role charter schools play as an experiment in innovation and healthy competition, and he calls on charter supporters to make a stronger case for these schools.

Stories of the Week: In Illinois, a bombshell report revealed 20,000 incidents of children being sent to “isolation rooms” supposedly reserved for violent situations, but actually used in many cases for students with disabilities. A new survey shows some high school-age students are more likely to say that the First Amendment goes too far to protect free speech – is this the result of cyber bullying? In Indiana, thousands of teachers participated in a “Red for Ed” rally at the state capital to demand higher compensation, resulting in 45 percent of public school students missing class.


The Learning Curve S1E11: “Jason Bedrick on Religious Freedom & Private School Autonomy” (Air date: November 15, 2019)

Bob and Cara talk with Jason Bedrick, EdChoice’s director of policy, about New York’s controversial “substantial equivalency” proposal that would give the state Department of Education oversight of school curricula at yeshivas and other private and parochial academies to ensure parity with their public school counterparts. Jason explores the historical roots of “substantial equivalency” statutes, and questions their compatibility with a free and pluralistic society. He points to European approaches to educational pluralism, and New York’s case, as bellwethers for the rest of the country. This battle is the subject of Jason’s forthcoming book with Jay Greene, Yeshivas vs. the State of New York: A Case Study in Religious Liberty and Education.

Stories of the Week: In Michigan, a new partnership model to improve struggling schools that serve 50,000 students puts the districts themselves in charge of managing their own turnaround plans instead of the state – can this strategy work? Is Texas’s cap on special education services an arbitrary and unfair denial in violation of federal disability laws, or a legitimate effort to limit over-classification of special needs students? A new report claims that teacher morale has fallen dramatically, from 50 percent in 2018 to 34 percent in 2019 – how can we change course?


The Learning Curve S1E10: “Dr. Lindsey Burke on LBJ’s True Education Legacy” (Air date: November 8, 2019)

Dr. Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation talks with co-host Bob Bowdon about her new book, The Not-So-Great-Society, co-edited with Jonathan Butcher, which includes contributions from top policy experts. They explore why Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” is an inflection point for federal intervention in local school policy. The constitutionally limited national role in K-12 education grew exponentially after 1965, to the present day, where the U.S. Department of Education has a staff of 4,000 and an annual budget of $70 billion, not to mention programs housed in other agencies, such as Head Start, which has cost $250 billion since it was established. To meet the expansive federal mandates and regulations, non-teaching and administrative staffing has dramatically increased. The question is: Has this fundamental transformation in local education policy led to progress in student performance?

Stories of the Week: A surveillance company, “Gaggle,” is using AI tools to monitor 5 million students’ writings and social media posts for “harmful” content in an effort to “stop tragedies” – but is spying on our kids the answer? Former presidential candidate and California Senator Kamala Harris has introduced a bill to extend the school day to 6 p.m. to align with parents’ work schedules – a welcome modernization or a slippery slope to more federal intrusion? In New York, a teacher suspended in 1999 for sexual harassment who can’t be fired because of tenure rules and bureaucratic delays, is receiving a salary of over $130,000 despite being barred from the classroom.


The Learning Curve S1E9: “NH Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut on State-Driven K-12 Ed Reform” (Air date: November 1, 2019)

New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut joins “The Learning Curve” for a fascinating conversation about how to accelerate innovation in schooling and scale creative models, such as the New Hampshire Career Academy and the state’s education tax credit scholarship program. Bob and Commissioner Edelblut also discuss the new NAEP results, the importance of objective measures of student performance, and the need to create learning environments that nurture students’ curiosity.
Stories of the Week: Cara and Bob break down the newly released student performance results from NAEP, known as the Nation’s Report Card.  In Denver, will next week’s school board election mean a setback for school choice and accountability?  In Detroit, an “equity lawsuit” that could have national implications regarding students’ “fundamental right” to a quality education is making its way through the court system.

The Learning Curve S1E8: “Andrew Campanella, President of National School Choice Week (Air date: October 25, 2019)

Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week and author of the new book, The School Choice Roadmap: 7 Steps to Finding the Right School for Your Child, is the Newsmaker Interview guest this week on The Learning Curve. Bob talks with Andrew about the many school choice options available to parents, and the steps they can take to find the right educational environment for their children.

Stories of the Week: 300,000 students in Chicago have been out of school for five days as a result of the city’s teacher union strike – teachers deserve to be well compensated, but does striking serve children’s best interests?  In Election 2020, a new education proposal from presidential candidate and Senator Elizabeth Warren further politicizes school choice, while quadrupling Title I and IDEA funding for traditional public schools. In Mississippi, the new teacher exam de-emphasizes more rigorous math questions.

Tweet of the Week:

Commentary of the Week: Christian Barnard of Reason writes: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Accidentally Makes the Case for School Choice.”


The Learning Curve S1E7: Dr. Howard Fuller on School Choice & Presidential Politics” (Air date: October 18, 2019)

Cara and Bob talk with the great Dr. Howard Fuller, Distinguished Professor of Education, in this week’s Newsmaker Interview, about his passionate activism on behalf of education reform, his concerns about the lack of support among Democratic presidential candidates for charter schools, the power of teacher unions, and recognition of the need to continue organizing and advocating for school choice programs that benefit so many poor and minority children.

Stories of the Week: A year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME ruling, the AFT, a major urban teachers union, is reporting a 4 percent loss in membership. Will the losses continue in coming years, and will this impact their influence? In Massachusetts, U.S. officials have found that the state education department has violated federal law by denying Catholic and Jewish schools $120 million in IDEA aid they were owed for special education services over the past 5 years (see Pioneer research). In Virginia, a high school is requiring students to reflect on their “privilege” in a course on combatting intolerance – but are they being too selective about which forms of “privilege” to include?

Commentary of the Week: Bob highlights an article by Kerry McDonald of the Foundation for Economic Education, “The Strongest Support for School Vouchers Comes from Lower-Income Families.” @kerry_edu @feeonline 

Tweet of the Week: Cara applauds a story by @RedefineEd‘s @RonMatus1 on how Miami-Dade’s school district is embracing innovation and change:

Newsmaker Interview Guest: Dr. Howard Fuller is the Distinguished Professor of Education and Director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning (ITL) at Marquette University. Dr. Fuller has many years in both public service positions and the field of education, including Superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools and Director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services. As Director of the ITL, Dr. Fuller supports education options that transform learning for children, while empowering families, particularly those of low-income, to choose the best school options. Dr. Fuller holds a B.S. degree from Carroll College, an M.S.A. degree from Western Reserve University, and a Ph.D. from Marquette University.

Dr. Fuller tweets at @HowardLFuller, and you can get his book, now on audio: No Struggle No Progress: A Warrior’s Life from Black Power to Education Reform.


The Learning Curve S1E6: Wilfred McClay on his new book, Land of Hope” (Air date: October 11, 2019)

In the Newsmaker Interview, Cara talks with Wilfred McClay, University of Oklahoma Professor and author of Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, a new high school history textbook that seeks to provide an account of this nation’s rich and complex story that puts it in proper perspective, and that is both honest and inspiring.

Stories of the Week: Are retirement benefits that are crowding out spending on current teachers’ priorities a “hidden driver” of union strikes like the one announced last week in Chicago? In California, there’s a rise in “due process” settlements in legal battles over access to special education services – but who benefits?  In Rhode Island, Providence’s Mayor plans to allow a charter school network to open one additional school, but then to ask the state to limit the expansion of all other charters in that beleaguered school district.

Commentary of the Week: Bob reacts to an op-ed by Rachel Tripp, in The Washington Examiner: “The secretary of education doesn’t have to be a public school teacher.”

Tweet of the Week: Cara gives a shout out to Cato’s Neal McCluskey? @NealMcCluskey

About the Newsmaker Interview Guest:

Wilfred M. McClay is the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma, and the Director of the Center for the History of Liberty. He’s authored several books, including his most recent one, Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American StoryMcClay served on the National Council on the Humanities, the advisory board for the National Endowment for the Humanities, for eleven years. McClay has been the recipient of fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Academy of Education. He is a graduate of St. John’s College (Annapolis) and received his PhD in History from the Johns Hopkins University.

Next Week’s Guest: Dr. Howard Fuller is professor of education and founder of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University.


The Learning Curve S1E5: “Natalie Wexler on her new book, The Knowledge Gap” (Air date: October 4, 2019)

In their Newsmaker Interview, Bob & Cara talk with Natalie Wexler, author of The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System–And How to Fix It, about the shift in K-12 education, even in the Common Core era, from an emphasis on academic content to empty skills and strategies.

Stories of the Week: 35,000 teachers and staff in Chicago’s three unions voted to go on strike on October 17th if they don’t reach a contract deal. Also, would changing the SAT to an untimed test make it harder for some parents to game the system? In Nevada, records from the Clark County School District make it seem as though it has not had a single ineffective principal since 2015.

Plus, Bob’s Commentary of the Week: Cato’s Neal McCluskey, “Why Would a Libertarian Want School Choice? Suppose Canned Peaches…” on why a libertarian supports public funding for religious education. And don’t miss Cara’s Tweet of the Week from PoliticsK12 on BetsyDeVos and the achievement gap.


The Learning Curve S1E4: “Max Eden, Education Researcher, on School Policies & Mass Shootings” (Air date: September 27, 2019)

In our Newsmaker Interview, Bob talks with Max Eden, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, on the gravely misguided policies that he believes are contributing to shocking tragedies, such as the Parkland school shooting, the subject of his new book, Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies That Created The Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students.

Stories of the Week: At Edison High School in Philadelphia, students are in the building – but not in the classroom. Is the district gaming the attendance tracking system? Does the competition from charter schools drive up overall student achievement – in charters and traditional district schools – in cities? A new report from Fordham’s David Griffith sheds some light. In Arkansas, a Little Rock school board member calls for decertifying the teachers union. Is this legal? Bob checks in with Patrick Semmons of the National Right to Work Foundation about the rules around monopoly bargaining.

Commentary of the Week: Citizen Stewart on Cory Booker’s private school choice flip-flop and what it says about the political landscape. Tweet of the Week: NCES’ map of the charter enrollment footprint by state – @EdNCES Sep 25 JUST RELEASED: Public #CharterSchool enrollment grew from 0.4 million students in fall 2000 to 3.0 million in fall 2016. Find more #EdStats on #SchoolChoice here in our new report: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/schoolchoice #EdChat


The Learning Curve S1E3: “Nina Rees, National Charter Leader, on Education Policy & the 2020 Election” (Air date: September 20th, 2019)


ChoiceMedia’s Bob Bowdon and Pioneer Institute’s Cara Candal talk with Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, on what 2020 presidential candidates are saying about charters. They also discuss the diverse families being served by these schools, and how they’re fulfilling the quest for excellence & equity.

Stories of the Week: In Pennsylvania’s capital, protesting Governor Wolf’s crackdown on charter schools; meanwhile in other parts of the state, growing support for cyber charters. In Rhode Island, the Education Commissioner’s plan for the Providence Public Schools in the wake of the shocking Johns Hopkins report on the “broken system.” And, in Seattle, the dress code gets dumped after “inciting hostility.” Plus, Bob’s Commentary of the Week: New York allows students to leave school to participate in climate change protests – is this an appropriate use of student learning time? And Cara’s Tweet of the Week from @ThePublicsRadio.

Related: View Pioneer Institute’s research on charter schools.


The Learning Curve S1E2: “Charter Approval in CA, Online Learning in OK, Outsourcing Teachers?, SCOTUS School Choice Case, NYT on Success Academy” (Air date: September 13th, 2019)

ChoiceMedia’s Bob Bowdon and Pioneer Institute’s Cara Candal talk about changes to charter school approvals in California; good news for online learning programs in Oklahoma; and is there a shortage of teachers in American schools? Plus, Bob calls out Dale Russakoff for a biased New York Times column on Success Academies.

In their Newsmaker Interview, Bob & Cara talk with Erica Smith of the Institute for Justice, about the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue Supreme Court case, which could help low-income families access private and parochial schools in over 30 states. Erica talks about what drove the plaintiff, working mom Kendra Espinoza, the implications across the country, and the outlook for a favorable decision.

Related: Pioneer Institute Files Amicus Brief Urging Supreme Court to Hear School Choice Case


The Learning Curve S1E1: “Introducing The Learning Curve: Student Discipline, Teacher Diversity, School-to-Prison Pipeline, Presidential Politics & School Choice” (Air date: September 6th, 2019)

In the inaugural episode of the new, national education podcast, “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Bob Bowdon of Choice Media & Cara Candal of Pioneer Institute review the stories of the week – teacher pushback on school discipline reform in California, teaching hot-button social issues in Illinois and New Jersey schools, and scrapping gifted and talented programs in New York City.

Newsmaker Interview: Cara & Bob talk with Gerard Robinson, Executive Director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity, about the “school-to-prison pipeline,” historically black colleges, the importance of encouraging more diversity in teaching faculty, the NAACP’s call for a charter school moratorium, presidential politics & the future of school choice, and more. Cara & Bob conclude with their presentation of the Tweets of the Week!


About the Show:


Listeners can find “The Learning Curve” on iTunes (Apple Podcasts), StitcherSpotify, Google Play, and the Choice Media mobile app. They can also find it online at Ricochet and Pioneer Institute.

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