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 Bob Bowdon of ChoiceMedia and Cara Candal of Pioneer Institute serve up provocative commentary and interview school leaders, innovators, bestselling authors, policymakers and more. Listen to all the episodes below:


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.

Read more about the show.

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