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

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