We 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. Dr. Chang discusses Wild Swans, a sweeping narrative about three generations of her family across 20th-century China, and the importance of transmitting firsthand historical knowledge of life under Mao Zedong. She also describes her definitive biography of Mao – which, like Wild Swans, remains banned in China – documenting the carnage under his reign, including the peacetime deaths of an estimated 70 million people. She explores Mao’s cult of personality, changing perceptions of his character and legacy, and Maoism’s resurgence in China today. Dr. Chang then delves into the topic of her newest book, Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China, a group biography of the powerful Soong sisters, including Madame Chiang. She concludes with a reading from her memoir, Wild Swans.

Stories of the Week: A new report covered by Time magazine reveals a shocking lack of Holocaust knowledge among Millennials and Gen-Z Americans surveyed across 50 states – troubling evidence of the dangers of woefully inadequate history instruction. CBS News reports that more Black families, when given the option, are likely to choose remote learning, for a variety of reasons having to do with mistrust of the system and safety concerns.

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. Kelly shares what inspired him to launch Prenda in 2018, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted microschools to fame. They discuss how Prenda ensures teacher preparation in core academic areas, holds teachers accountable for student outcomes, and works to bridge achievement gaps.

Stories of the Week: A new report from Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann projects that school closures could cost the U.S. economy over $14.2 trillion by the end of the century. Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced $150 million in funding to public schools and parents for COVID-19 relief, including direct payments to families for educational materials, devices, and services. In The Atlantic, scholars discuss the pros and cons of families’ increasing propensity to consider alternatives to public schools, as a result of COVID.

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. They explain “substantial equivalency” statutes and their potential impact on a wide array of private and religious schools, as well as on parental rights, K-12 education policy, and religious liberty in America. Bedrick and Greene draw comparisons between substantial equivalency regulations and the bigoted, 19th-century Blaine Amendments that were recently weakened as a result of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. They express concerns about growing interference by state departments of education, regardless of the paltry level of funding they distribute to private schools through Title I, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or other programs.

Stories of the Week: In Baltimore, the school district has formed a promising partnership with the Recreation & Parks office to give more than 1,000 students in-person access to their virtual learning lessons, in small cohort groups meeting in schools and rec centers. A New Hampshire town tuitioning program offers financial support to rural families who choose secular private schools for their children – but not to those choosing religious options. In the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, does that distinction still pass constitutional muster?

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). Michelle shares how her liberal arts background and Teach for America experience prepared her for a career in education leadership. Michelle reflects on the reforms she initiated at DCPS, the challenges she faced navigating notoriously difficult D.C. politics, and the rewards of working with her successor, Kaya Henderson, to implement lasting reforms and deliver great results for kids. She offers recommendations for restructuring K-12 schools, especially in larger, urban districts. They also discuss the ways in which schools and districts are being radically decentralized during COVID-19, with virtual schooling, homeschooling, and pandemic pods.

Stories of the Week: Through pandemic pods, parents without a lot of financial resources or home space are getting creative to set up meaningful learning environments across the country. A study on school responses to COVID-19 that appeared in EducationNext shows that leading charter school networks shifted seamlessly to remote learning, within days of the mid-March shutdowns. How did they succeed, and is it replicable?

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. Devery recounts the events at Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market in Money, Mississippi, which led to the horrific tragedy, and places it in the wider historical context of the Jim Crow South. They discuss Mamie Till-Mobley’s bold decision to make Emmett’s funeral public, with an open casket, and how the event impacted the Civil Rights Movement and its important figures, from Rosa Parks to the late Congressman John Lewis. They also delve into Till’s murderers, their acquittal and later confession, and their fate. The interview concludes with a reading from The Death of Innocence, the heart-wrenching memoir authored by Emmett Till’s courageous mother.

Stories of the Week: Writing in the USA Today, co-host Gerard Robinson explores new poll results on attitudes toward police officers among Black residents in fragile communities. Offering inspiration to millions of young women in STEM fields, a female MIT professor originally from Maine solved a mathematics problem that had stumped experts for half a century. Education insiders are speculating over who would replace USED Secretary Betsy DeVos should she depart after the presidential election.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute. Julia shares how her liberal arts and law school background has informed her career path and views on education reform, and how her work with the late Professor Christensen and Michael Horn on disruptive innovation and education technology have provided fresh insights. Julia discusses the promise and scalability of online learning even prior to COVID-19, and shares her views on the power of professional networks, relationships, and technology for closing what she views as the “social gap,” which is also the topic of her book, Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations That Expand Students’ Networks. Lastly, she offers analysis on digital learning models across the country that are addressing this gap and advancing social mobility.

Stories of the Week: With his party’s anti-charter school platform proposals, is Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden sacrificing the best interests of America’s underprivileged schoolchildren? The EducationNext annual survey results show an interesting linkage between populism and views on education policy; and that an increasing percentage of parents are open to enrolling their child in some online high school courses.

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. She discusses the life story of a woman previously hidden from history, Sister Maria Celeste, who was Galileo’s daughter. Dava also offers some key lessons from her book, The Glass Universe, about the women who worked at the Harvard College Observatory in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She concludes by reading her favorite letter from Sister Maria Celeste to Galileo.

Stories of the Week: State and local education officials from across the country are seeking waivers from standardized testing for the upcoming school year. Should the U.S. Department of Education grant them? As we mark the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a new report reveals that nearly two-thirds of U.S. public schools contain physical barriers, such as inaccessible door handles and steep ramps, that potentially block access for individuals with disabilities. Are we doing enough to provide options for students with diverse learning needs?

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. Dr. Shuttlesworth shares her and her siblings’ experience attending a poor-quality segregated school in Tennessee, and how it motivated them to integrate an all-white elementary school in the 1960s. She also discusses her late husband’s central role in the Civil Rights Movement, bringing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to Birmingham, as well as voter registration, and reforms to law enforcement and the legal system. She explores what inspired her to become a teacher and charter school leader, and why educational opportunity is so critical to fulfilling the vision of equality that civil rights leaders like the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth articulated.

Stories of the Week: What will the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case mean for our neediest families? The Wall Street Journal reports that some affluent parents, concerned about school reopening plans this fall, are turning to alternatives, such as online classes, outdoor programs, or joining other households to create micro-schools. But would these same parents support school choice programs for other, less fortunate families?

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. Meghan shares what inspired her interest in becoming a children’s book critic, after having been a foreign correspondent. She discusses her ideas about the importance of spending time reading aloud, and the impact of the heavy use of technology on children’s literacy. She delves into the “Goldilocks effect,” a concept from cognitive science and developmental psychology mentioned in her book, and describes the brain research behind the value of reading aloud with young children. They also explore how reading aloud helps close the vocabulary and general-knowledge gap, especially among struggling students, as well as its importance for kids in the middle and high school years. Lastly, she shares her views on how to evaluate the quality of children’s books.

Stories of the Week: As the school reopening debate continues, a new poll of American parents found that 71 percent view sending their kids back to school as a large or moderate risk to their own health. How much of a role do schools play in spreading the virus? A German study of 1,500 students and 500 teachers yields surprising results.

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 as an inner city minister involved in the Civil Rights movement in Massachusetts and the South, the METCO voluntary desegregation program, and the expansion of school choice in several districts beyond Boston. He also discusses his support in the 1990s for bringing the charter school concept to Massachusetts. His work was cited in Justice Alito’s concurring opinion in the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case, and he shares thoughts on the recent decision’s potential impact on racial justice and religious liberty. He discusses findings from his decades of research on international education systems, where there is no controversy about government support for faith-based schools, and the lessons for America, where a legacy of anti-Catholicism has impeded school choice. Dr. Glenn concludes with analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of schools of education in preparing effective teachers.

Stories of the Week: Some states such as Florida are grappling with a surge in COVID cases, leaving plans for an August reopening in flux. How should school leaders address questions about virtual learning, outdoor classrooms, and mask and quarantine protocols? Gerard and Cara talked about Dr. Thomas Sowell, the noted Hoover Institution economist, and his recent book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies, on the success and challenges faced by New York City’s charter schools.

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. Professor Wood shares his wisdom about the many ways in which the Revolution marked a new beginning for humanity, reversing the centuries-old, top-down understanding of government and society. They begin with the efforts of Founders such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush to institute universal public education to nurture the well-educated and enlightened citizenry that they viewed as the backbone of the Republic. They discuss why George Washington’s “disinterest” in political rewards for military victory was so unique and extraordinary among his international contemporaries. Professor Wood also explains how the American Revolution gave rise to the first anti-slave movements in world history, and how actions taken to abolish slavery led to its eventual demise as a result of the Civil War. They also delve into the lives of the Revolutionary era’s often less well-known female figures, including Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Judith Sargent Murray, and the inspirational freed slave poet, Phillis Wheatley. Professor Wood concludes with observations on Aaron Burr, popularized through “Hamilton,” the phenomenally successful musical, and the character traits and actions that have cast Burr as one of American history’s most notorious Founding era figures. The Learning Curve team would like to wish everyone a Happy Fourth of July!

Stories of the Week: A Good Morning America feature story highlights how African-American history will likely see greater traction across the nation’s classrooms, thanks to teachers’ efforts to move beyond outdated textbooks and create their own culturally-sensitive learning materials. The supervisory group for the Nation’s Report Card announced this week that it is cancelling national assessments of U.S. history or civics in 2021 for eighth graders. Is this decision reflective of a legitimate concern about spreading COVID, or merely a concession to the country’s growing anti-testing movement?

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. Kendra shares what motivated her and her daughters, Naomi and Sarah, to take such a courageous stand for school choice and religious liberty, and describes her experience being the lead plaintiff in a high-profile Supreme Court case. She also discusses the other Montana moms involved in the case, their reaction to the successful outcome, and the realization of the impact it will have on so many families across the country. Erica shares her thoughts on the decision’s wide-ranging constitutional implications; some surprising aspects of the decision that may prompt future legal battles; and a preview of a state-by-state analysis on which states are best positioned to expand access to school choice now.

Story of the Week: Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case, involving Montana parents who were denied access to a state tax credit program when they sought to use it to send their children to religious schools. The Court held that Montana’s Blaine Amendment cannot be used to exclude religious school parents from the state education tax credit program. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote: “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dr. Patrick Wolf, Distinguished Professor of Education Policy and 21st Century Endowed Chair in School Choice in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions. Professor Wolf shares his belief in the vital importance of the study of schooling, the rigorous evaluation of school reform programs, how he came to the study of school choice, and his deep commitment to training the next generation of education policy researchers. They turn to the topic on the minds of school choice advocates across the country – the U.S. Supreme Court’s imminent ruling in the Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue case. Prof. Wolf offers his predictions on the Court’s most likely decision, and its scope and impact on the 37 states with bigoted Blaine amendments, with a special focus on the likely outcomes in states with excessive legal barriers to school choice, such as Massachusetts and Michigan. Lastly, he offers a preview of the findings from a chapter in a forthcoming book, School Choice Myths, that dispels misconceptions about the effectiveness of private vs. public schools in inculcating civic values and forming citizens.

Stories of the Week: Gerard and Cara pay tribute to one of the pioneers in the school choice movement, Dr. Howard Fuller, who announced his retirement from Marquette University this week after a distinguished career spanning three decades. The U.S. Department of Education released its interim final rule on equitable services, so districts that continue to ignore USED’s guidelines on funding for Title I students in both public and private schools will no longer have access to CARES Act emergency funds.

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. They explore the parallels between the current civil unrest and racial injustice the country is witnessing and what took place in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, including police brutality then and now, and the ongoing connection between race, economics, and political pressure. They discuss the Civil Rights Movement’s success with shifting public opinion, through nonviolent protests and indelible iconography, and whether strong statements and product name changes issued by so many corporations today are likely to lead to genuine structural change. They also delve into the role played by women in the Civil Rights Movement. Diane concludes with a reading from the epilogue of her book, Carry Me Home.

Stories of the Week: In England, the government will be funding tutoring programs to bridge learning gaps as a result of COVID school closures, targeted to disadvantaged communities. Is this a model worth exploring here? New York’s wealthy families have fled Manhattan due to COVID – will they return to those elite schools if remote learning continues in the fall, or shift to the suburbs?

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. They discuss the opportunity presented by the national response to the George Floyd tragedy for ultimately improving race relations. Prof. Weatherford discusses the importance of teaching about the lives of African-American heroes and heroines, and their forgotten struggles to overcome adversity; what it means to teach a more complete and less romanticized history that is more inclusive; and how improved curricula, higher expectations, and a diverse faculty can more effectively inspire all children to strive to overcome adversity and empathize with people. She discusses her views on blues music as African-American language in song, and jazz as “the rhythm of daily life”; and how the sophisticated, improvisational artistry of jazz reflects African-Americans’ everyday experiences. Lastly, Prof. Weatherford offers a reading of her poem, “SNCC,” from her biography of 1960’s voting rights advocate Fannie Lou Hamer.

Story of the Week: Protesters in Massachusetts, Virginia, and other parts of the country have vandalized and removed statues of explorer Christopher Columbus this week due to his association with colonization and violence against Native Americans. Will these actions spark constructive dialogue about which historical figures society glorifies and marginalizes, or will they merely rile up Italian-Americans and create further tension? As school winds down for the summer and focus shifts to reopening plans this fall, a new Pioneer Institute report with ASU Prep Digital shows that online learning can work for most special needs students, and highlights the importance of meeting the diverse needs of all learners no matter the circumstances.

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. Commissioner Riley walks them through the remote learning guidance he issued, the timeline since the closures in March, and efforts to meet financial and technological obstacles in different parts of the state. He discusses work to acclimate teachers to online learning platforms, and options for re-opening in the fall. He also shares an innovative program that he launched in Lawrence that is now available in other parts of the state to respond to the growing demand for vocational education. Lastly, they delve into how to improve the Boston Public Schools, the subject of a recent audit warning about graduation rates, facilities, and academic performance, with 30 of the district’s schools ranking in the bottom 10 percent statewide.

Story of the Week: Cara and Gerard reflect on the George Floyd murder, police brutality, and racial injustice across America, and the important role of school leaders and teachers in facilitating constructive dialogue. How can education policymaking help with this ongoing crisis? They discuss the benefits of increasing access to high-quality educational opportunities and early literacy programs; engaging in conversations about our broken criminal justice system; improving the preparation of police officer candidates; and ensuring that people of all races feel empowered to speak up in support of human dignity and against injustice.

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.

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.

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.

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.