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.

More

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?

More

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.

More

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?

More

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?

More

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?

More

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.

More

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!

More

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.

More

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.

More

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:

More

Happy New Year! Co-hosts 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.

More

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 Year: New 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.

More

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?

More

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?

More

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.

More

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?

More

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.

More
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.
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.

Newsmaker Interview Guest:

Frank Edelblut is the Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education. In his role as commissioner, Edelblut serves on a number of boards, including as a trustee for the University System of New Hampshire. He is a businessman who started his career as a certified public accountant with a large international accounting firm. Edelblut briefly worked as a chief financial officer for a public company, which was sold to a French firm in 2009. He was a Republican candidate for Governor of New Hampshire in 2016. Previously, Edelblut was a Republican member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. During his term in the House, he served on the Finance Committee, Special Committee on Pensions and the Child and Family Law Committee. Edelblut attended the University of Rhode Island where he earned a Bachelor of Science, Business Administration – Accounting. He also holds a Masters of Theological Studies from the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.

More

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.

More