This week on “The Learning Curve,” guest co-host Kerry McDonald talks with Nicholas Lemann, Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor of Journalism and Dean Emeritus of the Columbia School of Journalism, and author of the books, The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America, and The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy. He reviews the history, design, and purpose of the SAT and standardized assessments of academic merit, and how secondary schools and higher education institutions have used, or misused, tests as they relate to race and equality of educational opportunity. He offers thoughts on colleges’ and the American Bar Association’s recent shift away from standardized testing, and the impact on American education and society. Another topic they cover is the Great Migration, the movement of six million Black people from the American South to Northern, Midwestern, and Western states between 1910-1970. They explore the larger lessons about this pivotal episode in American history, and the social and educational policies that might help remediate our society’s ongoing racial struggles.

Stories of the Week: Co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson discuss a school choice program in Michigan, that would have provided nearly $8,000 to help families with private school tuition or other expenses such as tutoring, but was vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Also, most education technology companies have seen a steep decline in valuation since the pandemic, defying many expectations that school closures would accelerate and expand the marketplace for digital learning.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Cass Sunstein, the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School, and the author of The New York Times best-selling book, The World According to Star Wars. He shares what drew him to this topic, and why, after 45 years, these movies have become a $70 billion multimedia franchise and continue to have such wide intergenerational appeal. They review some of the classic myths and legends that influenced George Lucas, the brilliant creator of the films. Prof. Sunstein explains some of the larger civic educational lessons found in the space epic, including the war between the democratic Republic and the autocratic Empire, in which the Jedi Knights rebel against imperial tyranny. They also discuss the story of Anakin Skywalker, and his turn to the Dark Side; and the supernatural “Force,” that imbues a series classified as science fiction with a transcendent quality.

Stories of the Week: In England, university and student groups are opposing government plans to set minimum eligibility requirements for student loans. In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams is seeking an extension of mayoral control of the school district, which for the past 20 years has meant important oversight authority over the schools chancellor and most of the governing panel.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. Dr. Hanushek shares how he first became interested in the economics of education, his plans for the nearly $4 million in funding from the prestigious Yidan Prize, which he received in 2021, and where he sees the greatest need for additional research in education. He shares findings from a recent Hoover Education Summit panel, focusing on educational performance among high- and low-performing countries, and how the U.S. compares on global measures. They explore why U.S. reading and math results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have remained flat, despite $800 billion spent annually, and the impact of persistent achievement gaps on individual social mobility and global competitiveness. They discuss his February study on some of the ways parents influence the “intergenerational transmission of cognitive skills,” and how this impacts the lifetime outcomes of children and K-12 education policymaking.

Stories of the Week: In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee signed into law a sweeping change designed to standardize and streamline the funding formula for the state’s K-12 education system. National polling from NPR and Ipsos finds high rates of parent satisfaction with their children’s schooling, despite contentious K-12 culture wars.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Wilfried Schmid, Dwight Parker Robinson Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Harvard University, who played a major role in drafting the 2000 Massachusetts Mathematics Curriculum Framework and served on the U.S. National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMAP) in 2008. Dr. Schmid shares how he became interested in mathematics, and how it was taught and encouraged in the German schools he attended. He also talks about his academic career at Harvard, his teaching experiences there and at other elite universities, and the wide disparities in the level of academic math preparation between students from America and other countries. Professor Schmid explains how he became interested in K-12 mathematics, and his work with education expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky in drafting Massachusetts’ nation-leading math standards. They discuss the “math wars” that occurred across American K-12 education, and why, even after the landmark NMAP report, this country continues to struggle with teaching students basic mathematics.

Stories of the Week: In Texas, teachers who choose to resign during the school year are being stripped of their professional certification. US News & World Report’s annual ranking of top high schools is out, and the latest list features several from Massachusetts, including Boston’s exam and charter public schools, as well as wealthy suburban districts.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Robert Alter, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of the landmark three-volume book, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary. As Jews around the world celebrate Passover this week, Dr. Alter shares why the Hebrew Bible is probably the most influential book in human history, and the larger lessons 21st century teachers and students should draw from its timeless wisdom. They also discuss the text as a record of the Jewish people, and vital historical lessons of persecution, resilience, and survival. Professor Alter describes how the Psalms and the Book of Exodus’ stories of liberation and Moses’ leadership inspired several of the major figures of the Civil Rights Movement. The interview concludes with Dr. Alter reading from his trilogy.

Stories of the Week: In California, K-12 public school enrollment has declined below 6 million for the first time in over two decades, with COVID accounting for only some of the loss. New Brookings research explores whether major federal aid packages directed to schools during COVID, and after the 2008 Great Recession, have been used for the intended purpose.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Denisha Merriweather, the director of public relations and content marketing at the American Federation for Children and founder of Black Minds Matter. They discuss Denisha’s inspiring personal narrative, from a struggling student to a leading national spokesperson for school choice. She shares her experience of receiving a Step Up for Students education tax credit to attend the Esprit de Corps Center for Learning, a small private school in Florida, and how it differed from her public school experience and changed her life. They delve into the organization she founded in 2020, Black Minds Matter, “a national movement to celebrate Black minds, support excellence, and promote the development of high-quality school options for Black students,” and Denisha explains the group’s long-term goals.

Stories of the Week: Results from a survey of 1,788 teachers in England revealed that 44 percent plan to leave the profession by 2027, citing the stressful workload and lack of public trust. Harvard is receiving criticism for its decision to end its undergraduate teacher education program and instead require candidates to enroll in the Graduate School of Education’s new Teaching and Teacher Leadership master’s program.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” as the nation prepares for the likely confirmation of its first Black female U.S. Supreme Court justice, Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. G. Edward White, David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, and author of the three-volume book, Law in American History. Professor White draws on his experiences clerking for Chief Justice Earl Warren to share information about Warren’s character, and how his landmark Brown v. Board of Education opinion has shaped America’s legal culture and access to education in our era. They explore Professor White’s legal history trilogy, and talk about what teachers and students today should know about the Civil War and ending slavery, from the Dred Scott decision of 1857 through the Thirteenth Amendment. They delve into the second volume, from Reconstruction, industrialization, and immigration, to the rise of Jim Crow; and the third volume on massive legal changes since World War II. The interview concludes with a reading by Professor White from his trilogy.

Stories of the WeekU.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is fielding criticism from the left on loan forgiveness, and the right on mask mandates and hot-button curriculum issues. The Washington Post editorial board calls out the Biden administration for proposed new federal rules that will likely hamper charter schools’ growth.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-host Cara Candal talks with John Lewis Gaddis, the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of George F. Kennan: An American Life. He shares some of the wider background knowledge, major historical themes, and key events that today’s students should know about the Cold War and its impact. He discusses the life and legacy of George F. Kennan, the subject of his Pulitzer-winning biography, who was the architect of America’s Containment policy toward Soviet communism and understood the true character of the Russian people and why communism would fail. They survey some of the outstanding political, military, literary, and religious leaders, as well as the murderous dictators, of the Cold War era. Prof. Gaddis explains why the West has often seemed less resolute towards Communist China and Putin’s Russia since the Cold War, and explores what teachers, students, and the public should know regarding Russia’s long-standing goal of dominating Ukraine. The episode concludes with a reading from Prof. Gaddis’s book, The Cold War: A New History.

Stories of the Week: In Massachusetts, education policymakers are moving ahead with a second review of the Boston Public Schools (BPS), which may lead to state receivership, after reports found that 16,000 BPS students attend schools performing in the bottom 10 percent statewide. Pioneer Institute’s Senior Fellow Charles Chieppo, most recently co-author of a RealClearPolicy op-ed on this topic, joins Cara for an in-depth discussion.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Arthur Levine, a scholar with New York University’s Steinhardt Institute for Higher Education Policy, a senior fellow and president emeritus of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and president emeritus of Columbia University’s Teachers College. He shares the main findings and recommendations of a new book he recently co-authored, The Great Upheaval: Higher Education’s Past, Present, and Uncertain Future. He discusses some of the key issues of academic quality, technology, administration, and cost in American higher education today, before and after COVID-19. He also offers thoughts on the role of teacher preparation programs in delivering better academic outcomes for students of all backgrounds. They explore how schools of education can be reformed to better prepare teachers with both the wide background knowledge and practical experience necessary to boost student achievement, and how they can achieve the stellar reputations enjoyed by law and medical schools. The interview concludes with Dr. Levine reading from his recent book.

This episode also features a shorter interview with Dr. Sephira Shuttlesworth, to commemorate her late husband, Civil Rights activist Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who would have turned 100 on March 18th, and share her current work to help students recover from trauma.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Charles Moore, a columnist for The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, and the authorized, three-volume biographer of Lady Margaret Thatcher. Lord Moore explains why Lady Thatcher is considered the most important female political figure of the 20th century, and reviews the challenges she faced at home and abroad, from trade union strikes to high inflation rates and political discord. They talk about Prime Minister Thatcher partnering with American President Ronald Reagan and standing in solidarity with Poland’s Lech Walesa to face down Soviet communism. Lord Moore describes her middle-class background and a leadership style that led to her 12-year tenure as prime minister in the male-dominated arena of British politics (including nearly 700 sessions of the world-renowned Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons). They also discuss “Thatcherism,” her foundational economic principles and their applicability to other domestic policy topics, as well as lessons for today’s world. The interview concludes with Lord Moore reading from his biography of Lady Thatcher.

Stories of the Week: Attorneys general from 14 states are suing the Biden administration over the Department of Justice’s calls to monitor parental protests at school board meetings. In Alabama, a group is seeking to address the teacher shortage by suspending the requirement to pass a Praxis content mastery exam.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Leslie Hiner, Vice President of Legal Affairs and Director of Legal Defense & Education Center with EdChoice. They discuss the the landmark U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision in Brown v. Board of Education, among the most important in the nation’s history, and how Brown’s call for racial access and equity in K-12 education has helped inform the work and advocacy of the school choice movement. They also review important SCOTUS decisions such as Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002 related to school vouchers; and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue in 2020, extending a public scholarship program to religious schools. They then explore the key legal contours of Carson v. Makin, a Maine school tuitioning case that the Supreme Court will decide this year, and its wider implications for school choice in America. Ms. Hiner offers thoughts on the next legal battles, as well as how and where school choice opponents will likely strike back.

Stories of the Week: The American Federation of Teachers and the AAUP are planning to join forces on objectives such as protecting academic freedom, and supporting increased funding for public higher education. A Pew Research Center survey shows that support for school principals has declined among Republicans, likely connected to contentious policy debates around mask mandates and history curricula.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-host Cara Candal talks with Linda Chavez, a senior fellow at the National Immigration Forum and the author of Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation. She shares how her ethnic background, Catholic education, and experience working with legendary American Federation of Teachers president Al Shanker, a great champion of civic education, shaped her outlook and public career. Ms. Chavez talks about why she ultimately parted ways with the teachers’ unions on key education issues. They discuss heated policy debates in American K-12 education regarding how to craft and deliver curricula that honor students’ diversity, while also educating for common ideals. Chavez sheds light on changing perceptions of Hispanic students, pointing to the wide variation in socioeconomic and academic achievement levels among those from different Spanish-speaking countries. She makes the case for a more flexible, broad, skills-based national immigration policy that responds to labor demands, and concludes with insights on why the country is struggling to unify around common civic values.

Stories of the Week: In Connecticut, a trend in the making? The state’s tech ed and career system, enrolling 12,000 students, is planning to become independent from the state education department, to increase its autonomy over finances and curricula. A new $100 million Google certification program could put students on the fast track to successful IT careers – bypassing a four-year degree.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-host Cara Candal and guest co-host Prof. Robert Maranto talk with Dr. Mark Bauerlein, Senior Editor at First Things, Professor of English Emeritus at Emory University, and the author of The Dumbest Generation Grows Up. Dr. Bauerlein shares his views about the kinds of content American K-12 students should be reading for preparation for college and meaningful lives. He describes the main findings of his books, including how overuse of technology, excessive screen time, and social media have prevented our youth from pursuing more elevated intellectual endeavors and delayed their maturation into adulthood. He draws linkages between the narcissism of these habits and an illiberal and closeminded outlook on society among too many Millennials and follow-on generations. Dr. Bauerlein offers thoughts on how teachers, parents, and leaders can use higher academic-quality education as a counterbalance to this trend.

Stories of the Week: In Pennsylvania and other states, school districts have filed lawsuits forcing legislatures to allocate equitable funding for K-12 public education. A new book by Larry Cuban, former Virginia teacher and school superintendent, offers some sobering realities about our K-12 education system, as well as reasons for optimism.
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As we celebrate National Catholic Schools Week, “The Learning Curve” co-host Cara Candal talks with Dr. Jennifer Frey, an associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America. Dr. Frey shares why Catholic education is so vitally important in the lives of families, schoolchildren, and communities, with its commitment to nurturing an appreciation for “the true, the good, and the beautiful” among students from all faith backgrounds. She offers thoughts on the steps educators must follow to confirm a strong faith-based role in students’ lives. They next discuss the life of Southern fiction writer Flannery O’Connor, among the most important Catholic authors of the 20th century, and how her powerful writing about grace can impart timeless truths to high schoolers. Dr. Frey describes O’Connor’s mix of humor, tragedy, and satire, some of the troubling elements of our age that she depicted, and how her life, faith, and fiction can guide readers toward moral courage in the face of adversity. Dr. Frey concludes the interview with a reading from one of Flannery O’Connor’s works.

Related: A Vision of Hope – Catholic Schooling in Massachusetts

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Andrew Campanella, the president of National School Choice Week. They discuss why 2021 was called the “Year of School Choice,” and the implications of more academic options for K-12 education reform across America. They delve into the reasons why political support for even the highest performing charter public schools has eroded, the path forward to rebuild wider coalitions, and why for-profit school management companies for charters are so controversial. Andrew offers insights on innovative models that thrived during the pandemic, including micro-schools and learning pods, lessons we can draw from digital and blended learning, and how state policymakers have responded, in some cases with restrictive measures to undermine these models. Lastly, they discuss the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in favor of school choice advocates in the landmark Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue decision, the follow-on Carson v. Makin case, and its likely impact.

Related: Read Cara Candal’s new report for Pioneer Institute, “Modeling an Education Savings Account for Massachusetts.”

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Ian Rowe, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on education and upward mobility, family formation, and adoption. Ian shares his background in entrepreneurial school leadership and policy research, and how he became interested in K-12 education reform. They discuss his work to advance quality school options for poor and minority kids as CEO of Public Prep and now cofounder of Vertex Partnership Academies, a character-based network of schools based on International Baccalaureate’s (IB) world-class curriculum. He weighs in on why policymaking around school choice and academic content has become politicized, and the kinds of content K-12 students should be taught, through the 1776 Unites project for example, to prepare for college coursework, meaningful citizenship, and pathways to prosperity.

Stories of the Week: Should the state take over management of the Boston Public Schools? A Boston Globe opinion writer makes the case, noting the disproportionately low-income and minority student population enrolled in the district’s chronically underachieving schools. A US News story highlights the benefits of high school internship programs, to help students get a head start on career preparation before college.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Dr. Clayborne Carson, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor of History Emeritus at Stanford University and the Founding Editor of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. He describes the larger political and spiritual lessons Dr. King and the other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) sought to impart regarding nonviolent protest, and the complex relationship among Dr. King, the SCLC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and less well-known civil rights figures like the late Bob P. Moses. They discuss how hymns and literary works such as Langston Hughes’s 1951 poem “Harlem (A Dream Deferred),” strongly influenced Dr. King’s sermons and speeches. Dr. Carson compares how racial issues have differed in Southern and Northern cities, noting MLK’s 1966 Chicago Campaign. They explore whether K-12 U.S. history instruction sufficiently covers the Civil Rights era compared to other important periods, and Dr. Carson offers insights on how policymakers, schools, and parents can draw on lessons from the Civil Rights era to better understand race in America. He concludes with a description of the World House Documentary Film Festival, a free, four-day webinar and virtual film festival celebrating MLK, beginning on January 14th.

Stories of the Week: In London, staff shortages from a spike in COVID cases have forced many early education programs to reduce their hours of operation or close. In an era in which technology is replacing books, how can we ensure our children develop the habits that lead to lifelong reading? An EdWeek story explores this question, which is important because long-form and pleasure reading are linked with higher academic performance.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Bari Weiss, former New York Times op-ed editor and writer, and author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism. Bari shares what motivated her to write this book, its reception, and key lessons for teachers and students alike.

She also explains why we’re now seeing a rise in anti-Semitism, how educators can best combat it, and the connection she observes between the current upsurge in anti-Semitism and cancel culture. Bari discusses her experiences on the editorial boards of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and her courageous decision to resign from the Times, as well as the public praise and criticism she’s encountered since her resignation.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, who represents the lead plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Carson v. Makin. They discussed last week’s oral arguments, and the background and key legal contours of the case. Bindas described Maine’s school tuitioning program, and the pivotal change in the early 1980s that allowed for the state to discriminate against religious families. They explored the questionable distinction that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit drew between religious “status” and “use” in schooling, and the likely impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 Espinoza decision, which was a major victory for the Institute for Justice and school choice. Bindas shared what makes him hopeful that the Court will rule in the Carsons’ favor, and what he thinks the next legal steps should be to support K-12 educational choice.

Read Pioneer’s amicus brief and op-ed in support of the plaintiffs in this case.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Dr. Marc Seifer, author of the acclaimed biography Wizard: The Life & Times of Nikola Tesla. He reviews what teachers and students should know about the life of Nikola Tesla, the world-renowned engineer, physicist, and inventor who is more widely known nowadays for the electric car and clean energy companies named for him. Dr. Seifer describes the remarkable variety of world-changing gadgets Tesla invented, along with his hundreds of patents, including the alternating-current electricity system (AC), the induction motor, radio-controlled technology and what students today can learn about STEM, inventions, and innovation from studying his work. They explore Tesla’s bitter rivalry with Thomas Edison, their “war of the currents,” and Tesla’s deep struggles with the business and commercial aspects of his work. They also delve into Tesla’s experience as a Serbian immigrant, interacting with a variety of powerful, Gilded Age elite figures, and the renaissance that his reputation has more recently enjoyed. The interview concludes with a reading from Dr. Seifer’s biography of Tesla.

Stories of the Week: What will President Biden’s Build Back Better plan mean for universal pre-Kindergarten education? Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is launching a five-year, $750 million effort to open access to charter schools for 150,000 more children in 20 cities across America. The Department of Education is expanding the Second Chance Pell program, allowing 200 colleges and universities to participate in prison education programs that can transforming lives and help people reenter society.