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.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Dr. Matthew Chingos, who directs the Center on Education Data and Policy at the Urban Institute. They discuss the “Year of School Choice,” the welcome 2021 trend of states across America expanding or establishing private school choice programs. Dr. Chingos describes the gradual evolution of private school choice programs from primarily school vouchers to tax credit scholarships and education savings account programs (ESAs), which have been growing in popularity, and how charter public schools fit into this growing portfolio. He offers thoughts, as a researcher and scholar, on how using data to analyze, enhance, critique, and hold schools accountable for students’ academic improvements has transformed K-12 policy discussions, and how COVID-19’s discontinuities will impact accountability and decision making. They explore another topic of Dr. Chingos’ research, the $1.6 trillion student loan debt crisis, reasons why tuition has skyrocketed, and some of the possible pathways forward. Lastly, he shares views on issues of academic quality within higher education, and whether colleges and universities have lost their sense of mission.

Stories of the Week: In California, where only 32 percent of the state’s fourth graders were performing at or above proficient in reading, a proposed ballot measure is taking aim at those practices that protect ineffective K-12 teaching. Despite being the home of tech giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon, the state of Washington has reported that a mere 9 percent of its public high school students were enrolled in computer science courses during the 2019-20 school year.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Nicholas Basbanes, author of the 2020 literary biography, Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He shares why poetry – from the Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer to Dante, Shakespeare, Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes – may well be the most influential, enduring form of written human expression. He then provides brief highlights of Longfellow’s life, and why he was often regarded as the most popular and recognizable “fireside poet” New England has ever produced. They discuss the tragic death of his second wife Frances Appleton in 1861, and his lasting importance as among our nation’s most celebrated poets, literary figures, and translators of Dante. They review Longfellow’s well-known poems, including “The Wreck of the Hesperus” and “Paul Revere’s Ride,” recited by countless generations of schoolchildren, and their wider cultural impact on interest in poetry in American schools. They also discuss Longfellow’s 1842 anti-slavery work, Poems on Slavery, and his close friendship with abolitionists such as U.S. Senator Charles Sumner; as well as other notable works such as “Evangeline,” and “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,” that celebrate religious liberty and inclusiveness. Basbanes concludes with a reading from his Longfellow biography.

Stories of the Week: Many state education officials are seeking guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on how to meet the accountability requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act after COVID-related testing disruptions. In Utah, student achievement on state assessments has declined across all grades, subject areas, and student groups in 2021 compared to 2019 (tests were not administered during 2020).

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Prof. Paul Israel, Director & General Editor of the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University, and author of Edison: A Life of Invention, the definitive biography of America’s greatest inventor. Professor Israel describes Edison’s public and private life, as well as the impact of his world-changing inventions, such as the hot-filament light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion-picture camera. Called the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” Edison is still the American with the most individual patents — 1,093 in the U.S. and 1,200 in 34 foreign countries. They discuss what educators and students in the 21st century can learn from how Edison ran the country’s first industrial research laboratory in New Jersey, and the importance of the U.S. Patent Office in protecting inventors’ exclusive right to profit from their inventions. They also discuss what students should learn about the role inventions have played in the historic success of the United States and in the highly dynamic and competitive global economy. Professor Israel concludes with a reading from his biography.

Stories of the Week:  The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) is celebrating its 75th anniversary of providing education for the children of American service members. Today, DoDEA operates 160 schools in eight districts across 11 countries, seven U.S. states and two U.S. territories for more than 67,000 students. (Read Pioneer’s related 2015 report.) In West Virginia, the Professional Charter School Board approved three applications for the state’s first ever charter public schools, which will provide another option for families who want and need a different learning environment.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization advancing opportunities so 57 million Americans with a disability can fully participate in all aspects of community. She shares her personal story struggling with dyslexia and ADHD, and what drew her to this cause. She reviews the various kinds of disabilities that people live with, and the strides our society is making to integrate and accommodate disabled citizens into everyday life. She offers thoughts on how well K-12 education generally serves students with special needs, and improvements she would like to see. She discusses how disabilities contribute to students’ achievement gaps in schools and colleges, and what can be done to educate people about and help remediate this. They also explore how assistive technologies and artificial intelligence can be used to help people with disabilities, and the importance of showing students with disabilities examples of great historical figures, heroes, and celebrities with disabilities who were able to accomplish remarkable feats and overcome their challenges.

Stories of the Week: 50CAN’s Derrell Bradford connects the dots between election outcomes in New Jersey and Virginia and parents’ dissatisfaction with their children’s in-person learning time in those states. A Wittgenstein Centre report covered in EdNext shows just how significant a role educational advancement plays, especially among women, in raising the standard of living and civic engagement in developing countries.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Pastor Robert Soto, a Lipan Apache religious leader and award-winning feather dancer who has successfully upheld his Native American cultural heritage and religious liberties in federal courts. As the country celebrates Native American Heritage Month, Pastor Soto shares his personal journey as a religious leader and describes the Lipan Apache Tribe. They discuss his experience upholding religious liberties under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, with the help of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, after being threatened with criminal fines and imprisonment for using eagle feathers in spiritual ceremonies (a practice banned by the federal government). He also offers thoughts on how American schoolchildren should be taught about the influence of Native American culture across the country and the proud history of Native peoples.

Stories of the Week: Education has played a key role in the Virginia gubernatorial election – is this campaign a harbinger of political battles to come? Analysis of data on the costs of a bacherlors degree, compared to students’ income two years after graduation, reveals a low return on investment at a number of colleges and universities.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Dr. Bror Saxberg, MD, Vice President of Learning Science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Dr. Saxberg describes his groundbreaking work in the area of learning science and understanding how “working memory” and “long-term memory” can help improve academic excellence and equity. He reviews what we now know from cognitive science and brain research that, if taken to scale, would likely help drive better student outcomes, and surveys some of the schools that apply this research most effectively to instructional reforms. Finally, Dr. Saxberg offers thoughts on the uses and limits of technology in American education reform, and whether school districts and schools are spending their resources on technology effectively enough to improve student achievement.

Stories of the Week: In Philadelphia, as the city prepares for a transit system strike that could disrupt in-person learning for 60,000 students and 20,000 school system employees, district leaders are looking to online education as a temporary solution. Wisconsin is seeing a rise in efforts to recall school board members, with 11 attempts in 2021, as a result of academic decline, COVID response, and some contentious curriculum content.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with David Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor of English and History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, selected as one of the Top Ten Books of the Year by The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Professor Reynolds shares what teachers and students alike should know about the culture of Civil War America, primary education in that era, and the wide variety of influences on Lincoln’s thinking and leadership. They delve into the most bitterly contentious political topics of Lincoln’s time, including slavery, states’ rights, trade tariffs, and women’s rights, and how the 16th president addressed the nation’s many political divisions. They also explore how Lincoln used his rustic image to shape his public persona and appeal to voters; and how he marshaled his rhetorical talent, invoking biblical language and the ideals of the American founding, to win the war, preserve the Union, and ultimately abolish slavery. Professor Reynolds concludes with a reading from his biography.

Stories of the WeekWashington Post columnist Jay Mathews recognizes the work of Will Fitzhugh, founder of The Concord Review, to encourage students’ interest in historical fiction and reward long-form research and writing. A new project of the Teagle Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities promises to restore the humanities in undergraduate education.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), a non-partisan research and policy analysis organization developing transformative, evidence-based solutions for K-12 public education. Robin describes the type of research CRPE conducts and how it has evolved over time, and shares her view of the impact it should have on schools, teachers, and families. She discusses CRPE’s work tracking school closures across the country at the height of the pandemic, the methodology used, and the findings so far. Robin reviews key takeaways from CRPE’s July report on how districts are allocating federal COVID-19 relief funds, and talks about how districts should spend those dollars. After sharing what her team will be focusing on as we emerge from the pandemic, she describes the challenges of leading a non-partisan research organization and remaining committed to the mission during a highly partisan era, with schools and curricula increasingly being drawn into political battles.

Stories of the WeekFinance and economics education improves young people’s financial literacy and helps prevent credit card and student loan debt, and insufficient savings for retirement. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is ending the school district’s Gifted and Talented program by fall 2022, in favor of a new program which he claims is more equitable.
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This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Raymond Arsenault, the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at the University of South Florida, and author of several acclaimed and prize-winning books on civil rights, including Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. He shares how he became interested in researching, writing, and teaching about the Civil Rights Movement. As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, he describes key figures in the movement, such as Irene Morgan, James Farmer, Diane Nash, and John Lewis, as well as the fear, hostility, and mob violence the riders (and the press covering them) confronted. They review organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and how their opponents responded with terrifying violence across the South. He offers thoughts on how teachers and students should think about the tensions among the Kennedy administration, MLK and SCLC, and the often younger, student led-groups like CORE and SNCC. He concludes with a reading from his book about the Freedom Riders.

Stories of the Week: Civil Rights activist and education reform activist Dr. Howard Fuller’s support for school choice stems from his determination to provide Black students a quality education by any means necessary. Research from the Center for Research and Reform in Education shows that students in grades K-12 have been most seriously impacted by the effects of COVID-19-related learning loss.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Mike Goldstein, founder of the Match Charter School and Match Teacher Residency in Boston. He shares why he became involved in K-12 education and founded Match Charter, and some of the innovations the school has implemented, such as high-caliber teacher preparation and use of Ivy League-educated teachers to drive successful student achievement. They discuss Match’s high-dosage tutoring program, and Mike shares the results of an experiment begun six years ago to replicate it in school districts. Mike also sheds light on charter graduates’ economic mobility, including job prospects and earning gains after college. Lastly, they delve into how charter supporters and leaders in Massachusetts and other blue states should proceed now that opposition is on the rise in states with some of the highest-performing charters, and what must be done to bridge the growing political divisions within K-12 education reform.

Stories of the Week: In New Mexico this year, the state is experiencing a 40 percent spike in the retirement of education employees. In Illinois, nearly 40 cents of every education dollar is spent on pensions.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-host Cara Candal talks with Julie Young, ASU Vice President of Education Outreach and Student Services, and Managing Director of ASU Prep Academy and ASU Prep Digital. They discuss the implications of COVID-19’s disruption of American K-12 education and the future of digital learning. Julie describes the enrollment growth her organization has seen as a result of parent demand for alternatives to public offerings, which comes on top of the growth in online schooling that pre-dated the pandemic (an 80 percent increase in enrollment during the last decade). Julie answers critics who claim digital schooling can’t work for early childhood, urban, or special needs students. She shares insights on quality digital education curriculum materials and approaches to subject areas that some assume are not well suited for digital learning.

Stories of the Week: Co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson discuss a Wall Street Journal investigation into Facebook, showing that the company is aware of mental health issues especially among teen girls, connected to Instagram. In Afghanistan, the Taliban has ordered school classes to resume in grades seven to 12 – but only for boys.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” guest co-host Jason Bedrick and co-host Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Leon Kass, MD, the Addie Clark Harding Professor Emeritus in the Committee on Social Thought and the College at the University of Chicago. Dr. Kass describes the important pieces of wisdom and humanity people today can still learn from reading the Book of Genesis, the topic of his 2003 work, The Beginning of Wisdom. They next discuss his newest book, Founding God’s Nation: Reading Exodus, and general lessons about the Israelites that leaders, teachers, and students could use in addressing the challenges of modern life. They explore the influence of the Book of Exodus and the themes of liberation from captivity on the Civil Rights Movement, and several of its major leaders, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and what teachers and students today should learn from Exodus about deliverance from life’s hardships. Dr. Kass shares why he became interested in the Great Books, and their crucial role in helping 21st-century students receive a complete liberal arts education and lead fulfilling lives. They discuss Western education’s increasing focus on vocationally oriented and often technocratic skills at the expense of humanistic education, and why we should be concerned about it, especially in our hyper-technological era. The interview concludes with a reading from Dr. Kass’s newest book on Exodus.

Stories of the Week: Co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson discuss New York Times story on the plight of America’s nine million students in rural school districts that are underfunded, disconnected, and face myriad challenges. Pioneer Institute and other organizations submitted an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Carson v. Makin, to expand access to private and religious schools for families in Maine.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, a New York Times best-selling biographer of Harriet Tubman and Fannie Lou Hamer. Kate shares why she has written about these historical African-American figures, and how she thinks parents, teachers, and schools can draw on their lives to talk about race. She describes the deeply segregated Jim Crow landscape of Fannie Lou Hamer’s native Mississippi Delta, the challenges she faced, and the influence of Freedom Songs and spirituals like “This Little Light of Mine,” often performed at her rallies, on her tireless advocacy. They discuss Hamer’s courageous voter mobilization efforts during Freedom Summer and at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, both during the summer of 1964, and why it’s so important for Americans to know about this unsung heroine of the Civil Rights era. They also explore Hamer’s reception by President Lyndon Johnson and the often male-centric Civil Rights Movement.

Stories of the Week: Around the country, K-12 online learning is experiencing a decline in interest among families, especially in programs with less live instruction and interaction with teachers and peers. A report from the National Student Clearinghouse shows that just over 40 percent of 2- and 4-year college students across the U.S. during the 2020-21 academic year were men.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” host Gerard Robinson talks with Nancy Poon Lue, incoming Senior Director at the Valhalla Foundation, where she will be leading their K-12 math funding initiatives. Nancy shares her recent work with the EF+Math Program, some of the challenges America has faced in ensuring students have a strong grounding in math and science, and the kinds of results she aims to achieve for kids in all ZIP codes. They discuss the realities of K-12 education before COVID-19, with declining NAEP scores and persistent achievement gaps, and what can be done to address COVID-19-related learning loss, especially in STEM. Nancy offers thoughts on America’s competitiveness with high-performing countries in the STEM fields that drive the global economy. Lastly, they delve into teacher preparation in STEM fields, and how education schools and state departments of education can help address the country’s ongoing STEM deficits.

Story of the Week: Schools in all but two states — New Hampshire and New Mexico — are experiencing a shortage of special education teachers to meet demand as students return to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara Candal and guest co-host Derrell Bradford talk with David Blight, Sterling Professor of American History and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. He is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. He shares what drew him as a teenager in Flint, Michigan to the study of America’s past, and to Douglass in particular. He explains the role of Walter O. Evans, to whom he dedicated the book. They explore how the former slave Douglass became America’s foremost abolitionist statesman, and his morally powerful rhetoric, including his famous 1852 speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” They also cover his involvement in the 19th-century women’s rights movement, his marriages and family, and his later life at his home in D.C., as an elder statesman writing and shaping his enduring legacy. Professor Blight concludes with a reading from his Douglass biography.

Stories of the WeekNew York City will require that all public school faculty, principals, and staff receive the COVID-19 vaccine. A Colorado school district is using innovative approaches, including billboard advertising, to address declining enrollment as a result of the pandemic.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Professor E.D. Hirsch, Jr., founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, and acclaimed author of the books, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and How to Educate a Citizen: The Power of Shared Knowledge to Unify a Nation. They discuss his newest book on how policymakers, teachers, and students can use our country’s complicated, shared past to educate for common civic purposes. They also talk about troubling results on national and international assessments of K-12 reading and math, and Prof. Hirsch’s December 2020 open letter to NAEP’s governing board, published in EducationWeek, recommending that they not follow through with plans to replace NAEP’s assessment of reading comprehension for the 2025 tests. They explore the NAEP change’s implications for assessing and improving reading results in America’s schools, and he shares thoughts on how to improve academic quality and equity across the entire system. Then they turn to the academic quality of state-approved teacher preparation programs, insights from the Core Knowledge Foundation’s work in education schools, and models of success among schools in other states and countries.

Stories of the Week:  An Associated Press poll of education departments revealed that 38 states are planning to open permanent virtual schools as a result of increased interest in at-home learning. The NAEP governing board is shifting to a new framework for the reading assessment, that will allow analysis of student performance by socioeconomic status and race.
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