This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Professor Arnold Rampersad, the Sara Hart Kimball Professor Emeritus in Humanities at Stanford University and recipient of the National Humanities Medal for his books including The Life of Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison: A Biography. They discuss what teachers and students today should know about Langston Hughes’s celebrated literary life and poetry, including his influence on African-American literati during the Harlem Renaissance, and how his works, such as “Harlem (A Dream Deferred)” and “Mississippi –1955,” impacted the Civil Rights Movement. They then turn to Ralph Ellison, whose 1952 novel, Invisible Man, is among the greatest works of 20th-century American fiction. Professor Rampersad shares the major formative experiences and intellectual influences on Ellison’s life and writing, including his Oklahoma upbringing, Tuskegee Institute education, and interest in literary figures such as Dostoevsky, Hardy, Melville, Twain, and Faulkner. He also offers insights on the connection between the writings of Hughes and Ellison, and blues and jazz music, with its complexity and exploration of suffering. Professor Rampersad concludes the interview with a reading from his biography of Ralph Ellison.

Stories of the Week: In an effort to stem COVID-related learning loss, more than 230 public schools in Hawaii will offer summer school on campus for free, using federal relief funds. In Baltimore, high school students started a mentorship program to help younger peers on topics such as financial assistance, standardized testing, and course selection.

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

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

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Professor Bettany Hughes, award-winning historian, BBC broadcaster, and author of the best-selling books Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore; The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens, and the Search for the Good Life; and Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess.

Prof. Hughes shares insights from her most recent book about the ancient deity known as Venus to Romans and Aphrodite to the Greeks, and her impact on our understanding of the mythology and history of beauty, romance, and passion. She discusses Aphrodite’s mythical role in sparking the Trojan War, portrayals of her across Western culture, and enduring lessons. They then turn to the ancient Greeks’ contributions to the foundations of Western philosophy, poetry, and government, and why studying classics, including figures like Socrates, is vital for education in the 21st century. And they explore the timeless wisdom and cautionary lessons all of us can draw from studying ancient Athenian democracy, Sparta, and the civic life of Greek city-states, the West’s earliest models of self-government. She concludes with a reading from her book, Venus and Aphrodite.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Susannah Heschel, the Eli M. Black Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, and the daughter of noted 20th-century Jewish theologian and Civil Rights-era leader, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. They discuss what teachers and students today should know about Rabbi Heschel’s life and legacy. Born in Warsaw, Poland, the descendant of preeminent European rabbis, Rabbi Heschel was arrested by the Gestapo, and later escaped to London. Prof. Heschel describes how losing many family members in the Holocaust shaped her father’s writings, and brought moral urgency to his American Civil Rights efforts. Prof. Heschel describes her father’s landmark study, The Prophets, for which she wrote an introduction, his profound view of the prophets as models, and his search for enduring “truth and righteousness in everyday life.” They discuss Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who evoked Old Testament imagery in many of his most memorable speeches, and who was accompanied by Rabbi Heschel on the Voting Rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Professor Heschel offers thoughts on what educators can learn from her family’s historic experiences facing adversity, and how citizens, teachers, and students alike can use personal stories, biblical wisdom, and ancient sources to inspire their civic action in our often divided country. She concludes with a reading from a favorite passage from one of her father’s books.

Stories of the Week: Which states are driving innovation in K-12 education, and which are struggling? Cara and Gerard discuss recent rankings, and some surprising results. The Kentucky Legislature passed a bill that would allow income-eligible families to access tax credit scholarships for private school tuition and other services, overriding the Governor’s veto.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. They discuss his research, cited by The Wall Street Journal, on learning loss due to the pandemic, especially among poor, minority, and rural students, and its impact on skills and earnings. Dr. Hanushek has projected that school closures will result in $25-$30 trillion of lost economic output in today’s dollars over the next century, and a 6-to-9 percent reduction in lifetime household income. He shares with listeners how he arrived at these estimates, their wider financial implications for America’s competitiveness, and how we can address it. They review the realities of K-12 education before COVID-19, with flat and declining NAEP reading and math scores over the last decade and persistent achievement gaps. Given that troubling trend, he recommends more effective use of our teachers’ specific talents and offering more individualized instruction to address variations in student preparation. He offers suggestions for how best to direct the influx of federal stimulus funds to school districts, and thoughts on the relative success of many charter and private schools in pivoting to ensure high-quality remote learning and in-class instruction.

Stories of the Week: School budgets have not suffered nearly as much as predicted due to the pandemic – in fact, some state revenues have even slightly grown thanks to federal relief funds and higher than planned sales tax collections. In Education Next, Christensen Institute cofounder Michael Horn laments school districts’ timid response” to remote learning, and opportunities to engage students in active learning and other innovative practices.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Kathryn Tempest, a Reader in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Roehampton in London, UK, and author of Cicero: Politics and Persuasion in Ancient Rome and Brutus: The Noble Conspirator. They discuss the historical, civic, and moral lessons political leaders, educators, and schoolchildren today can learn by studying the Roman Republic and the lives of key figures from that era such as Cicero and Brutus.

Dr. Tempest reviews the legacy of Cicero, the distinguished statesman and orator, whose timeless works, influenced by Greek philosophy, have endeared him to extraordinary leaders through the ages, from St. Augustine to Churchill. She contrasts Cicero’s adherence to limited constitutionalism with the worldview of his nemesis, the colossal dictator Julius Caesar. She also delves into the complex relationship between Caesar and the enigmatic Brutus, whom Shakespeare called “the noblest Roman of them all” for his role in Caesar’s assassination on the “Ides of March.” Dr. Tempest traces the influence of these events on Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke and Montesquieu, and concepts such as the mixed constitution and separation of powers that are so fundamental to the American founding. She concludes with a reading from her biography of Brutus.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Loung Ung, a human-rights activist; the author of the bestselling books First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Lucky Child, and Lulu in the Sky; and a co-screenwriter of the 2017 Netflix Original Movie, First They Killed My Father. Ms. Ung shares her experiences living through genocide under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, which resulted in the deaths of nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population. Loung talks about the experience of working with Angelina Jolie on the film version of First They Killed My Father, and the role that documentaries like hers and the award-winning 1984 film, The Killing Fields, can play in portraying the human stories behind historic events. They explore Ms. Ung’s life in America, and the support she received from her secondary school teachers in Essex Junction, Vermont, her professors at St. Michael’s College, and from local and religious institutions. The episode concludes with a reading from Loung Ung’s memoir.

Stories of the Week: A new poll shows that nearly a third of parents may continue with remote learning after COVID. According to a new report, only one in six Indiana college students who study education actually join the teaching profession. How can we remove barriers to entry, especially among people of color?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Tommy Schultz, CEO-elect of the American Federation for Children (AFC). They discuss how COVID-19 school closures have increased the interest in alternatives to public schools, and what AFC’s polling shows on shifts in attitudes toward school choice options in both urban and rural communities. He shares predictions for school choice policymaking in the Biden administration and the largely Republican-controlled state legislatures. They explore the past successes of the left-right coalition in K-12 education reform that delivered charter schools, testing, and accountability, but has since splintered, and how the remnants of that coalition might respond to the teachers’ unions. Tommy offers insights into how advocates will need to communicate and mobilize state-by-state over the next five years to dramatically expand private school choice programs like vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and education savings account programs, which currently serve approximately 550,000 out of 56 million total K-12 students.

Stories of the Week: A new Pioneer Institute report on Boston’s only vocational high school (which also received coverage in The Boston Globe) calls for improved alignment between course and co-op offerings, and actual employment opportunities. New research from EducationNext raises concerns about over-diagnosis of Black and Hispanic students in special education programs. In some school districts, students are continuing remote learning, even while playing on sports teams – is this the right message to send about academic priorities?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, founder of the AHA Foundation, and author of the books Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights, Infidel: My Lifeand Nomad: From Islam to America – A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations. Ms. Hirsi Ali shares insights from her upbringing and early education in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya, as well as her courageous immigration to the West, where she experienced an intellectual awakening that led to human rights activism and a seat in the Dutch Parliament. They discuss why all human rights and free speech advocates should be concerned about the rise and growing militancy of political correctness and “cancel culture” in the West, its impact on reasoned public debate, and what educators need to teach young people about the importance of open mindedness and the free exchange of ideas. Lastly, Ms. Hirsi Ali reviews the central theme of her latest book, Prey, which explores the long-term ramifications of mass migration from Islamic-majority countries on the rights of women in Europe, given the different value systems between these countries and the West, with its commitment to the rule of law, rights-centered constitutionalism, science, and religious liberty. She concludes with a reading from the book.

Stories of the Week: The Biden administration is ordering states to continue federally required standardized tests this year, though there is flexibility on the exam format and accountability standards. Is this an opportunity for innovation in student testing? All members of a San Francisco-area school board resigned after mocking parents at a virtual meeting that they didn’t realize was already being broadcast live. Was this an isolated incident or a window into their general outlook toward families?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and guest co-host Kerry McDonald continue our celebration of Black achievements with Terry Teachout, drama critic at The Wall Street Journal, and author of such books as Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong and Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington. They explore how Louis Armstrong became such a brilliant, internationally beloved musician, and the indispensable genius of the distinctly American art form known as jazz. Teachout talks about the influence of Armstrong’s roots in New Orleans on his long career spanning several decades, from the Jazz Age of the 1920s-30s into the 1960s with his #1 hit, “Hello Dolly.” They then turn to Duke Ellington, described by Teachout as the greatest jazz composer of the 20th century, whose works were complex and ingenious, yet accessible, and whose demeanor was polished and elegant. Best known for classics like “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Mood Indigo,” he led the 1920s-30s-era orchestras at the famous Cotton Club. As a writer and former jazz musician himself, Teachout offers insights into what educators, students, and aspiring young musicians can learn most from these widely contrasting giants of jazz about their craft, as well as about race relations in early 20th-century America. The interview concludes with a reading from Teachout’s biography of Armstrong, Pops.

Stories of the Week: In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the school district reached a deal with the teachers union to reopen elementary and middle schools in March, after 10 months of remote instruction. Is there a correlation between school reopening and factors such as the strength of union leadership, or competition from private alternatives? Colby College in Maine will be the first small liberal arts school to launch a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) institute, that will integrate machine learning and big data into its instruction and research programs. AI could change teaching and learning forever – presenting both challenges and opportunities.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard celebrate Black History Month with Professor Valerie Boyd, the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer in Residence and Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Georgia, and the definitive biographer of Zora Neale Hurston. Boyd discusses why Hurston is such an important novelist and cultural figure, and the influence of Hurston’s 1937 classic novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, on American literature. She describes Hurston’s early experiences as the daughter of a Baptist preacher and sharecropper, the granddaughter of ex-slaves in Eatonville, Florida, one of the first self-governing, all-Black municipalities in the U.S., and the profound influence that her upbringing had on her worldview. They also review the central role she played as the seminal female figure of the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of Black art and culture in 1920s-era New York City. Boyd’s 2003 biography of Hurston, Wrapped in Rainbows, features the first published excerpts from Hurston’s book Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” drawn from an interview with a survivor of the last-known transatlantic slave ship. Professor Boyd concludes with thoughts on Hurston’s legacy, and lessons for young people today.

Stories of the Week: Exam and magnet schools across the country, including the prestigious Boston Latin School, are eliminating their admissions criteria – at first, the change was temporary in response to COVID-19, but some are pushing for it to become permanent, to achieve racial balance. On the campaign trail, candidate Joe Biden made his opposition to charter public schools clear, supporting a ban on certain types of charters, and an increase in regulations – but anti-charter-school policies are already brewing in the states.

Cara and Gerard celebrate National Catholic Schools Week with Tom Carroll, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Boston. He shares his view of the value that Catholic schools add; the reasons for their success at improving student outcomes and creating a sense of community; and their commitment to serving children from underprivileged backgrounds, regardless of religious affiliation. 

They explore how Catholic schools have adapted to changes resulting from COVID-19, taking a proactive approach to closures and remote instruction, and re-opening in the fall while many public schools across the country have remained closed. They discuss the impact of these decisions on their enrollment, and the efforts they have undertaken to follow health protocols and ensure safe and clean classroom environments, leading to a minuscule COVID-19 case count. They also delve into why Superintendent Carroll is a strong supporter of tax credit scholarship programs, that would allow all families, regardless of income, to enroll their children in the schools that are best for them.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard kick off National School Choice Week with Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick, co-author with Kate Hardiman of a new book, Unshackled: Freeing America’s K–12 Education System. Justice Bolick shares his experiences serving on a state supreme court, and how it has shaped his understanding of America’s legal system. They discuss his new book reviewing the country’s ongoing struggles with the often outdated, command-and-control structure of its K-12 education system and how state lawmakers can best craft legislation to expand flexible, parent-driven educational options. They also talk about the disastrous effects of COVID on student learning, and U.S. schools’ competitive disadvantage relative to international peers. Justice Bolick offers analysis of some of the possible legal, bureaucratic, and educational challenges and opportunities in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Espinoza case, including fewer impediments to school choice at the state level. They also talk about why religion and schooling remain such a third-rail issue in the K-12 system, in contrast to America’s decentralized and choice-driven higher-education model, in which students can access government scholarships and loans regardless of where they attend college or university.

Stories of the Week: With Catholic school enrollment declining across the country, Cara previews some of the key points in Pioneer Institute’s new book (which she co-edited), A Vision of Hope: Catholic Schools in Massachusetts. A number of President Biden’s appointees to the U.S. Department of Education have ties to First Lady Jill Biden, a former educator, or to teachers’ unions. Is a close White House linkage likely to improve results for students, or just continue the status quo.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a landmark trilogy on the Civil Rights era, America in the King Years. They discuss the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday the nation observed on Monday. They review Dr. King’s powerful, moving oratory, drawing on spiritual and civic ideals to promote nonviolent protest against racial injustice, and how, as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he shared leadership of the movement with organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. They also discuss the pivotal role that school-aged children played in the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, and how to talk with schoolchildren today about those heart-wrenching images such as six-year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted by U.S. marshals as she desegregated the New Orleans Public Schools, and young students facing Bull Connor’s dogs and fire hoses in Alabama. Branch shares thoughts on how to ensure that the women involved in the movement, including Septima Clark, Ella Baker, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Diane Nash, receive due credit for their contributions. He concludes with a reading from one of his books.

Stories of the Week: President-elect Biden is backing up his pledge to get kids back to school with a proposed $130 million in stimulus funds to cover the costs of reconfiguring K-12 classrooms, improving ventilation, personal protective equipment, and other social distancing requirements. Will the cash infusion work, and will support be offered to income-eligible private school students? A U.S. Government Accountability Office study takes a close look at school improvement efforts across all states, with some promising findings.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Ignat Solzhenitsyn, a pianist, conductor laureate of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, principal guest conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, and son of the Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. They discuss his father’s legacy, his courageous work to debunk the Soviet Union’s utopian myths, and key lessons American educators and students should draw from his life, writings, and battle with Soviet communism. They also explore his warning to Western democracies in his historic “A World Split Apart” Harvard Commencement speech, about their own crippling “short-sightedness,” “loss of will,” and crisis of spirit. Ignat describes his family’s 20-year exile in rural Vermont, recounted in his father’s newly released memoir, Between Two Millstones, Book 2, in which Solzhenitsyn expounds on the vital importance of local self-government, the rule of law, liberty, and what he called “self-limitation.” Ignat describes the education he and his brothers received at home, his own impression of the strengths and weaknesses of American education, and what inspired him to become a classical musician and conductor. He concludes with a reading from one of his father’s works.

Related: 2018 op-ed by Jamie Gass: “As we mark 100th anniversary of Solzhenitsyn’s birth, we appreciate importance of historical literacy

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard kick off the new year with Eva Moskowitz, CEO & Founder of Success Academy Charter Schools, a network of 47 schools enrolling 20,000 K-12 students in New York City. Eva shares her own education path, and how it influences her leadership and philosophy. She highlights some of the methods Success Academy has pioneered and implemented to drive outstanding academic achievement for the city’s most underserved students, as well as adjustments the network has made in response to COVID-19. They discuss the next U.S. Secretary of Education and the critical issue of school reopening, as well as learning loss and other challenges the pandemic is bringing to light and exacerbating for New York City’s public school children. Eva also shares thoughts on innovative approaches to resource allocation, and the recruitment, preparation, and retention of high-quality teachers and principals. She concludes with advice for the next generation of educators.

Stories of the Week: Gerard and Cara review some of the major priorities for Miguel Cardona, President-elect Biden’s nominee for U.S Secretary of Education. In Indiana, a new report finds that only 43 percent of the state’s public education employees are teachers. Is the support staff hiring surge, especially at this time, crowding out higher teacher compensation and other classroom needs?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Jim Blew, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development at the U.S. Department of Education. Assistant Secretary Blew shares lessons from leading and implementing K-12 public education reform efforts in often contentious policy environments, and the unique challenges of the current partisanship and gridlock in Washington, D.C. He describes Secretary DeVos’s courageous work on behalf of public and private school choice, as both a public official and private philanthropist, and why it caused such a stir from the national teachers’ unions and defenders of the status quo in Congress. The discussion concludes with a focus on the D.C. voucher program, the most successful federally-funded K-12 private school choice program ever established, its future prospects, and the outlook for private school choice programs across the country.

Stories of the Week: The New Hampshire state legislature will move forward on the first phase of a $46 million federal grant-funded initiative to double the number of charter schools, after Democratic lawmakers voted against the grant last year. Lily Eskelsen García rose from school cafeteria worker to president of the National Education Association – will President-elect Biden choose her as the next U.S. Secretary of Education?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Daniel Walker Howe, Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus at Oxford University in England and Professor of History Emeritus at UCLA. Drawing from his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, he provides background information on Horace Mann, the first secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, founder of the common school movement in public education, and a prominent abolitionist in Congress. They explore Mann’s vision of primary and secondary public schooling as a conduit for political equality and citizenship in a democratic society, and what common schools meant for African-American and female students. They also explore the religious origins of very high rates of adult literacy in early Puritan New England, as well as the Founders’ constitutional vision of state and locally-driven K-12 education.

Stories of the Week: Last week, we said goodbye to one of America’s leading public intellectuals, Walter E. Williams, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, author of over a dozen books, prominent libertarian, and syndicated columnist. After the Every Student Succeeds Act required states to be transparent about funding on school-level report cards, some states are publishing this data, but not others – which presents challenges in terms of spending priorities as budget cuts loom.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Caroline Hoxby, the Scott and Donya Bommer Professor of Economics at Stanford University and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution. Professor Hoxby shares what inspired her interest in charter schools, school choice, and social mobility, and the major lessons she has learned about K-12 education policymaking in the U.S. throughout her career. She discusses the benefits of randomized lottery-based research in yielding the most reliable charter school effectiveness data. They also delve into the growing disconnect between the nation’s increasing per-pupil expenditures and stagnant student achievement, and the long-term implications of these data regarding social mobility and the nation’s economic vitality.

Stories of the Week: Will COVID-19 usher in a whole new approach to school funding that ties spending to students’ needs or mastery? Defying expectations based on past recessions, enrollment in K-12 private schools has increased during COVID, according to the results of a new survey of 160 independent schools in 15 states.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Carl Bistany, the president of SABIS® Educational Systems, an education company founded over 130 years ago that serves young women in the Middle East, and poor and minority students in the U.S. Carl describes SABIS’® successful model for educating underserved and at-risk students, especially its use of regular, consistent testing, to bridge achievement gaps among those who are often seen as the most challenging to educate. He describes some of his proudest accomplishments, as well as barriers that have made it difficult, politically, for for-profit school management companies like SABIS® to operate and expand their successful models. They also explore some of the most promising developments in K-12 education reform internationally, and in the U.S.

Stories of the Week: Ohio lawmakers have passed a proposal that would overhaul the criteria for the state’s largest private school tuition program, to serve more low-income students currently enrolled in public schools whose performance ranks in the bottom fifth. A study by Bellwether Education found that the rate of teacher retirement in six of seven states reviewed has declined by five percent. Has COVID-related virtual instruction helped retain veteran faculty?