Are smartphones and social media bad for kids’ mental health? According to a number of recent books, articles, and op-eds, the answer is an emphatic yes: The rise of smartphones and social media corresponded not only to a rise in the incidence of mental health problems but to a decline in academic performance. Indeed, in popular media, there almost seems to be a consensus emerging: It’s the phones, stupid.

But is the popular media consensus correct? What does the research say? And what is the state of the research? On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus discusses these questions and more with Pete Etchells.

Over the past couple weeks, as campus protests and crackdowns on campus protests have captured the nation’s attention, it has become increasingly clear that something is wrong with the civic culture at universities.

But how do we change course? How do we create a healthier civic culture on campus? And how can we train the next generation of Americans both to respect freedom of speech and be respectful in disagreement?

During the pandemic, the federal government sent $190 billion in COVID relief funds to America’s schools. These funds, known as ESSER (or the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund), changed school budgets across the country. But this September, ESSER will come to an end, meaning that—on average—schools will have to reduce their budgets by over $1,000 per student.

How will schools respond? What will get cut? And what should education leaders know to minimize the impacts of the funding cliff? On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus discusses these questions, and more, with Marguerite Roza.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with David Steiner about coherence and fragmentation; why curricula, teacher training programs, and assessments should be aligned (and why they usually aren’t); SEL; where Common Core fell short; E.D. Hirsch and the importance of teaching content; why economics, music, and philosophy should be taken more seriously in secondary education than they usually are; AP exams and CTE; teachers unions, master’s pay premiums, and schools of education; whether school is boring; why American teachers tend to focus more on students and less on subject matter than teachers abroad; the state of the humanities in American education; teaching students Ancient Greek; how not to teach Shakespeare; and more.

David Steiner is Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, Professor of Education at Johns Hopkins University, and the author of A Nation at Thought: Restoring Wisdom in America’s Schools. He was previously Dean at the Hunter College School of Education and the Commissioner of Education for New York State.

Over the last couple years, a number of states have enacted new universal education savings account (ESA) programs. Republicans have led these efforts with near universal opposition from Democrats, but should more Democrats support ESAs, especially because ESAs would seem to more greatly benefit the urban areas that Democrats tend to represent than the rural areas that Republicans tend to represent?

On this episode of The Report Card, four Democrats—Marcus Brandon, Ravi Gupta, Bethany Little, and Graig Meyer—debate whether their fellow Democrats should support ESAs. Nat, Marcus, Ravi, Bethany, and Graig discuss whether ESAs are regressive, whether Democratic voters support ESAs, whether Democrats should focus on private school choice instead of public school choice, and more.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with Rick Hess and Mike McShane about their new book, Getting Education Right: A Conservative Vision for Improving Early Childhood, K–12, and College. Nat, Rick, and Mike discuss what principles a conservative vision for education should be grounded in, whether No Child Left Behind was conservative, why family policy should be part of a conservative vision for education, why now is an opportune time for conservatives to take the lead on education, the pandemic’s effects on the politics of schooling, the culture wars, where conservatives have come up short on education in the past, the value of bipartisanship in education, where civics education has gone wrong, the state of education research, parental rights and parental responsibilities, and more.

Frederick M. Hess is a senior fellow and the director of education policy studies at AEI.

During the pandemic, homeschooling rates spiked, reaching unprecedented levels. And although they have fallen some since then, homeschooling rates remain far higher than anything we saw before the pandemic.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with Angela Watson about what is driving this change, what we can expect from homeschooling in the coming years, and what we know about homeschooling more broadly.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with Tom Richards about the Florence Academy of Art, what serious art instruction looks like, how K–12 art education can be improved, the differences between music and art instruction, whether artistic talent is innate or can be taught, how art instruction has changed over the last 200 years, Velazquez, showing children art documentaries, why it’s important to teach fundamentals before higher order skills, drawing with pencil and paper, the Zorn palette, the importance of coherence and consistency in an educational program, the management of Italian art museums, the proper age at which to start rigorous art training, and more.

Tom Richards is a painter and the director of the Florence Academy of Art.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with Mike McShane about education savings account (ESA) programs. Nat and Mike discuss the sudden growth in ESA programs over the past year, how ESA programs work, the differences between ESAs and vouchers, the pandemic’s effects on school choice, whether interest in ESAs solely comes from the right, the difficulty of starting charter schools, single-sex schools, the quality of education surveys, whether ESAs harm public schools in rural districts, the challenges of implementing ESAs, school choice and Catholic schools, how ESAs affect homeschooling, and more.

Mike McShane is the Director of National Research at EdChoice and the author and editor of a number of books on education policy.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with Dylan Wiliam about the latest PISA results, education in the US vs. education in the UK, what tutors might learn that classroom teachers might not, where teacher improvement and professional development tend to go wrong, making learning responsive to students, formative assessment, learning English as a second language, charter schools, why educators should think more about de-implementation, AI in education, and more.

Dylan Wiliam is Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at University College London.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus reviews the past year in education with Matt Barnum of The Wall Street Journal, Goldie Blumenstyk of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Alyson Klein of Education Week. Nat, Matt, Goldie, and Alyson discuss AI in education; DEI in higher education; learning loss, chronic absenteeism, and the ESSER funding cliff; the end of race-based admissions; the state of education journalism; the science of reading; which education stories from the past year were over- and under-reported; the Biden administration’s SAVE plan; culture clashes in Florida; the 2024 elections; what to expect from the coming year; and more.

Show Notes:

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with Brian Jacob and Vladimir Kogan about school board elections. Nat, Brian, and Vlad discuss how effective school board elections are at giving voters local democratic control, whether school board members are rewarded for good performance and punished for bad performance, the margin of victory in school board elections, who runs for school board, how incumbents perform in school board elections, the high rate of school board member turnover, paying school board members, state takeovers, how the pandemic affected school board elections, whether Moms for Liberty has been effective in winning school board elections, school governance, direct democracy, ESSER funding, NCLB, and more.

Brian Jacob is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Education Policy and professor of economics at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with Brooks Bowden about her recent paper The Unintended Consequences of Academic Leniency, co-authored by Viviana Rodriguez and Zach Weingarten. Nat and Brooks discuss how grading policies influence student effort and engagement, whether academic leniency helps low ability students, why North Carolina’s changes to its grading policies led to increased absenteeism, whether making grading policies stricter can ameliorate student achievement, whether increases in academic leniency in the wake of the pandemic are good for students, and more.

Brooks Bowden is an associate professor at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and the Director of the Center for Benefit–Cost Studies of Education.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with Ethan Hutt and Jack Schneider about their new book, Off the Mark: How Grades, Ratings, and Rankings Undermine Learning (but Don’t Have To). Nat, Ethan, and Jack discuss grades, tests, and transcripts; whether grades do a good job of motivating student learning; how our current grading system came into existence; grading abroad; short-haul and long-haul messages; AP exams; the difficulty of narrative grading; whether transcripts should be updated for the digital age; making grades overwritable; the GED; how teachers can improve their grading practices; and more.

Ethan Hutt is Associate Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with Ethan Hutt and Jack Schneider about their new book, Off the Mark: How Grades, Ratings, and Rankings Undermine Learning (but Don’t Have To). Nat, Ethan, and Jack discuss grades, tests, and transcripts; whether grades do a good job of motivating student learning; how our current grading system came into existence; grading abroad; short-haul and long-haul messages; AP exams; the difficulty of narrative grading; whether transcripts should be updated for the digital age; making grades overwritable; the GED; how teachers can improve their grading practices; and more.

Ethan Hutt is Associate Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with Melissa Kearney about her new book, The Two-Parent Privilege: How Americans Stopped Getting Married and Started Falling Behind. Nat and Melissa discuss the decline in marriage among non-college-educated parents, why having two parents in the home matters for student outcomes, the stock of marriageable men, whether studying family structure is taboo, what the fracking boom can teach us about the decline in marriage, how marriage became decoupled from raising children, universal basic income for parents, why Asian Americans seem immune from the broader decline in marriage, intergenerational households, the difficulty of parenting, the importance of culture, and more.

Melissa Kearney is the Neil Moskowitz Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland and the Director of the Aspen Economic Strategy Group.

Note: This episode originally aired in September 2022.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat speaks with Doug Lemov about how cellphones and social media harm the academic and social development of students and make schools less inclusive.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat speaks with Roland Fryer about incentives and opportunity. Nat and Roland discuss paying students, parents, and teachers; the importance of properly structuring incentives; affirmative action; loss aversion; why certain ideas in education get treated as out of bounds; using machine learning to increase diversity in college admissions; COVID learning loss; whether the Ivy League should create feeder schools for disadvantaged students; using data in the classroom; and more.

Roland Fryer is a Professor of Economics at Harvard University. He was a MacArthur Fellow and is a winner of the John Bates Clark Medal.

On July 12th, the California State Board of Education adopted a new math framework that will affect the way math is taught for the nearly 6 million students in California’s public schools and has the potential to influence the way math is taught at the national level.

On this episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with two of the framework’s critics, Jelani Nelson and Tom Loveless, about the framework, its intellectual origins, what they think it gets wrong, whether it is equitable, and what it will mean for California’s students.

On the latest episode of The Report Card, Nat Malkus speaks with Laura Meckler about her new book, Dream Town: Shaker Heights and the Quest for Racial Equity. Nat and Laura discuss integration, busing, and de-tracking; the Van Sweringen brothers; the limitations of good intentions; the internet’s effect on journalism; the racial achievement gap; belonging; what it’s like writing about your hometown; what history can teach us about education policy; and more.

Laura Meckler is a national education writer for The Washington Post.