This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. They discuss the factors contributing to the decline in qualifications of those who enter the teaching profession, including a general lowering of academic expectations within graduate schools of education and across higher education. They explore the importance of liberal arts content knowledge and subject-area expertise in teacher preparation, and what research shows about the impact of teachers obtaining advanced degrees on student outcomes. Kate describes some of the key differences between teacher preparation, accreditation, and job prospects in the U.S. and other countries, including Canada. They speculate about what a Biden presidency might mean for K-12 education policymaking, delving into the politics of education reform, and the role of trade associations and special interest groups, such as teachers’ unions, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Governors Association, in impeding necessary changes. Lastly, Kate shares insights on how to diversify the teaching pipeline, at a time when people of color make up half of public school students, but only 20 percent of their teachers.

Stories of the Week: The governing board of NAEP, or the Nation’s Report Card, is considering changing the framework of the reading section to account for differences in students’ sociocultural backgrounds – will such a shift undermine the reliability of this important barometer of school district performance? An analysis from EducationNext shows that the number of K-12 administrative staff employed in U.S. public school districts has increased by 75 percent over the last two decades, but only 7 percent for teachers. Is this trend sustainable as resources become scarcer?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Cheryl Brown Henderson, president of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Research. She shares her experience as the daughter of the lead plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, and thoughts on how the historic decision contributed to advancing civil rights in our country. They explore the tragic murder of George Floyd and the ongoing problem of racial inequality, and consider steps that political, educational, civic, and religious leaders should take to address past injustices. Lastly, Cheryl discusses COVID-19’s impact on the important conversation about the wide achievement gaps that have blocked educational opportunity for poor children of color, and how to bridge them.

Stories of the Week: Would a Joe Biden presidency stem the tide of labor unions’ decline in influence? The former Vice President is expected to appoint a union leader to his Cabinet, perhaps in the U.S. Department of Education. This week marks “fall count day,” when schools across the U.S. must submit student enrollment numbers to determine state funding for the next year – but 60 of the nation’s largest districts are reporting significant declines, especially in kindergarten and elementary grades.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Paul Peterson, the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and Director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University. They discuss his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed analyzing NAEP results from 2005-17 to show that charter schools are helping underprivileged students improve at faster rates than their peers in traditional district schools, especially among African-American students. Professor Peterson shares thoughts on the implications of this evidence for charter school expansion, and the challenges from opponents, predominantly in the Northeast, who seek to over-regulate charter schools. They also delve into lessons from COVID-19 with regard to the long overdue embrace of online education, options such as micro-schools and pods that are unfortunately often only available to affluent families, and the effects of school closures on children.

Stories of the Week: In Boston, attending a charter school dramatically narrows achievement gaps between special-education students and English learners, and their traditional public school counterparts, according to new analysis from Tufts Professor Elizabeth Setren. In Kansas, the Education Commissioner stated that both remote and hybrid learning models are not effective and sustainable through the academic year.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Brenda Wineapple, author of the award-winning Hawthorne: A Life and The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation. They discuss her definitive biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne and the 170th anniversary of the publication of his classic novel, The Scarlet Letter. They explore how Hawthorne’s writing was shaped by the author’s Salem, Massachusetts setting and his notorious Puritan ancestor, who had been involved in the Witchcraft Trials. Brenda describes why Hester Prynne, the protagonist of The Scarlet Letter, is such a compelling heroine, and why students today should read Hawthorne’s work. The discussion then turns to Brenda’s most recent book, The Impeachers, and the impulse to condemn or publicly shame. President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial was the first against any U.S. chief executive. Brenda talks about how it influenced Americans’ view of their chief executives, accountability, and whether we are likely to see increased attempts to remove presidents from office. The episode concludes with Brenda doing a reading from The Impeachers.

Stories of the Week: In New Hampshire, the state Supreme Court is hearing a case challenging the adequacy of the state’s school funding formula, contending that local taxpayers are being unfairly required to cover a disproportionate amount of school budgets. In South Carolina, the pandemic has led to a substantial increase in enrollment in virtual charter schools.

We are joined by Dr. Jung Chang, author of the best-selling books Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China; Mao: The Unknown Story; and Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China. Dr. Chang discusses Wild Swans, a sweeping narrative about three generations of her family across 20th-century China, and the importance of transmitting firsthand historical knowledge of life under Mao Zedong. She also describes her definitive biography of Mao – which, like Wild Swans, remains banned in China – documenting the carnage under his reign, including the peacetime deaths of an estimated 70 million people. She explores Mao’s cult of personality, changing perceptions of his character and legacy, and Maoism’s resurgence in China today. Dr. Chang then delves into the topic of her newest book, Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China, a group biography of the powerful Soong sisters, including Madame Chiang. She concludes with a reading from her memoir, Wild Swans.

Stories of the Week: A new report covered by Time magazine reveals a shocking lack of Holocaust knowledge among Millennials and Gen-Z Americans surveyed across 50 states – troubling evidence of the dangers of woefully inadequate history instruction. CBS News reports that more Black families, when given the option, are likely to choose remote learning, for a variety of reasons having to do with mistrust of the system and safety concerns.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Kelly Smith, founder and CEO of Prenda, a company that helps create flexible learning environments known as microschools. Often described as the “reinvention of the one-room school house,” microschools combine homeschooling, online education, smaller class sizes, mixed age-level groupings, flipped classrooms, and personalized learning. Kelly shares what inspired him to launch Prenda in 2018, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted microschools to fame. They discuss how Prenda ensures teacher preparation in core academic areas, holds teachers accountable for student outcomes, and works to bridge achievement gaps.

Stories of the Week: A new report from Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann projects that school closures could cost the U.S. economy over $14.2 trillion by the end of the century. Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced $150 million in funding to public schools and parents for COVID-19 relief, including direct payments to families for educational materials, devices, and services. In The Atlantic, scholars discuss the pros and cons of families’ increasing propensity to consider alternatives to public schools, as a result of COVID.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Jay Greene, the Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, and Jason Bedrick, the Director of Policy for EdChoice. They discuss their timely new book, Religious Liberty and Education: A Case Study of Yeshivas vs. New York, about the recent battle between Orthodox Jewish private schools and New York’s state government over the content of instruction. They explain “substantial equivalency” statutes and their potential impact on a wide array of private and religious schools, as well as on parental rights, K-12 education policy, and religious liberty in America. Bedrick and Greene draw comparisons between substantial equivalency regulations and the bigoted, 19th-century Blaine Amendments that were recently weakened as a result of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. They express concerns about growing interference by state departments of education, regardless of the paltry level of funding they distribute to private schools through Title I, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or other programs.

Stories of the Week: In Baltimore, the school district has formed a promising partnership with the Recreation & Parks office to give more than 1,000 students in-person access to their virtual learning lessons, in small cohort groups meeting in schools and rec centers. A New Hampshire town tuitioning program offers financial support to rural families who choose secular private schools for their children – but not to those choosing religious options. In the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, does that distinction still pass constitutional muster?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and guest co-host Kerry McDonald are joined by Michelle Rhee, founder and former CEO of StudentsFirst and prior to that, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Michelle shares how her liberal arts background and Teach for America experience prepared her for a career in education leadership. Michelle reflects on the reforms she initiated at DCPS, the challenges she faced navigating notoriously difficult D.C. politics, and the rewards of working with her successor, Kaya Henderson, to implement lasting reforms and deliver great results for kids. She offers recommendations for restructuring K-12 schools, especially in larger, urban districts. They also discuss the ways in which schools and districts are being radically decentralized during COVID-19, with virtual schooling, homeschooling, and pandemic pods.

Stories of the Week: Through pandemic pods, parents without a lot of financial resources or home space are getting creative to set up meaningful learning environments across the country. A study on school responses to COVID-19 that appeared in EducationNext shows that leading charter school networks shifted seamlessly to remote learning, within days of the mid-March shutdowns. How did they succeed, and is it replicable?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Devery Anderson, the author of Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement. Today, August 28th, marks the 65th anniversary of the brutal murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, a story which is central to understanding America’s ongoing struggle for civil rights and racial justice. Devery recounts the events at Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market in Money, Mississippi, which led to the horrific tragedy, and places it in the wider historical context of the Jim Crow South. They discuss Mamie Till-Mobley’s bold decision to make Emmett’s funeral public, with an open casket, and how the event impacted the Civil Rights Movement and its important figures, from Rosa Parks to the late Congressman John Lewis. They also delve into Till’s murderers, their acquittal and later confession, and their fate. The interview concludes with a reading from The Death of Innocence, the heart-wrenching memoir authored by Emmett Till’s courageous mother.

Stories of the Week: Writing in the USA Today, co-host Gerard Robinson explores new poll results on attitudes toward police officers among Black residents in fragile communities. Offering inspiration to millions of young women in STEM fields, a female MIT professor originally from Maine solved a mathematics problem that had stumped experts for half a century. Education insiders are speculating over who would replace USED Secretary Betsy DeVos should she depart after the presidential election.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute. Julia shares how her liberal arts and law school background has informed her career path and views on education reform, and how her work with the late Professor Christensen and Michael Horn on disruptive innovation and education technology have provided fresh insights. Julia discusses the promise and scalability of online learning even prior to COVID-19, and shares her views on the power of professional networks, relationships, and technology for closing what she views as the “social gap,” which is also the topic of her book, Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations That Expand Students’ Networks. Lastly, she offers analysis on digital learning models across the country that are addressing this gap and advancing social mobility.

Stories of the Week: With his party’s anti-charter school platform proposals, is Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden sacrificing the best interests of America’s underprivileged schoolchildren? The EducationNext annual survey results show an interesting linkage between populism and views on education policy; and that an increasing percentage of parents are open to enrolling their child in some online high school courses.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Jack McCarthy, president and CEO of AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation and board chair of AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School. Jack shares what animated him to establish this highly innovative early childhood charter public school network that serves the most vulnerable children in Washington, D.C. He discusses AppleTree’s unique early childhood focus, the challenges of educating mostly disadvantaged students, and the innovative partnership they have developed with Nickelodeon to continue educating students during the COVID-19 crisis. Jack offers thoughts on the politics of school reform in Washington, D.C. and the surprising proliferation of school choice options there, as well as ongoing barriers to change that he has navigated to deliver excellent results for poor and minority students.

Stories of the Week: In 15 states around the country, including Massachusetts, districts were authorized to pilot voluntary, in-person schooling over the summer for small groups of students. But can they safely bring to scale the best practices they have learned about health and safety protocols, logistics, and transportation? With uncertainty around school reopening plans, “pods” and microschools are growing in popularity among families seeking other options – will these alternatives foster long-term entrepreneurial thinking in education, and what challenges and opportunities do they raise with regard to school funding?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and guest co-host Kerry McDonald, senior education fellow with the Foundation for Economic Education, are joined by Hershel Parker, the H. Fletcher Brown professor emeritus at the University of Delaware and the definitive biographer of the 19th-century American novelist, Herman Melville. As we celebrate the anniversary this week of Melville’s birth, Prof. Parker shares what drew him to study the Moby-Dick author’s life, inspirations, and legacy. He discusses why Moby-Dick is often considered the greatest American novel, with its memorable characters such as Ishmael, Captain Ahab, Queequeg, and the diverse crew. He explores the influences of religion, poetry, and culture on Melville’s worldview and writing. Prof. Parker concludes by reading one of his favorite passages from Moby-Dick.

Stories of the Week: Harvard Professor Paul Peterson outlines seven ways that students lose out from being deprived of in-person learning during COVID-19. And, can we expect students to study, read, write, take tests, and submit school work using the same tool they use for playing video games, watching shows, and checking Instagram – or is that concern about technology unrealistic for our era?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dava Sobel, a former New York Times science reporter, and author of Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter, and Letters to Father. Dava describes what inspired her interest in some of the most gifted mathematicians and astronomers in history, including Copernicus and Galileo, and the tensions between religion and science. She discusses the life story of a woman previously hidden from history, Sister Maria Celeste, who was Galileo’s daughter. Dava also offers some key lessons from her book, The Glass Universe, about the women who worked at the Harvard College Observatory in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She concludes by reading her favorite letter from Sister Maria Celeste to Galileo.

Stories of the Week: State and local education officials from across the country are seeking waivers from standardized testing for the upcoming school year. Should the U.S. Department of Education grant them? As we mark the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a new report reveals that nearly two-thirds of U.S. public schools contain physical barriers, such as inaccessible door handles and steep ramps, that potentially block access for individuals with disabilities. Are we doing enough to provide options for students with diverse learning needs?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dr. Sephira Shuttlesworth, a retired teacher and charter school leader, and the widow of the late Birmingham, Alabama, civil rights leader, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Dr. Shuttlesworth shares her and her siblings’ experience attending a poor-quality segregated school in Tennessee, and how it motivated them to integrate an all-white elementary school in the 1960s. She also discusses her late husband’s central role in the Civil Rights Movement, bringing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to Birmingham, as well as voter registration, and reforms to law enforcement and the legal system. She explores what inspired her to become a teacher and charter school leader, and why educational opportunity is so critical to fulfilling the vision of equality that civil rights leaders like the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth articulated.

Stories of the Week: What will the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case mean for our neediest families? The Wall Street Journal reports that some affluent parents, concerned about school reopening plans this fall, are turning to alternatives, such as online classes, outdoor programs, or joining other households to create micro-schools. But would these same parents support school choice programs for other, less fortunate families?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Meghan Cox Gurdon, the Wall Street Journal’s children’s book reviewer and author of The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction. Meghan shares what inspired her interest in becoming a children’s book critic, after having been a foreign correspondent. She discusses her ideas about the importance of spending time reading aloud, and the impact of the heavy use of technology on children’s literacy. She delves into the “Goldilocks effect,” a concept from cognitive science and developmental psychology mentioned in her book, and describes the brain research behind the value of reading aloud with young children. They also explore how reading aloud helps close the vocabulary and general-knowledge gap, especially among struggling students, as well as its importance for kids in the middle and high school years. Lastly, she shares her views on how to evaluate the quality of children’s books.

Stories of the Week: As the school reopening debate continues, a new poll of American parents found that 71 percent view sending their kids back to school as a large or moderate risk to their own health. How much of a role do schools play in spreading the virus? A German study of 1,500 students and 500 teachers yields surprising results.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dr. Charles Glenn, Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Boston University. Dr. Glenn shares his early experiences as an inner city minister involved in the Civil Rights movement in Massachusetts and the South, the METCO voluntary desegregation program, and the expansion of school choice in several districts beyond Boston. He also discusses his support in the 1990s for bringing the charter school concept to Massachusetts. His work was cited in Justice Alito’s concurring opinion in the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case, and he shares thoughts on the recent decision’s potential impact on racial justice and religious liberty. He discusses findings from his decades of research on international education systems, where there is no controversy about government support for faith-based schools, and the lessons for America, where a legacy of anti-Catholicism has impeded school choice. Dr. Glenn concludes with analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of schools of education in preparing effective teachers.

Stories of the Week: Some states such as Florida are grappling with a surge in COVID cases, leaving plans for an August reopening in flux. How should school leaders address questions about virtual learning, outdoor classrooms, and mask and quarantine protocols? Gerard and Cara talked about Dr. Thomas Sowell, the noted Hoover Institution economist, and his recent book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies, on the success and challenges faced by New York City’s charter schools.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Gordon Wood, Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Radicalism of the American Revolution. Professor Wood shares his wisdom about the many ways in which the Revolution marked a new beginning for humanity, reversing the centuries-old, top-down understanding of government and society. They begin with the efforts of Founders such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush to institute universal public education to nurture the well-educated and enlightened citizenry that they viewed as the backbone of the Republic. They discuss why George Washington’s “disinterest” in political rewards for military victory was so unique and extraordinary among his international contemporaries. Professor Wood also explains how the American Revolution gave rise to the first anti-slave movements in world history, and how actions taken to abolish slavery led to its eventual demise as a result of the Civil War. They also delve into the lives of the Revolutionary era’s often less well-known female figures, including Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Judith Sargent Murray, and the inspirational freed slave poet, Phillis Wheatley. Professor Wood concludes with observations on Aaron Burr, popularized through “Hamilton,” the phenomenally successful musical, and the character traits and actions that have cast Burr as one of American history’s most notorious Founding era figures. The Learning Curve team would like to wish everyone a Happy Fourth of July!

Stories of the Week: A Good Morning America feature story highlights how African-American history will likely see greater traction across the nation’s classrooms, thanks to teachers’ efforts to move beyond outdated textbooks and create their own culturally-sensitive learning materials. The supervisory group for the Nation’s Report Card announced this week that it is cancelling national assessments of U.S. history or civics in 2021 for eighth graders. Is this decision reflective of a legitimate concern about spreading COVID, or merely a concession to the country’s growing anti-testing movement?

This week, in a special segment of “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are honored to be joined by Kendra Espinoza, lead plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, just decided yesterday, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, and Erica Smith, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represented the plaintiffs. Kendra shares what motivated her and her daughters, Naomi and Sarah, to take such a courageous stand for school choice and religious liberty, and describes her experience being the lead plaintiff in a high-profile Supreme Court case. She also discusses the other Montana moms involved in the case, their reaction to the successful outcome, and the realization of the impact it will have on so many families across the country. Erica shares her thoughts on the decision’s wide-ranging constitutional implications; some surprising aspects of the decision that may prompt future legal battles; and a preview of a state-by-state analysis on which states are best positioned to expand access to school choice now.

Story of the Week: Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case, involving Montana parents who were denied access to a state tax credit program when they sought to use it to send their children to religious schools. The Court held that Montana’s Blaine Amendment cannot be used to exclude religious school parents from the state education tax credit program. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote: “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dr. Patrick Wolf, Distinguished Professor of Education Policy and 21st Century Endowed Chair in School Choice in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions. Professor Wolf shares his belief in the vital importance of the study of schooling, the rigorous evaluation of school reform programs, how he came to the study of school choice, and his deep commitment to training the next generation of education policy researchers. They turn to the topic on the minds of school choice advocates across the country – the U.S. Supreme Court’s imminent ruling in the Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue case. Prof. Wolf offers his predictions on the Court’s most likely decision, and its scope and impact on the 37 states with bigoted Blaine amendments, with a special focus on the likely outcomes in states with excessive legal barriers to school choice, such as Massachusetts and Michigan. Lastly, he offers a preview of the findings from a chapter in a forthcoming book, School Choice Myths, that dispels misconceptions about the effectiveness of private vs. public schools in inculcating civic values and forming citizens.

Stories of the Week: Gerard and Cara pay tribute to one of the pioneers in the school choice movement, Dr. Howard Fuller, who announced his retirement from Marquette University this week after a distinguished career spanning three decades. The U.S. Department of Education released its interim final rule on equitable services, so districts that continue to ignore USED’s guidelines on funding for Title I students in both public and private schools will no longer have access to CARES Act emergency funds.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard mark the Juneteenth commemoration
of the end of slavery with an episode devoted to Civil Rights history. They are joined by Diane McWhorter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. They explore the parallels between the current civil unrest and racial injustice the country is witnessing and what took place in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, including police brutality then and now, and the ongoing connection between race, economics, and political pressure. They discuss the Civil Rights Movement’s success with shifting public opinion, through nonviolent protests and indelible iconography, and whether strong statements and product name changes issued by so many corporations today are likely to lead to genuine structural change. They also delve into the role played by women in the Civil Rights Movement. Diane concludes with a reading from the epilogue of her book, Carry Me Home.

Stories of the Week: In England, the government will be funding tutoring programs to bridge learning gaps as a result of COVID school closures, targeted to disadvantaged communities. Is this a model worth exploring here? New York’s wealthy families have fled Manhattan due to COVID – will they return to those elite schools if remote learning continues in the fall, or shift to the suburbs?