This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Barry Anderson interview UK University of Warwick Prof. Benjamin Smith. Prof. Benjamin Smith, author of The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade provides insights into various aspects of the Mexican drug trade, including its historical context and the evolution of illicit drug products over time. He discusses key cartels and their methods, the impact of the drug trade on Mexico’s murder rates, the immense financial scale of the trade, its effect on Mexico and the U.S., and the challenges law enforcement face in combating it. Smith explores the relationship among Mexican cartels, other foreign countries, and the illicit drug market in the U.S. He closes with a reading from his book, The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Alisha Searcy and Charlie Chieppo interview Mary Tamer, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, Massachusetts. She focuses on the historic impact of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act on the commonwealth’s students’ high achievement on national and international measures. She explores the politics of the Massachusetts Teachers Association advocating against the MCAS test as a graduation requirement. In closing, Ms. Tamer also discusses the rise of teacher strikes and their implications for education reform in the Bay State.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Alisha Searcy interview University of Tennessee Prof. Robert Norrell. He explores Booker T. Washington’s early life in slavery, his transformative leadership at Tuskegee Institute amidst Jim Crow racism, and his advocacy for vocational education as a means for racial uplift. Prof. Norrell also discusses Washington’s 1901 autobiography, Up From Slavery; his controversial White House dinner with President Theodore Roosevelt; and his often overlooked legacy following the activism of the 1960s Civil Rights era. In closing, Prof. Norrell reads a passage from his book Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Alisha Searcy and Charlie Chieppo interview the executive director of TIMSS & PIRLS, Dr. Matthias von Davier. He explores his educational background and its influence on directing TIMSS & PIRLS, shedding light on psychometrics and standardized testing. Dr. von Davier discusses the shift in education policy’s focus, the global education data landscape, and the pandemic’s effects on K-12 education around the world. He addresses the alarming decline in U.S. educational performance, emphasizing the urgency to bridge achievement gaps. Drawing from international experiences, Dr. von Davier highlights global examples for American policymakers from higher-performing countries, emphasizing the crucial links between education, skills, and innovation on the global economy.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Alisha Searcy and Charlie Chieppo interview Vice President of Policy for ExcelinEd, Dr. Cara Candal. Dr. Candal delves into the evolving landscape of K-12 education in the U.S., examining the expansion of private school choice programs in the wake of two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. She then discusses the changing political dynamics around charter schools and the national school choice movement’s strategies in low-performing states. Next up are the role of parent-driven models during the pandemic, the significance of voc-tech education, and how to address underperformance and achievement gaps. Finally, she reflects on the international perspective through tests like PISA and TIMSS, and concludes with insights on addressing ongoing crises in large urban school districts.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Alisha Searcy interview New York Times best-selling biographer of MLK, Jonathan Eig. Mr. Eig delves into MLK’s early spiritual leadership, the influence of Langston Hughes on his speeches, and his relationship with his wife, Coretta Scott King. He also discusses the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s challenges, historic events in Birmingham, Alabama, the March on Washington, and MLK’s struggles in Chicago, concluding with the Poor People’s Campaign and the tragic events leading to his assassination in 1968. Eig underscores the multifaceted aspects of MLK’s life, and provides insights on drawing lessons for contemporary challenges in race relations and leadership. Mr. Eig closes the interview with a reading from his book, King: A Life.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Alisha Searcy interview Gabby Thomas, a world-class track sprinter and Olympian, originally from the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts. She shares her journey from the Williston Northampton School to Harvard, where she balanced neurobiology studies with winning 22 track titles. Transitioning to professional sprinting, she qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, winning bronze and silver medals. In addition to track sprinting, Ms. Thomas excels academically, focusing on neurobiology and global public health. She recently graduated from the University of Texas Health Science Center with a master’s degree in epidemiology. After medal-winning performances at the 2023 World Athletics Championships this past summer, Ms. Thomas is looking ahead to the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Charlie Chieppo interview two-time Pulitzer Prize winner T.J. Stiles. Mr. Stiles delves into the life of America’s first tycoon, Cornelius Vanderbilt, exploring his rise to historic wealth in steamboats, shipping, and railroads. He discusses Vanderbilt’s legal battles, philanthropy, and enduring legacy, exploring his business competitiveness and wide impact on 19th-century America’s economy. Mr. Stiles closes the interview with a reading from The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Alisha Searcy interview Smith College Prof. Carol Zaleski. She discussed her co-authored book, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings including J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, renowned for their literary and moral impact. Prof. Zaleski covers Tolkien’s life, the success of The Lord of the Rings, and its enduring themes. Additionally, she delved into C.S. Lewis’s experiences, his role as a professor, and the timeless lessons in The Chronicles of Narnia. Her discussion extends to the broader legacy of the Inklings, influencing J.K. Rowling and resonating in today’s culturally divisive era, emphasizing their spiritual and moral contributions. Prof. Zaleski closes the interview reading an excerpt from her book The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings.

Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Alisha Searcy interview journalist Emily Hanford, host of the hit podcast Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong. Ms. Hanford discusses how she became interested in the science of reading, the growing consensus around phonics as the best way to teach children to read, the impact of the digital age on learning, and the importance of academic background knowledge for schoolchildren’s learning. She offers her thoughts on how to reverse dramatic declines in NAEP reading test scores and the different kinds of reading that young people should be doing, including fables, poems, myths, fiction, history, and biography, that give them the wider vocabulary and knowledge to be good readers.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Andrea Silbert, president of the Eos Foundation, interview Francine Klagsbrun, the author of Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel. They discuss the story of the woman who left Kiev as a child, grew up in Milwaukee, emigrated to Mandatory Palestine, was a signatory to the declaration of independence for the state of Israel, and rose to become that nation’s fourth prime minister. Klagsbrun discusses Meir’s role in peace and war, her model of democratic leadership, and what young people today can learn from her remarkable life and legacy. She closes the interview with a reading from her biography of Meir.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Mariam Memarsadeghi, interview Hillsdale College’s assistant provost for K-12 Education, Dr. Kathleen O’Toole. Dr. O’Toole explores Hillsdale’s mission and its impact on K-12 education, delving into classical education, Greco-Roman ideals, Enlightenment principles, and the college’s efforts to enhance education. She discusses the challenges faced in exporting Hillsdale’s model to K-12 public schooling, critiques of American education, and the role of the liberal arts in fostering academic unity amidst societal divisions.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Charlie Chieppo, interview the National Alliance’s Nina Rees. Rees discusses her 11-year tenure at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, highlighting policy gains, the growth of charter school enrollment, and the challenges of charter school politics. She explores debates on growth, quality, and authorizing of charters, and addresses the impact of federal K-12 spending and the evolving relationship between charter schools and private school choice. She concludes with insights on a new report ranking states’ charter school performance on NAEP and recommendations for improving academic outcomes in K-12 education.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Mariam Memarsadeghi, interview Harvard Prof. Leo Damrosch. Delving into the life of Jonathan Swift, Prof. Damrosch explores Swift’s satirical brilliance in works like Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal. Analyzing his sharp critiques of politics and society, Dr. Damrosch emphasizes Swift’s enduring literary legacy, showcasing his wit, keen insights into human nature, and commitment to liberty. In closing, Prof. Damrosch reads from his book, Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Ian Rowe,the founder of Vertex Partnership Academies in NYC, interview Dr. Carol Swain, an award-winning political scientist. Dr. Swain discusses her background growing up in rural Virginia, experiences with racial discrimination and segregation in K-12 schooling, and changes in the intellectual climate on college campuses. She shares the role of faith in promoting literacy and justice, the legacies of MLK and Malcolm X, the 1619 Project, her work with 1776 Unites, and her belief in the importance of public intellectuals speaking their minds.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Charlie Chieppo and Alisha Searcy interview Leslie Klinger, annotator of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Mr. Klinger discusses Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; the creation of the Sherlock Holmes character; Holmes’ relationships with Dr. Watson, Irene Adler, and Professor Moriarty; and famous Holmes cases. He also explores Edgar Allan Poe’s influence on the detective genre, as well as the timeless significance of 19th-century horror stories such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in popular culture. In closing, Mr. Klinger reads a passage from his annotated Sherlock Holmes stories.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Charlie Chieppo and Prof. Albert Cheng interview Pioneer’s Chris Sinacola, co-editor of Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History & Civics in America’s Schools. Sinacola explores our new book, which addresses the state of history and civics education in K-12 schools in the United States. He shares the book’s insights about the decline in history standards, the importance of studying history and civics for leadership, the overall crisis in history and civics education, and the use of primary sources to enhance students’ understanding. Sinacola reviews how Pioneer’s book also profiles states with high-quality standards and evaluates various civics programs, emphasizing the significance of academic content in civic education. In closing, Sinacola reads a passage from the book.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Mariam Memarsadeghi and MN Supreme Court Justice Barry Anderson interview Prof. Jeff Broadwater author of the biography George Mason: Forgotten Founder. Prof. Broadwater explores George Mason’s pivotal role in opposing British policies during the American Revolution, his authorship of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and Constitution and his stance against slavery. Prof. Broadwater discusses George Mason’s views on constitutionalism and federalism, leadership among the Anti-Federalists, and concerns about the emergence of commercial interests. He also highlights George Mason’s emphasis on civic virtue as the foundation of American self-government. Prof. Broadwater closes with a reading from his biography of George Mason.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Charlie Chieppo and Mary Tamer of DFER- Massachusetts interview former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. Mayor Fenty discusses the historic school reforms implemented during his and Michelle Rhee’s tenure in Washington, D.C., focusing on taking over the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). He highlights the challenges of overcoming the DCPS bureaucracy, navigating politics, and managing the transition of leadership from Michelle Rhee to Kaya Henderson. Additionally, Mayor Fenty touches on the broader crisis of urban education reform and teacher unions’ role in controlling the urban school landscape.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Charlie Chieppo and Professor Albert Cheng interview Dr. James Stigler, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He’s the co-author of the long-noted books The Teaching Gap and The Learning Gap. Professor Stigler discusses the enduring teaching and learning challenges in U.S. STEM education, international student achievement, math pedagogy debates, and international standardized tests. He explains possible strategies for mitigating COVID-19-related learning loss.