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?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Wayne Franklin, professor of English at the University of Connecticut and definitive biographer of the American literary figure James Fenimore Cooper. As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, Prof. Franklin reviews Cooper’s background and major works, especially the “Leatherstocking Tales,” including The Last of the Mohicans, which are distinguished for their enlightened and sympathetic portrayal of the disappearing tribes. Franklin discusses why these books, set in upstate New York in the middle of the 18th century, and their memorable protagonists have captivated generations of readers for over a century, and why Cooper deserves more contemporary study and appreciation. They also explore Cooper’s lessons about the importance of constitutionalism, liberty, self-government, and civic knowledge as the basis for the rule of law in our republic. Prof. Franklin concludes with a reading from The Last of the Mohicans.

Stories of the Week: In Europe, despite a COVID-19 surge that has prompted closures of restaurants, theaters, and gyms, schools remain open. Are there lessons for the U.S.? Some prominent names have been floated to serve as the next U.S. Secretary of Education – among them, Eduardo Padron, president emeritus of Miami Dade College; Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Lily Eskelsen García, former president of the National Education Association – but would they accept?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Jason Riley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Jason shares insights on the 2020 election, its implications for the next two years, and assuming Vice President Biden becomes president, how he may govern on K-12 education. They discuss the likely direction of policymaking with regard to charter public schools and school choice, and the influence of the teachers’ unions. Jason offers thoughts about the George Floyd tragedy and protests, the state of race relations across America, and how political, media, civic, and religious leaders could address the country’s deep divisions. Lastly, Jason shares lessons on race, economics, and education from Dr. Thomas Sowell, the subject of his forthcoming biography.

Story of the Week: Dr. Thomas Sowell, Hoover Institution Senior Fellow, describes the legal and regulatory barriers, promoted by the powerful and self-interested teachers’ unions, that prevent more students from attending the charter public schools that are successfully educating low-income minority children across America.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Tara Ross, the nationally recognized author of Why We Need the Electoral College. On the eve of the 2020 election, they discuss the critical and controversial role of the Electoral College in determining which candidate will become the next President of the United States. Tara explains how the Electoral College functions, why the Framers established it, and why this key feature of the U.S. Constitution and electoral system has become such a lightning rod. They explore its historical role in balancing power between small and large states, encouraging candidates to build wide coalitions across numerous states and regions, and checking the excesses of popular passions. They also discuss the role of the Electoral College in helping to isolate closely contested elections to specific states, such as in Florida in 2000; and Tara shares thoughts on the current political landscape.

Stories of the Week: Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show troubling declines in grade 12 reading performance – will the results reinforce arguments to end testing? Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced she will no longer enforce the prohibition against religious organizations applying for federal funding for charter schools – opening charters to criticisms that opponents have long leveled, that these schools are not truly public.

In our special Halloween edition of “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Pulitzer-Prize winner Stacy Schiff, whose most recent book is The Witches: Salem, 1692. They discuss why, in Schiff’s view, the Salem witch trials are the “the best known, least understood chapter” of American history, and why the trials, false charges, and finger pointing, remain relevant today in our Internet culture. They review the characteristics of the accused and accusers, and compare them to perceptions passed down through the fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Arthur Miller, and others. They also explore the connection between Puritanism, with its iconoclastic principles, and the American founding; and how such a highly literate society based on piety and learning could devolve into one that embraces hocus pocus, superstition, and injustice. Schiff delves into the role of gender and race in the witch trials, and what colonial Salem teaches us about how hysteria can foment civil strife and violence. She concludes with a reading from The Witches: Salem, 1692.

Stories of the Week: In North Carolina, a lawsuit was filed against the state’s opportunity scholarship program that provides up to $4,200 a year in tuition assistance for low-income students to attend private schools. Will state legislators succeed in persuading the Court to dismiss the case? In Detroit, a financial review commission has agreed to release the public school system from state oversight after nearly 11 years, a hopeful sign for a beleaguered district.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Andrew Burstein, the Charles P. Manship Professor of History at Louisiana State University, and author of The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving, and with Nancy Isenberg, The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality. As we near Halloween, Professor Burstein explains why Irving’s short stories and tales, with their distinctive blend of imagination and nostalgia, continue to delight audiences young and old, and how the Headless Horseman from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” became one of literature’s most infamous ghosts. In addition to being the U.S. ambassador to Spain and becoming an international celebrity, they discuss how Irving Americanized the Christmas holiday, including its central figure, St. Nicholas, and influenced Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Lastly, as the nation prepares for a contentious election, they turn to Professor Burstein’s biographies of the two Adamses, Jefferson, Madison, and Jackson. They discuss the devolution of the American presidency into a cult of personality, and whether this departs from the Founding Fathers’ vision and expectations for the chief executive. Professor Burstein concludes with a reading from his Irving biography.

Stories of the Week: In New York City, Mayor DeBlasio is demanding that Success Academies charter public schools pay $500,000 so that students can continue using school district athletic fields they have been practicing on for years. The 2020 American Federation for Children has published its 2020 school choice guidebook, providing state-by-state information and analyses on educational options such as voucher, ESA, and tax credit scholarship programs across the country.

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?