This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Dr. Bror Saxberg, MD, Vice President of Learning Science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Dr. Saxberg describes his groundbreaking work in the area of learning science and understanding how “working memory” and “long-term memory” can help improve academic excellence and equity. He reviews what we now know from cognitive science and brain research that, if taken to scale, would likely help drive better student outcomes, and surveys some of the schools that apply this research most effectively to instructional reforms. Finally, Dr. Saxberg offers thoughts on the uses and limits of technology in American education reform, and whether school districts and schools are spending their resources on technology effectively enough to improve student achievement.

Stories of the Week: In Philadelphia, as the city prepares for a transit system strike that could disrupt in-person learning for 60,000 students and 20,000 school system employees, district leaders are looking to online education as a temporary solution. Wisconsin is seeing a rise in efforts to recall school board members, with 11 attempts in 2021, as a result of academic decline, COVID response, and some contentious curriculum content.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with David Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor of English and History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, selected as one of the Top Ten Books of the Year by The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Professor Reynolds shares what teachers and students alike should know about the culture of Civil War America, primary education in that era, and the wide variety of influences on Lincoln’s thinking and leadership. They delve into the most bitterly contentious political topics of Lincoln’s time, including slavery, states’ rights, trade tariffs, and women’s rights, and how the 16th president addressed the nation’s many political divisions. They also explore how Lincoln used his rustic image to shape his public persona and appeal to voters; and how he marshaled his rhetorical talent, invoking biblical language and the ideals of the American founding, to win the war, preserve the Union, and ultimately abolish slavery. Professor Reynolds concludes with a reading from his biography.

Stories of the WeekWashington Post columnist Jay Mathews recognizes the work of Will Fitzhugh, founder of The Concord Review, to encourage students’ interest in historical fiction and reward long-form research and writing. A new project of the Teagle Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities promises to restore the humanities in undergraduate education.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), a non-partisan research and policy analysis organization developing transformative, evidence-based solutions for K-12 public education. Robin describes the type of research CRPE conducts and how it has evolved over time, and shares her view of the impact it should have on schools, teachers, and families. She discusses CRPE’s work tracking school closures across the country at the height of the pandemic, the methodology used, and the findings so far. Robin reviews key takeaways from CRPE’s July report on how districts are allocating federal COVID-19 relief funds, and talks about how districts should spend those dollars. After sharing what her team will be focusing on as we emerge from the pandemic, she describes the challenges of leading a non-partisan research organization and remaining committed to the mission during a highly partisan era, with schools and curricula increasingly being drawn into political battles.

Stories of the WeekFinance and economics education improves young people’s financial literacy and helps prevent credit card and student loan debt, and insufficient savings for retirement. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is ending the school district’s Gifted and Talented program by fall 2022, in favor of a new program which he claims is more equitable.
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This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Raymond Arsenault, the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at the University of South Florida, and author of several acclaimed and prize-winning books on civil rights, including Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. He shares how he became interested in researching, writing, and teaching about the Civil Rights Movement. As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, he describes key figures in the movement, such as Irene Morgan, James Farmer, Diane Nash, and John Lewis, as well as the fear, hostility, and mob violence the riders (and the press covering them) confronted. They review organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and how their opponents responded with terrifying violence across the South. He offers thoughts on how teachers and students should think about the tensions among the Kennedy administration, MLK and SCLC, and the often younger, student led-groups like CORE and SNCC. He concludes with a reading from his book about the Freedom Riders.

Stories of the Week: Civil Rights activist and education reform activist Dr. Howard Fuller’s support for school choice stems from his determination to provide Black students a quality education by any means necessary. Research from the Center for Research and Reform in Education shows that students in grades K-12 have been most seriously impacted by the effects of COVID-19-related learning loss.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Mike Goldstein, founder of the Match Charter School and Match Teacher Residency in Boston. He shares why he became involved in K-12 education and founded Match Charter, and some of the innovations the school has implemented, such as high-caliber teacher preparation and use of Ivy League-educated teachers to drive successful student achievement. They discuss Match’s high-dosage tutoring program, and Mike shares the results of an experiment begun six years ago to replicate it in school districts. Mike also sheds light on charter graduates’ economic mobility, including job prospects and earning gains after college. Lastly, they delve into how charter supporters and leaders in Massachusetts and other blue states should proceed now that opposition is on the rise in states with some of the highest-performing charters, and what must be done to bridge the growing political divisions within K-12 education reform.

Stories of the Week: In New Mexico this year, the state is experiencing a 40 percent spike in the retirement of education employees. In Illinois, nearly 40 cents of every education dollar is spent on pensions.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-host Cara Candal talks with Julie Young, ASU Vice President of Education Outreach and Student Services, and Managing Director of ASU Prep Academy and ASU Prep Digital. They discuss the implications of COVID-19’s disruption of American K-12 education and the future of digital learning. Julie describes the enrollment growth her organization has seen as a result of parent demand for alternatives to public offerings, which comes on top of the growth in online schooling that pre-dated the pandemic (an 80 percent increase in enrollment during the last decade). Julie answers critics who claim digital schooling can’t work for early childhood, urban, or special needs students. She shares insights on quality digital education curriculum materials and approaches to subject areas that some assume are not well suited for digital learning.

Stories of the Week: Co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson discuss a Wall Street Journal investigation into Facebook, showing that the company is aware of mental health issues especially among teen girls, connected to Instagram. In Afghanistan, the Taliban has ordered school classes to resume in grades seven to 12 – but only for boys.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” guest co-host Jason Bedrick and co-host Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Leon Kass, MD, the Addie Clark Harding Professor Emeritus in the Committee on Social Thought and the College at the University of Chicago. Dr. Kass describes the important pieces of wisdom and humanity people today can still learn from reading the Book of Genesis, the topic of his 2003 work, The Beginning of Wisdom. They next discuss his newest book, Founding God’s Nation: Reading Exodus, and general lessons about the Israelites that leaders, teachers, and students could use in addressing the challenges of modern life. They explore the influence of the Book of Exodus and the themes of liberation from captivity on the Civil Rights Movement, and several of its major leaders, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and what teachers and students today should learn from Exodus about deliverance from life’s hardships. Dr. Kass shares why he became interested in the Great Books, and their crucial role in helping 21st-century students receive a complete liberal arts education and lead fulfilling lives. They discuss Western education’s increasing focus on vocationally oriented and often technocratic skills at the expense of humanistic education, and why we should be concerned about it, especially in our hyper-technological era. The interview concludes with a reading from Dr. Kass’s newest book on Exodus.

Stories of the Week: Co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson discuss New York Times story on the plight of America’s nine million students in rural school districts that are underfunded, disconnected, and face myriad challenges. Pioneer Institute and other organizations submitted an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Carson v. Makin, to expand access to private and religious schools for families in Maine.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, a New York Times best-selling biographer of Harriet Tubman and Fannie Lou Hamer. Kate shares why she has written about these historical African-American figures, and how she thinks parents, teachers, and schools can draw on their lives to talk about race. She describes the deeply segregated Jim Crow landscape of Fannie Lou Hamer’s native Mississippi Delta, the challenges she faced, and the influence of Freedom Songs and spirituals like “This Little Light of Mine,” often performed at her rallies, on her tireless advocacy. They discuss Hamer’s courageous voter mobilization efforts during Freedom Summer and at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, both during the summer of 1964, and why it’s so important for Americans to know about this unsung heroine of the Civil Rights era. They also explore Hamer’s reception by President Lyndon Johnson and the often male-centric Civil Rights Movement.

Stories of the Week: Around the country, K-12 online learning is experiencing a decline in interest among families, especially in programs with less live instruction and interaction with teachers and peers. A report from the National Student Clearinghouse shows that just over 40 percent of 2- and 4-year college students across the U.S. during the 2020-21 academic year were men.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” host Gerard Robinson talks with Nancy Poon Lue, incoming Senior Director at the Valhalla Foundation, where she will be leading their K-12 math funding initiatives. Nancy shares her recent work with the EF+Math Program, some of the challenges America has faced in ensuring students have a strong grounding in math and science, and the kinds of results she aims to achieve for kids in all ZIP codes. They discuss the realities of K-12 education before COVID-19, with declining NAEP scores and persistent achievement gaps, and what can be done to address COVID-19-related learning loss, especially in STEM. Nancy offers thoughts on America’s competitiveness with high-performing countries in the STEM fields that drive the global economy. Lastly, they delve into teacher preparation in STEM fields, and how education schools and state departments of education can help address the country’s ongoing STEM deficits.

Story of the Week: Schools in all but two states — New Hampshire and New Mexico — are experiencing a shortage of special education teachers to meet demand as students return to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara Candal and guest co-host Derrell Bradford talk with David Blight, Sterling Professor of American History and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. He is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. He shares what drew him as a teenager in Flint, Michigan to the study of America’s past, and to Douglass in particular. He explains the role of Walter O. Evans, to whom he dedicated the book. They explore how the former slave Douglass became America’s foremost abolitionist statesman, and his morally powerful rhetoric, including his famous 1852 speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” They also cover his involvement in the 19th-century women’s rights movement, his marriages and family, and his later life at his home in D.C., as an elder statesman writing and shaping his enduring legacy. Professor Blight concludes with a reading from his Douglass biography.

Stories of the WeekNew York City will require that all public school faculty, principals, and staff receive the COVID-19 vaccine. A Colorado school district is using innovative approaches, including billboard advertising, to address declining enrollment as a result of the pandemic.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Professor E.D. Hirsch, Jr., founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, and acclaimed author of the books, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and How to Educate a Citizen: The Power of Shared Knowledge to Unify a Nation. They discuss his newest book on how policymakers, teachers, and students can use our country’s complicated, shared past to educate for common civic purposes. They also talk about troubling results on national and international assessments of K-12 reading and math, and Prof. Hirsch’s December 2020 open letter to NAEP’s governing board, published in EducationWeek, recommending that they not follow through with plans to replace NAEP’s assessment of reading comprehension for the 2025 tests. They explore the NAEP change’s implications for assessing and improving reading results in America’s schools, and he shares thoughts on how to improve academic quality and equity across the entire system. Then they turn to the academic quality of state-approved teacher preparation programs, insights from the Core Knowledge Foundation’s work in education schools, and models of success among schools in other states and countries.

Stories of the Week:  An Associated Press poll of education departments revealed that 38 states are planning to open permanent virtual schools as a result of increased interest in at-home learning. The NAEP governing board is shifting to a new framework for the reading assessment, that will allow analysis of student performance by socioeconomic status and race.
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This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Kristina Arriaga, president of Intrinsic, a strategic communications firm, and former vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Kristina shares her family’s experiences fleeing Castro’s communist regime in Cuba and other hardships, and how her background has shaped her commitment to religious liberty. They discuss the current political situation in Cuba, and the lessons American citizens, teachers, and students should learn about communism’s impact on human rights. She shares her work to advance religious freedom as former executive director of The Becket Fund, where she honored courageous Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares and so many other human rights activists, and through her service on several noted international commissions. Finally, they discuss parallels Kristina highlighted in an October 2020 USA Today op-ed, between cancel culture in America and some of the features of communist Cuba, such as speech codes, political correctness, and social shaming. They delve into why cancel culture is so dangerous to the free exchange of ideas and a healthy civic life, and how parents, teachers, and professors can combat it.

Stories of the Week: The Biden administration is extending the moratorium on federal student loan payments and interest – originally scheduled to expire next month – through early 2022. But exactly who is eligible? The New York Times reports that 340,000 of the one million children who did not report for school during the pandemic were in kindergarten, with the sharpest declines in low-income neighborhoods.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice (IJ). They discuss IJ’s 2020 landmark U.S. Supreme Court win in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, and its implications for state Blaine Amendments, bigoted legal barriers that have blocked religious liberty and school choice for over a century. They delve into the current legal and political status of school choice in America, at a time of unprecedented support for education savings account, education tax credit, and voucher programs. As lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Maine school tuitioning case, Carson v. Makin, recently granted certiorari by the U.S. Supreme Court, he explains the central issues, and what another major victory could mean for religious school parents. They then turn to higher education, and Michael offers thoughts on why access to religiously-affiliated primary and secondary schooling is still viewed so differently than students attending religiously-affiliated colleges and universities through state and federal grant and loan programs.

Stories of the Week: EdWeek reports that school board meetings across the country have become increasingly rancorous as a result of growing partisanship, the lack of local news coverage, and social media – to the detriment of students’ academic success. The U.S. Department of Education announced the expansion of the Second Chance Pell program, allowing up to 200 colleges to provide prison education programs for those who have previously been unable to access federal need-based financial aid.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Robert Woodson, Sr., founder and president of the Woodson Center that supports neighborhood-based initiatives to revitalize low-income communities, as well as author and editor of the May 2021 book, Red, White, and Black. Woodson shares his background in civil rights advocacy, serving low-income neighborhoods fighting crime, educational inequity, and racial discord, including his involvement with the Urban League in the 1970s during Boston’s busing crisis. He offers thoughts on race relations in America after the murder of George Floyd, the call for defunding the police, and the ongoing struggles to reform the country’s larger urban school districts.

They then turn to the 1776 Unites project, which he launched to counter the 1619 Project, to take a balanced approach to K-12 American history instruction. He describes the main arguments from his new book, and reactions since its publication, as well as the challenges of being a right-leaning public intellectual, and the importance of having open discussions about race and policy that are informed by differing points of view.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-host Cara Candal and guest co-host Derrell Bradford talk with Mariam Memarsadeghi, senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Mariam shares remembrances from her early years spent in the Shah’s Iran, and emigration to the U.S. shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution in 1979. They discuss the massive cultural and civic differences between the Islamic Republic of Iran, with its government controlled by religious leaders, and modern liberal democracies like the U.S., with constitutionally limited government, and how this difference is manifested in the treatment of women and political dissidents. Mariam describes Tavaana, an organization she co-founded that is dedicated to a free and open Iran, and how it is using the internet and other means to advance democracy, civic education, and women’s rights in Iran. They also discuss her involvement with “We the People”: The Citizen and the Constitution, a nationwide civics contest for American high school students that is run by the Center for Civic Education. She descibes her experiences as a Presidential Leadership Scholar, and one of 43 individuals chosen as a portrait subject for President George W. Bush’s April 2021 book, Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants.

Stories of the Week: From Texas, California and Colorado to Tennessee and Georgia, school districts are using some federal stimulus funding to award “thank you” bonuses to teachers to prevent resignations and boost morale after COVID-19. In New Jersey, one of nine states that have mandated in-person learning, some parents are raising concerns about the poor condition of the schools their children are being forced to return to.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Dr. Morgan Hunter, Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in California, and co-author with Dr. Victor Davis Hanson and Dr. Williamson Evers, of the white paper, Is It Time for a “490 B.C. Project”?: High Schoolers Need to Know Our Classical Heritage. Dr. Hunter shares the main arguments from her report, on why studying antiquity is vital to the education of young people in the early 21st century. She explores how Greco-Roman history and culture have influenced great statesmen, artists, and writers through the ages, from Shakespeare to the American Founders and Winston Churchill. They then discuss the importance of the enduring wisdom of the ancients in the writings of African-American leaders such as Frederick Douglass and MLK, as noted recently by Cornel West. They delve into lessons students can draw from Cicero, other key figures of the Roman Republic, and from the Athenian democracy, about self-government in the 21st century.

Stories of the Week: Writing in EducationNext, Chad Aldeman and recent Learning Curve guest Marguerite Roza suggest targeted approaches to spending stimulus funds for education, such as tutoring and summer programs, rather than hiring more staff. In Forbes, EdChoice’s Mike McShane shares the impressive list of states that have enacted or expanded school choice programs that will give tens of thousands more families access to better educational options.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Susan Patrick, the President and CEO of Aurora Institute and co-founder of CompetencyWorks. Susan shares observations about the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for American K-12 education, and the prospects for expanding digital learning. They discuss the overall quality of the remote and blended learning America’s K-12 school districts offered during the pandemic, and which states excelled. Susan shares thoughts on how digital models can help address pre-pandemic achievement gaps and learning loss due to COVID-19, especially among poor, minority, and rural students. They also review claims by skeptics of digital schooling about its efficacy for early childhood, urban, or special needs students, and best practices drawn from the pandemic for better serving these groups. Susan provides insights around digital schooling and some policy levers that national, state, and local leaders should explore to improve K-12 education.

Stories of the Week: In Michigan, families have filed suit against the state Department of Education and Ann Arbor Public Schools claiming they received inadequate special education services during the pandemic. New survey results from New America and Rutgers University find that, a year after pandemic-related school closures, 15 percent of lower-income students in a nationally representative sample still lack fast and reliable internet access at home.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with David Hackett Fischer, University Professor and Earl Warren Professor of History Emeritus at Brandeis University, and the author of numerous books, including Paul Revere’s Ride and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington’s Crossing. As America prepares to celebrate the Fourth of July, they review key figures who helped secure independence from Great Britain, including Paul Revere, immortalized in Longfellow’s classic poem, and Founding Father George Washington, known among his contemporaries as the “indispensable man” of the revolutionary cause. Fischer sets the scene for the famous midnight ride, describing what students should know about colonial Boston, and why the British Empire posed such an existential threat to the colonists’ understanding of their rights and liberties as Englishmen. The conversation turns to the lessons teachers and young people today should learn about George Washington’s character, weaknesses, and military leadership during the colonists’ improbable victory against the most powerful empire in the world at that time. He also offers a preview of his forthcoming book, African Founders.

Stories of the Week: In New Jersey, the state’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision allowing expansion of seven Newark charter schools approved by the education commissioner, clearing the path for charters to serve thousands more students. In Massachusetts, the education commissioner is under fire from the state’s congressional delegation for proposing to temporarily freeze $400 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding earmarked for Boston Public Schools, due to concerns related to the Boston School Committee, which has experienced a string of resignations in the past year.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard Robinson and guest co-host Kerry McDonald talk with Naomi Schaefer Riley, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of several books, including Be the Parent, Please. They discuss findings from her book on how excessive technology use negatively impacts children’s intellectual, social, and moral development – which was even more of a challenge with the wide usage of remote learning during COVID-19. The conversation turns to Riley’s extensive commentary on the relationship between religion and education in American society, and lessons K-12 education policymakers should learn from higher education’s handling of faith on campus. She delves into why religion and church-state issues remain such a stark fault line across American K-12 education. They also talk about the development of anti-intellectual efforts on college campuses, and in the larger society, to use speech codes, political correctness, wokeness, and now cancel culture to shut down the free exchange of ideas, and why such campaigns to undermine the fundamentals of democracy persist.

Stories of the Week: EducationWeek reports that over 1.3 million American students did not return to school this year due to the pandemic-related closures. School districts are scrambling to lure them back, but will it work? Juneteenth, which honors the 1865 ending of slavery in this country, has officially become a U.S. federal holiday.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and guest co-host Kerry McDonald talk with Paul Reid, co-author, with William Manchester, of the New York Times best-selling biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965.

Reid shares how he was enlisted to complete William Manchester’s biographical trilogy on the greatest political figure of the 20th century, which became a best-seller. They discuss Churchill’s remarkable foresight about the dangers of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, his courageous World War II leadership, and what students should know about his central role in the Allies’ defeat of Hitler, as well as big-picture lessons on statesmanship during times of crisis. They review the significance of Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech, delivered in Missouri 75 years ago, a seminal Cold War event warning about communist totalitarianism. Reid offers insights on Churchill’s liberal arts education and grounding in classical history, which informed his actions as well as his 43 book-length works and extraordinary speeches. He also sheds light on the more private side of this great figure, who was an ambitious, driven workaholic, yet also charismatic, playful, and artistic. The interview concludes with a reading from Reid’s Churchill biography.