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.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara celebrate the 30th anniversary of charter schools with Nina Rees, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. They discuss recent research showing that African-American and low-income students in charter public schools outpace their peers in traditional district schools. Stanford’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) and other sources have shown that Boston’s charter public schools lead all the nation’s urban public schools in terms of academic performance and bridging achievement gaps. Yet, special interests and policymakers have been calling for stringent limitations and regulations on these schools and their growth. Nina offers insights on where the right-left charter school coalition stands and how to bridge recent partisan divisions. She shares thoughts on how the sector can grow despite the rising influence of teacher unions in states with some of the highest-performing charters. Nina also describes efforts charter schools have made to become leaders in increasing teacher diversity, and they explore how teacher- and school-driven improvements in charters such as KIPP may hold the key to the future of K-12 education reform.

Stories of the Week: In Maine, a state scholarship program that assists families with tuition for public or private schools – but not religious schools – may become the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case. President Biden’s American Families Plan includes $9 billion to address the nation’s teacher shortage, providing funding for teacher preparation, professional development, and retention programs, as well as initiatives to increase teacher diversity.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Heather Staker, founder and president of Ready to Blend. They discuss her work with the late Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn on disruptive innovation and schooling, as well as her book, Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, and her recent publication, Developing a student-centered workforce through micro-credentials. They review the K-12 American public education system’s response to students’ instructional needs before and during COVID-19, the benefits and challenges of digital schooling that have come to light as a result, and the dangers of returning to the pre-pandemic status quo. They talk about some lessons drawn from other countries on digital and blended learning for American policymakers and educators. Staker also explains the benefits of diverse approaches to content mastery, including one-on-one mentoring, and opportunities for students to work both independently and collaboratively.

Stories of the Week: Declines in science scores from the 2019 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, especially pronounced among lower-performing students, could point to struggles with reading comprehension. In Illinois, Governor Pritzker is threatening to significantly reduce state tax incentives for donations to the ‘Invest in Kids’ tax credit scholarship program, which has helped 22,000 low-income children attend private schools.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Farouk El-Baz, retired research professor and director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University. They discuss his remarkable, varied, and pioneering career in the sciences, surveying both the heavens and the Earth, and key teachers and scientists who have influenced him. Dr. El-Baz shares what it was like serving as supervisor of Lunar Science Planning for NASA’s Apollo program, and working on the world-changing project of putting a human on the Moon. He describes what the Apollo program needed to know beforehand to map the Moon in order to select the landing site, and the key scientific facts about the Moon that NASA needed to gather to ensure the mission’s ultimate success.

In the second phase of his career in science, Dr. El Baz used remote sensing and space images to explore for groundwater in the largest deserts on Earth. He explains how surveying the Moon informed this work, and the most significant and surprising discoveries he has made with remote sensing. Lastly, they talk about the mathematical and scientific background knowledge that best prepares students for careers in STEM fields.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Rafe Esquith, an award-winning teacher at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles, and the founder of The Hobart Shakespeareans, who annually stage performances of unabridged plays by William Shakespeare. He shares why he founded the award-winning program to teach disadvantaged Los Angeles elementary school students a classical humanities curriculum, the most inspiring experiences and the biggest challenges of teaching highly demanding literary works to young schoolchildren from diverse backgrounds. They explore techniques he uses to help students connect with Shakespeare as well as great authors across the ages.

Stories of the Week: The University of California system agreed Friday to extend its test-free admissions policy through 2025, addressing claims that the use of SAT and ACT results discriminates against applicants based on race, income, and disability. Responding to inequities with regard to internet access that were revealed and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education will subsidize broadband service for millions of underprivileged K-12 students and college students.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Melvin Urofsky, Professor of Law & Public Policy and Professor Emeritus of History at Virginia Commonwealth University, and the author of several books, including Louis D. Brandeis: A Life and Dissent and the Supreme Court. Professor Urofsky shares insights on Justice Brandeis’s jurisprudence, and why he consistently ranks among the three most influential Supreme Court justices in American history. They discuss his understanding of American constitutionalism, and how he interpreted the law to diminish consolidated financial and federal power, what he called the “curse of bigness” – big banks and business monopolies, as well as big government. They also explore Brandeis’s dissenting opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court case New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, perhaps the best-known 20th-century articulation of the role of the states as “laboratories of democracy” under our federal constitutional system. They delve into some of the most influential dissenting opinions in U.S. Supreme Court history. For example, Justice John Marshall Harlan, the lone dissenter in the Court’s infamous 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, offered legal views that would later lead to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision overturning “separate but equal.” Professor Urofsky also offers thoughts from his 2020 book, The Affirmative Action Puzzle: A Living History from Reconstruction to Today, on one of the thorniest political and legal topics of our era. He concludes the interview with a reading from Justice Brandeis’s concurring opinion in defense of free speech in Whitney v. California.

Stories of the Week: Cara and Gerard discuss National Charter Schools Week, and this education sector’s success in improving opportunity for underserved students. In Florida, nearly 95 percent of seniors enrolled in the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship program graduated from high school during the 2019-20 school year, the second highest graduation rate since they began tracking it in 2015. A new study of admissions at 99 colleges shows that despite adopting test-optional policies to increase diversity, the share of low-income students or students of color at these colleges has risen by only a percentage point.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Jonathan Butcher, the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation. They discuss the growing popularity of learning pods, an education innovation propelled by K-12 public education’s failure to meet the COVID-19 moment. With as many as three million children enrolled in learning pods, 35 percent of parents participating in them, and another 18 percent interested in joining one, Butcher shares findings from his report on the role of pods in expanding parent-driven educational choice options. He reviews states’ responses to learning pods, as well as school choice legislation in some states that can help expand educational opportunity to families in need. The conversation then turns to the key findings from a spring 2020 report co-authored by Cato, Heritage, Pioneer Institute, and others, Rightsizing Fed Ed: Principles for Reform and Practical Steps to Move in the Right Direction, which provides a blueprint for restoring K-12 schooling authority to states, localities, and parents. Butcher also offers thoughts on how states and districts will spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, and be held accountable, the record of federally driven early childhood education efforts, and the Biden administration’s recent call to expand federal early childhood education and care.

Stories of the Week: President Biden announced the American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion plan to expand America’s K-12 system, from two years before kindergarten to free community college. In South Carolina, a bill passed by the House of Representatives expands the state superintendent’s authority to remove local school boards and take over struggling schools in chronically low-performing districts.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Marguerite Roza, Research Professor and Director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University. Professor Roza describes the three distinct phases of how American K-12 education has been funded over the last 40 years, and implications for equity and overall student achievement. She offers perspectives on the productivity of America’s $800 billion annual spending on K-12 education, with 90 percent funded by state and local governments. Professor Roza shares thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of federal K-12 spending and policymaking, given that NAEP scores and achievement gaps remain largely unchanged after Race to the Top and ESSA. With only about half of total K-12 spending allocated to student instruction, she shares concerns about the growth of bureaucracies and non-instructional staffing at all levels – especially in larger urban school districts, where per pupil spending surpasses $20,000, yet achievement gaps and low graduation rates persist. Lastly, they explore the role of philanthropy in K-12 education’s ongoing struggles to deliver better results for schoolchildren, and criticisms by Diane Ravitch and the teacher unions.

Stories of the Week: Harvard Professor Cornel West laments Howard University’s decision to dismantle its Classics Department, noting the influence of ancient thinkers on Frederick Douglass and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Private schools have remained open for most of the past year while their public counterparts have stayed closed – is that a sign of the imbalance in power between parents and teachers unions?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Professor Arnold Rampersad, the Sara Hart Kimball Professor Emeritus in Humanities at Stanford University and recipient of the National Humanities Medal for his books including The Life of Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison: A Biography. They discuss what teachers and students today should know about Langston Hughes’s celebrated literary life and poetry, including his influence on African-American literati during the Harlem Renaissance, and how his works, such as “Harlem (A Dream Deferred)” and “Mississippi –1955,” impacted the Civil Rights Movement. They then turn to Ralph Ellison, whose 1952 novel, Invisible Man, is among the greatest works of 20th-century American fiction. Professor Rampersad shares the major formative experiences and intellectual influences on Ellison’s life and writing, including his Oklahoma upbringing, Tuskegee Institute education, and interest in literary figures such as Dostoevsky, Hardy, Melville, Twain, and Faulkner. He also offers insights on the connection between the writings of Hughes and Ellison, and blues and jazz music, with its complexity and exploration of suffering. Professor Rampersad concludes the interview with a reading from his biography of Ralph Ellison.

Stories of the Week: In an effort to stem COVID-related learning loss, more than 230 public schools in Hawaii will offer summer school on campus for free, using federal relief funds. In Baltimore, high school students started a mentorship program to help younger peers on topics such as financial assistance, standardized testing, and course selection.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Jay Mathews, an education columnist for The Washington Post and author of the recent book, An Optimist’s Guide to American Public Education. Jay describes the three key trends in K-12 schooling that he views as cause for hope. They also discuss the tensions between high-profile, college prep-centered school reformers and the dominant pedagogical outlook found across many of the major schools of education. They explore teacher-driven school reforms, whether led by legendary figures such as Jaime Escalante in traditional public schools, or in charter networks such as KIPP, which have established high-caliber teacher preparation programs. Drawing on his decades spent covering K-12 education for The Washington Post, he shares observations about the quality and success of the U.S. Department of Education’s policymaking, and the strengths and weaknesses of federal education efforts in contrast to what he has observed in states, districts, and schools. They also talk about the most effective ways to spend the massive infusion of federal money school districts are receiving through COVID relief. Next, he offers insights on American journalism, print media’s struggles to adapt to a digital world, the impact on K-12 education coverage, and suggestions for improvement. As someone whose education background and early career focused on Asia, he offers thoughts on U.S.-China relations and the wider implications for America’s global competitiveness in K-12 school reform. He concludes with a reading from his new book.

Stories of the Week: Are unnecessarily severe middle school discipline policies and practices that disproportionately target students of color exacerbating the school-to-prison pipeline? Writing in The Wall Street JournalEducation Next‘s Ira Stoll explores the debate in Boston about changing admissions policies at exam schools, and whether outside organizations, such as the Red Sox baseball team, should weigh in on the issue.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Professor Bettany Hughes, award-winning historian, BBC broadcaster, and author of the best-selling books Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore; The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens, and the Search for the Good Life; and Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess.

Prof. Hughes shares insights from her most recent book about the ancient deity known as Venus to Romans and Aphrodite to the Greeks, and her impact on our understanding of the mythology and history of beauty, romance, and passion. She discusses Aphrodite’s mythical role in sparking the Trojan War, portrayals of her across Western culture, and enduring lessons. They then turn to the ancient Greeks’ contributions to the foundations of Western philosophy, poetry, and government, and why studying classics, including figures like Socrates, is vital for education in the 21st century. And they explore the timeless wisdom and cautionary lessons all of us can draw from studying ancient Athenian democracy, Sparta, and the civic life of Greek city-states, the West’s earliest models of self-government. She concludes with a reading from her book, Venus and Aphrodite.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Susannah Heschel, the Eli M. Black Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, and the daughter of noted 20th-century Jewish theologian and Civil Rights-era leader, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. They discuss what teachers and students today should know about Rabbi Heschel’s life and legacy. Born in Warsaw, Poland, the descendant of preeminent European rabbis, Rabbi Heschel was arrested by the Gestapo, and later escaped to London. Prof. Heschel describes how losing many family members in the Holocaust shaped her father’s writings, and brought moral urgency to his American Civil Rights efforts. Prof. Heschel describes her father’s landmark study, The Prophets, for which she wrote an introduction, his profound view of the prophets as models, and his search for enduring “truth and righteousness in everyday life.” They discuss Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who evoked Old Testament imagery in many of his most memorable speeches, and who was accompanied by Rabbi Heschel on the Voting Rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Professor Heschel offers thoughts on what educators can learn from her family’s historic experiences facing adversity, and how citizens, teachers, and students alike can use personal stories, biblical wisdom, and ancient sources to inspire their civic action in our often divided country. She concludes with a reading from a favorite passage from one of her father’s books.

Stories of the Week: Which states are driving innovation in K-12 education, and which are struggling? Cara and Gerard discuss recent rankings, and some surprising results. The Kentucky Legislature passed a bill that would allow income-eligible families to access tax credit scholarships for private school tuition and other services, overriding the Governor’s veto.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. They discuss his research, cited by The Wall Street Journal, on learning loss due to the pandemic, especially among poor, minority, and rural students, and its impact on skills and earnings. Dr. Hanushek has projected that school closures will result in $25-$30 trillion of lost economic output in today’s dollars over the next century, and a 6-to-9 percent reduction in lifetime household income. He shares with listeners how he arrived at these estimates, their wider financial implications for America’s competitiveness, and how we can address it. They review the realities of K-12 education before COVID-19, with flat and declining NAEP reading and math scores over the last decade and persistent achievement gaps. Given that troubling trend, he recommends more effective use of our teachers’ specific talents and offering more individualized instruction to address variations in student preparation. He offers suggestions for how best to direct the influx of federal stimulus funds to school districts, and thoughts on the relative success of many charter and private schools in pivoting to ensure high-quality remote learning and in-class instruction.

Stories of the Week: School budgets have not suffered nearly as much as predicted due to the pandemic – in fact, some state revenues have even slightly grown thanks to federal relief funds and higher than planned sales tax collections. In Education Next, Christensen Institute cofounder Michael Horn laments school districts’ timid response” to remote learning, and opportunities to engage students in active learning and other innovative practices.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Kathryn Tempest, a Reader in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Roehampton in London, UK, and author of Cicero: Politics and Persuasion in Ancient Rome and Brutus: The Noble Conspirator. They discuss the historical, civic, and moral lessons political leaders, educators, and schoolchildren today can learn by studying the Roman Republic and the lives of key figures from that era such as Cicero and Brutus.

Dr. Tempest reviews the legacy of Cicero, the distinguished statesman and orator, whose timeless works, influenced by Greek philosophy, have endeared him to extraordinary leaders through the ages, from St. Augustine to Churchill. She contrasts Cicero’s adherence to limited constitutionalism with the worldview of his nemesis, the colossal dictator Julius Caesar. She also delves into the complex relationship between Caesar and the enigmatic Brutus, whom Shakespeare called “the noblest Roman of them all” for his role in Caesar’s assassination on the “Ides of March.” Dr. Tempest traces the influence of these events on Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke and Montesquieu, and concepts such as the mixed constitution and separation of powers that are so fundamental to the American founding. She concludes with a reading from her biography of Brutus.