This week The Learning Curve podcast marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day with guest host Dr. Jay Greene of the Heritage Foundation and Laurence Rees, a former head of BBC TV History Programmes; founder, writer, and producer of the award-winning; and author of The Holocaust: A New History. Mr. Rees sheds light on the historical context of Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, including the rise of the cultural and political conditions that led to the Holocaust. Rees discusses how the Nazis promulgated their anti-Semitic ideology and laws, and underscores the criminal realities of the Auschwitz concentration and death camp, as well as the Holocaust’s six million Jewish victims. Rees also talks about the fragility of both human life and political and cultural institutions. Mr. Rees closes the interview with a reading from his book on the Holocaust.


This week on The Learning Curve, Cara and Gerard talk with Kevin Chavous, president of Stride K12, Inc. and a former member of the Council of the District of Columbia, on the growing movement toward school choice in education. Chavous discusses the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue and Carson v. Makin, as well as the expansion of private school choice programs, education savings accounts, vouchers, and education tax credits. Amid the successes, however, he also addresses some of the self-inflicted wounds that have harmed the charter public school movement in recent years, and what lessons educators should draw from the challenges schools faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, in the wake of recent nationwide declines in NAEP scores in both reading and math, he offers key suggestions for governors, state legislators, education reformers, and school choice advocates alike on a constructive future for K-12 education reform.

Stories of the Week: The state’s education community paused this week to pay tribute to former Massachusetts State Senate President Tom Birmingham, who passed away Saturday at the age of 73. Birmingham was instrumental in passage of the landmark 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act. In recent years, as Cara notes, Birmingham was a distinguished senior fellow in education at Pioneer Institute, working tirelessly to defend high academic standards, U.S. history and civics, school choice options, and accountability. Gerard discussed the U.S. Supreme Court case involving a 24-year-old deaf Michigan man, Miguel Perez, who says he was denied a qualified sign language interpreter for years, and later sought relief under both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Court will decide whether federal law required him to exhaust administrative proceedings before seeking relief in federal court.

This week on The Learning Curve co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson are joined by David Garrow, who was Professor of Law & History and Distinguished Faculty Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and is the Pulitzer-winning author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Garrow shares his insights into the historical and religious context around key events and speeches in the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He examines the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as King’s famous speeches, including the “I Have a Dream” and “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Garrow discusses Dr. King’s legacy for students and educators, with reference to “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and other writings that evoke the theme of human dignity through history, poetry, scripture, and America’s Founding ideals.

Stories of the Week: A new Boston monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King has stirred controversy. Concerned about students’ ability to cheat with the use of advanced artificial intelligence, some higher education and K-12 officials want to ban it outright. Gerard reflects on a young Dr. King’s emphasis on the need for thinking intensively and critically, for the goals of living a good life and workplace success.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Richard Vedder, Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Economics at Ohio University. He shares analysis on the macro impact of COVID on the U.S. labor market, and the long-term economic prospects of American college students. He reviews insights from his recent book, Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America, on the true cost of higher education to American society amid the student debt crisis, administrative bloat, controversial admissions policies, and intercollegiate athletics scandals. They discuss the need for greater transparency about students’ earnings potential, the key ingredients of higher education reform, and what he refers to as the “three Is”: information, incentives, and innovation.

Stories of the Week: In Arkansas, Governor-elect Sarah Sanders has hired Jacob Oliva, a senior chancellor in Florida’s education department, to lead reform efforts, and focus on school choice and early literacy. Congress recently passed a $1.7 trillion federal omnibus package that provides $70 million in additional funds for statistics, research, and evaluation within the U.S. Education Department.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Professor Roosevelt Montás, Director of the Freedom and Citizenship Program at Columbia University, and author of the book, Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation. Professor Montás shares his background as an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who attended Columbia, and what inspired his appreciation for the Great Books tradition. He explains the deep connection between philosophy, liberal learning, and a good life, why this tradition matters for advancing liberal education, and its implications for K-12 students in a world that is increasingly centered on technical skills, and that has become overly politicized. They delve into lessons from works like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, about how literature and art can ennoble our young people and elevate our democratic ideals. Professor Montás concludes with a reading from his book.

Stories of the Week: Chronic absenteeism, or missing more than 10 percent of the school year, has likely increased dramatically since the pandemic, and can lead to increases in school-related stress, social isolation, and decreased motivation, all of which contribute to behavior problems. Veterans Affairs officials will now receive greater authority to adjust funding for housing, work-study programs and other education benefits for students relying on the GI Bill, after the COVID-era shift to online-only classes prompted stipend reductions and emergency legislation.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-host Gerard Robinson and guest co-host Mary Connaughton talk with Prof. Michael Slater, Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London, and the world’s foremost expert on Charles Dickens and his works. They discuss some of the main elements of Dickens’ brilliant, prolific, and complicated life, as the 19th century’s most influential, best-selling writer of memorable works, from Oliver Twist to Great Expectations. Professor Slater describes Dickens’ early childhood, having been separated from his family, who were incarcerated in debtors’ prison, and how this heart-wrenching experience inspired his writing as an instrument of social reform. Prof. Slater concludes with a reading from A Christmas Carol, a tale of ghostly salvation which was enormously influential in shaping our popular conceptions of this holiday, and in drawing attention to the need for greater charity.

Stories of the Week: In Kentucky, the state Supreme Court struck down a law that established a tax credit, the Education Opportunity Account Act, that would have helped families cover private school tuition. They’re the backbone of modern classrooms, helping to record school attendance, discipline, assignments, administering exams for hundreds of millions of students – but how much do we know about Learning Management Systems (LMS)?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Magatte Wade, the founder & CEO of Skin Is Skin and an advocate for African dignity and prosperity. Her forthcoming book is The Heart of the Cheetah. She shares her journey from Senegal in West Africa to America, and how she came to experience the power of free enterprise to promote upward mobility and human dignity on her native continent. She describes some of the regulatory practices in both Africa and America that either help or hinder economic activity and prosperity.

Stories of the Week: For over a century, educators have used the Carnegie Unit, a time-based measurement of student progress. But now the Carnegie Foundation is seeking alternatives that more accurately reflect content mastery. In New Hampshire, the president of the American Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit against the education commissioner to block Education Freedom Accounts, which were created in 2021 to help eligible parents afford private school.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” guest co-hosts Denisha Allen and Kerry McDonald talk with Betsy DeVos, a former United States Secretary of Education and the author of the book, Hostages No More: The Fight for Education Freedom and the Future of the American Child. She shares how she became one of the country’s foremost proponents of school choice, educational federalism, and bold changes to K-12 education. They discuss her tenure as U.S. Secretary of Education in a politically turbulent D.C., where special interests cling to the status quo. They review efforts to advance federal control over states and school districts, despite the fact that only 10 percent of total education spending comes from D.C. She offers key lessons from her new book and discusses the need to reset the USED’s internal administrative culture toward improving students’ academic achievement. Finally, she shares her vision for the future of American education and how states, schools, and parents could exercise greater authority.

Stories of the Week: Have America’s urban school districts become so large, consolidated, and unwieldy that they can no longer improve student outcomes regardless of the size of their budgets? With Republicans assuming control of the House of Representatives, and the Senate remaining in Democrats’ hands, how will federal education priorities shift?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Peter Cozzens, the award-winning author of The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West. As National Native American Heritage Month winds down, Mr. Cozzens reviews what our schoolchildren should know about Native Peoples’ innumerable contributions and heart-wrenching experiences. He discusses the life and importance of Tecumseh, the early 19th-century Shawnee Indian chief and warrior, who was the architect of the broadest pan-Indian confederation in U.S. history. Mr. Cozzens also provides a sneak preview of his spring 2023 book on Andrew Jackson, the Creek War, and the Trail of Tears, among the most tragic episodes in our nation’s history. They discuss major figures and events that shaped the American West after the Civil War, and the interview concludes with a reading from Cozzens’ book, Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Heroic Struggle of America’s Heartland.

Stories of the Week: In Boston, public school enrollment among Black students has declined by 50 percent over the past two decades. Is the district’s outdated school selection process driving families to charter schools? Companies like IBM, Google, and Delta Airlines are waiving standard college-degree requirements for new hires, focusing more on skills and experience – is this a short-term solution to address the labor market shortage, or a practice that’s here to stay?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Nathaniel Philbrick, historian, winner of the National Book Award, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and author of Mayflower: Voyage, Community, and War. Mr. Philbrick shares what we should know about the actual historical events of the First Thanksgiving in 1621. He describes who the Pilgrims were, their beliefs and educational traditions, and the obstacles they overcame to found Plymouth Colony. They review the seminal documents of this history, such as the Mayflower Compact, and lessons about the Pilgrims, Patuxets, Wampanoags, and their world. They discuss how the Native Peoples of 17th-century Massachusetts lived, worshiped, and governed themselves, and noted figures like Massasoit and Squanto. They also explore the experiences of Pilgrim and Native women, and their role in the First Thanksgiving. Lastly, Mr. Philbrick explains how the relationship between the Pilgrims and Native Peoples changed in the decades leading up to King Philip’s War. The interview concludes with a reading from his book, Mayflower.

Stories of the WeekHigher education is expecting to see a sharp enrollment decline over the next 20 years, in what industry experts are calling “the enrollment cliff,” as a result of declining birth rates during the Great Recession. Is the highly respected New York State Board of Regents high-school graduation exam on its way out?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Alisha Thomas Searcy, the Democratic nominee for Georgia state school superintendent. She shares her experience as a former six-term state legislator and school leader; her recent bid for Georgia’s top education post; and her passion for K-12 education reform. They explore her support of charter schools, school choice, and other accountability-based reforms, and how it impacted her reception within the Georgia Democratic Party, and among gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams and the teachers’ union (which endorsed her Republican opponent). She talks about the endorsements she received from bipartisan national figures such as former U.S. secretaries of education Rod Paige and Arne Duncan, as well as the fundraising realities of running for office, and the business community’s commitment to K-12 school reform. She shares insights on how education reform will likely proceed politically in Georgia and nationally.

Stories of the Week: How will the 2022 mid-term election results impact K-12 education? Cara and Gerard discuss. In New Mexico, voters passed a ballot measure that provides over $150 million a year for early childhood education.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Amar Kumar, founder and CEO of KaiPod Learning, a network of in-person education centers for online learners and homeschoolers, based in Massachusetts. They discuss how the pandemic dramatically changed parents’ sentiments about their traditional public schools, opening the door to wider private school choice options, including homeschooling, micro schools, and pods. Mr. Kumar explains how his experiences in teaching, school leadership, and business drove him to launch KaiPod, and how he is navigating the Bay State’s regulatory obstacles to educational entrepreneurship. He distinguishes between “Zoom school” and the poor-quality remote learning that took place during the pandemic, and high-quality online and hybrid learning. Mr. Kumar shares thoughts on the notable uptick in demand among parents of color for wider private and public-school choice options, and how KaiPod is working to serve at-risk student populations.

Stories of the Week: How much learning loss occurred among college students during the pandemic? We don’t know, because higher education institutions don’t invest in the tools to measure it. In North Carolina, the state’s highest court ruled that state must provide sufficient school funding to fulfill the constitutional mandate that all children have access to an equitable public education.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Dr. Jack Rakove, Coe Professor of History and American Studies and Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Stanford University, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. Professor Rakove reviews the biography of James Madison, often called the “Father of the Constitution,” and the influence of classical and Enlightenment learning on his farsighted political thought and leadership. They discuss key arguments from Madison’s essays in The Federalist Papers that should inform civics lessons today and his crucial role at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. In addition, they explore Madison’s handling of the three-fifths clause and slavery, the central moral and constitutional problem of the Founding era. Professor Rakove explains Madison’s involvement, along with Thomas Jefferson, in America’s first opposition political party, and the bitter partisan politics of the 1790s. They conclude with a reading from Dr. Rakove’s book, Original Meanings.

Stories of the Week: In Vermont, some students are struggling to obtain drivers’ licenses due to a shortage of drivers education instructors. One silver lining from the otherwise disappointing NAEP results recently released, is the performance of Catholic schools, which surpassed their public school peers across the country.

This week on a Halloween edition of “The Learning Curve,” guest host Mary Z. Connaughton talks with Miranda Seymour, novelist and definitive biographer of Mary Shelley, author of the classic Gothic novel, Frankenstein. Ms. Seymour shares some of the main features of Shelley’s brilliant and tragedy-filled life that the general public and students should know more about, starting with her parents, who were gifted late 18th-century writers and radical thinkers. Ms. Seymour recounts the dramatic origin story of Frankenstein, influenced by Shelley’s circle of Romantic poets and intellectuals. They explore the novel’s cautionary lessons about the excesses of human pride; modern science, and medicine; and about humanity, loneliness, and education. Ms. Seymour also describes Shelley’s personal life, and why she remains compelling in our era. Ms. Seymour concludes the interview with a reading from her Mary Shelley biography.

Stories of the Week: News reports of declining performance nationwide on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the Nation’s Report Card, point the finger at pandemic school closures – but is there more to the story? Cara and Gerard offer insights.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Dyslexia and Diverse Learners at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and the author of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. They discuss American K-12 education’s approach to reading instruction, and how we can increase students’ enjoyment of reading for its own sake, as well as their performance on national assessments. She reviews the findings from her 2007 book, Proust and the Squid, on how reading shapes and transforms our knowledge and emotions. They delve into how technology is changing our attention spans and ability to digest and understand more demanding books and ideas, and the negative impact of smart phones, screens, and multi-media on the brains of young people. She differentiates between acquiring knowledge through the printed or written word and digitally, and how educators and parents should think carefully and constructively about the use of technology in schools and at home. The interview concludes with Dr. Wolf reading a favorite passage from Reader, Come Home.

Stories of the Week: How did the pandemic school shutdowns affect the seven million students in America who did not receive special education services – and what can we do about it? Schoolchildren in Florida are suffering from learning loss as a result of school closures in the wake of the tragic, category-four Hurricane Ian. Can we better prepare for school shutdowns after natural disasters?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Jeff Wetzler, co-founder of Transcend, a nonprofit focused on innovation in school design that works with hundreds of school communities in over two dozen states in America. He shares his background and what motivated his interest in helping to bring about transformational changes to improve student outcomes. They discuss some of the features of classroom redesign, including school-based examples of how it can modernize our industrial model of education, to bring it in line with the upgrades we have all witnessed in other aspects of society such as transportation and technology. Wetzler talks about how school and role design can help teachers more effectively engage students in learning and maximize their potential. He offers recommendations for policymakers and school leaders seeking to implement classroom design.

Stories of the Week: In San Antonio, a high school student won a prestigious award for her work founding a non-profit that offers free online STEM courses to underserved students. Should we eliminate school boards? An EducationNext article questions whether they are capable of addressing 21st-century K-12 education challenges, or merely an obsolete mechanism for maintaining political power?

On this special Columbus Day edition of “The Learning Curve,” guest host Pioneer Institute’s Mary Z. Connaughton talks with Laurence Bergreen, a prize-winning biographer, historian, chronicler of exploration, and the author of Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504. Mr. Bergreen discusses what people should know about the life, career, and myths around Christopher Columbus, the courageous, ruthless, and complicated explorer and navigator, on the 530th anniversary of his history-changing and ever-controversial discovery of the New World. They review questions about Columbus’ background, faith, and education, as well as details about his four voyages’ differing objectives and his mistreatment of the “indios.” They delve into some of the controversies surrounding his legacy, especially his tragic influence on some of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, and the complex political reasons why President Franklin D. Roosevelt made Columbus Day a national holiday in 1937. The interview concludes with Mr. Bergreen’s reading from his Columbus biography.

Laurence Bergreen is a prize-winning biographer, historian, and chronicler of exploration. Among his books are biographies of Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan, Giacomo Casanova, Louis Armstrong, Al Capone, and Irving Berlin, which have been translated into 25 languages worldwide. Bergreen’s book Columbus: The Four Voyages was a New York Times bestseller, selected for the Book-of-the-Month Club, the History Book Club, and the Military Book Club, and was a New York Times Book Review “Editor’s Choice.” He has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Esquire, Newsweek, and the Chicago Tribune. Bergreen taught at the New School for Social Research, and served as assistant to the president of the Museum of Television and Radio in New York. He is a member of PEN American Center, and is a trustee of the New York Society Library. He graduated from Harvard in 1972 and lives in New York.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Karega Rausch, President and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Dr. Rausch shares some of his background, his interest in K-12 education reform and charter public schools, and lessons from Indiana and other states that inform his work. With charter public school enrollment nearly doubling to 3.4 million students in roughly 7,700 schools and campuses across America, he talks about the states that have experienced the largest growth and those that have lagged behind. They discuss the role that single and multiple charter authorizers play in charter school expansion and performance, academic quality, and diverse pedagogical approaches. They delve into the charter policy bargain of greater school autonomy in exchange for greater accountability, and how charters are held responsible for student performance. Dr. Rausch also challenges misguided criticisms of for-profit school management companies running charter public schools, and offers thoughts on how to rebuild wider political coalitions to support charters.

Stories of the Week: EdChoice celebrates and reflects on ten years of American public opinion surveys on education. For the first time since the enactment of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Congress is about to fully fund K-12 special education programs.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Sal Khan, founder and CEO of Khan Academy, and Amy McGrath, the Chief Operating Officer of ASU Prep and Deputy Vice President of ASU Educational Outreach. Mr. Khan shares the origin story of his wildly successful online K-12 education platform, which reaches 137 million users across 190 countries. Mr. Khan describes how he and his team develop academically rigorous lessons and translate them into videos to ensure kids have access to the highest-quality academic content. Ms. McGrath explains how innovations like Florida Virtual School (founded by current ASU Prep Digital CEO Julie Young) more effectively meet 21st-century families’ needs than the current K-12 American public education system, which is still based on the factory model and agricultural calendar. They discuss how the new partnership between Khan Academy and ASU Prep will enhance online education and address learning loss in the post-COVID era.

Stories of the Week: Many welcomed President Biden’s recent announcement of a loan forgiveness plan for up to $20,000 in student debt – but it excludes holders of private loans. Is physical education undervalued in schools?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Niall Ferguson, the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior faculty fellow of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. He is the author of 16 books, including Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe. Dr. Ferguson comments publicly for the first time on the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch, and how we should teach about Britain’s wide impact – positive and negative – on the world in her era and over the last several hundred years, from the Magna Carta to Winston Churchill. Dr. Ferguson shares findings from his most recent book, which charts the history of disasters, from the 1346–1353 Black Death to COVID; whether our handling of these catastrophes – from both public health and economic standpoints – has improved; and how we can learn from mistakes to better prepare for the future. He describes the kind of education he imparts to his own children to help ensure they have the wisdom and resilience to live in a turbulent world. The interview concludes with Dr. Ferguson reading from his latest book.

Stories of the Week: Are schools of education helping future teachers develop content expertise, or are they too focused on pedagogy and ideology? In Philadelphia, the Martin Luther King High School is the city’s first school with Black faculty for all core freshmen subjects, a step forward in the effort to ensure students can benefit from diverse role models.