This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard mark the Juneteenth commemoration
of the end of slavery with an episode devoted to Civil Rights history. They are joined by Diane McWhorter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. They explore the parallels between the current civil unrest and racial injustice the country is witnessing and what took place in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, including police brutality then and now, and the ongoing connection between race, economics, and political pressure. They discuss the Civil Rights Movement’s success with shifting public opinion, through nonviolent protests and indelible iconography, and whether strong statements and product name changes issued by so many corporations today are likely to lead to genuine structural change. They also delve into the role played by women in the Civil Rights Movement. Diane concludes with a reading from the epilogue of her book, Carry Me Home.

Stories of the Week: In England, the government will be funding tutoring programs to bridge learning gaps as a result of COVID school closures, targeted to disadvantaged communities. Is this a model worth exploring here? New York’s wealthy families have fled Manhattan due to COVID – will they return to those elite schools if remote learning continues in the fall, or shift to the suburbs?

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Prof. Carole Boston Weatherford, a New York Times best-selling children’s book author, and Caldecott Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Award winning biographer of Harriet Tubman and Fannie Lou Hamer. They discuss the opportunity presented by the national response to the George Floyd tragedy for ultimately improving race relations. Prof. Weatherford discusses the importance of teaching about the lives of African-American heroes and heroines, and their forgotten struggles to overcome adversity; what it means to teach a more complete and less romanticized history that is more inclusive; and how improved curricula, higher expectations, and a diverse faculty can more effectively inspire all children to strive to overcome adversity and empathize with people. She discusses her views on blues music as African-American language in song, and jazz as “the rhythm of daily life”; and how the sophisticated, improvisational artistry of jazz reflects African-Americans’ everyday experiences. Lastly, Prof. Weatherford offers a reading of her poem, “SNCC,” from her biography of 1960’s voting rights advocate Fannie Lou Hamer.

Story of the Week: Protesters in Massachusetts, Virginia, and other parts of the country have vandalized and removed statues of explorer Christopher Columbus this week due to his association with colonization and violence against Native Americans. Will these actions spark constructive dialogue about which historical figures society glorifies and marginalizes, or will they merely rile up Italian-Americans and create further tension? As school winds down for the summer and focus shifts to reopening plans this fall, a new Pioneer Institute report with ASU Prep Digital shows that online learning can work for most special needs students, and highlights the importance of meeting the diverse needs of all learners no matter the circumstances.

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard open with commentary on the George Floyd tragedy and K-12 education’s role in addressing racial injustice. Then, they are joined by Jeffrey Riley, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, to talk about the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19. Commissioner Riley walks them through the remote learning guidance he issued, the timeline since the closures in March, and efforts to meet financial and technological obstacles in different parts of the state. He discusses work to acclimate teachers to online learning platforms, and options for re-opening in the fall. He also shares an innovative program that he launched in Lawrence that is now available in other parts of the state to respond to the growing demand for vocational education. Lastly, they delve into how to improve the Boston Public Schools, the subject of a recent audit warning about graduation rates, facilities, and academic performance, with 30 of the district’s schools ranking in the bottom 10 percent statewide.

Story of the Week: Cara and Gerard reflect on the George Floyd murder, police brutality, and racial injustice across America, and the important role of school leaders and teachers in facilitating constructive dialogue. How can education policymaking help with this ongoing crisis? They discuss the benefits of increasing access to high-quality educational opportunities and early literacy programs; engaging in conversations about our broken criminal justice system; improving the preparation of police officer candidates; and ensuring that people of all races feel empowered to speak up in support of human dignity and against injustice.

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dana Gioia, a poet, writer, and the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Dana discusses why the arts are so pivotal to the intellectual and civic development of America’s K-12 schoolchildren, allowing them to grow spiritually, emotionally, creatively, imaginatively, and even physically. He also explores how some of the specific skills students learn through music, drawing, poetry, and theater go well beyond traditional subjects. Dana explains why he believes the lack of arts education in our schools is a national problem, and addresses some misconceptions about why schools are not offering it. He delves into why poetry has such a profound connection to the human experience, and the many ways in which it builds self-confidence, emotional maturity, and can lead to intellectual transformation. Dana shares stories about learning from his Mexican-American mother to love the arts, teaching students to appreciate poetry at the University of Southern California, and the success of a national contest that he launched at the NEA, Poetry Out Loud. Throughout the interview, he treats listeners to recitations from Shakespeare and Poe, and concludes with a special reading of one of his own sonnets.

Stories of the Week: A new poll finds that 1 in 5 teachers say they are unlikely to return to their classrooms if schools reopen this fall, and in a separate poll of parents, 60 percent will likely pursue homeschooling options. A USA Today series highlights the benefits of high-quality dual-language programs to close achievement gaps among America’s five million English language learners, especially in states with a growing non-native population.

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are happy to be joined by Kerry McDonald, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education and author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom. Drawing on her experiences as a homeschooling parent and researcher, Kerry shares thoughts on the major lessons we all should be learning from this educational moment, now that COVID has turned most of America’s 50 million schoolchildren and their families into “homeschoolers.” Kerry reviews which education choice mechanisms, such as education savings accounts, would most effectively support homeschooling, and which states have policies that encourage entrepreneurship and innovative K-12 models, such as microschools and virtual charter schools. They also explore the increasing diversity of the two million children in the U.S. who were homeschooled before the pandemic, changing public perceptions, and a Harvard Law School professor’s controversial call for a presumptive ban.

Stories of the Week: Over 100 Catholic schools across the country are permanently closing as a result of the financial losses associated with COVID, impacting an estimated 50,000 mostly low-income and working-class students. How will the closures affect cash-strapped district schools facing an influx of these new students? Kudos to Kelley Brown, a history teacher from Easthampton, Massachusetts, who led her high school history students to win the national “We the People” civics competition. The achievement – a first for the Bay State – was all the more impressive considering the contest was held in the midst of a global pandemic and conducted entirely via Zoom, requiring extraordinary coordination.

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are happy to be joined by Kaya Henderson, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. They discuss the historic reforms Henderson oversaw, including increasing enrollment and improved test scores in an urban district that had been one of the lowest performing in the country. Kaya talks about her unique and authentic leadership style and her focus on re-building the D.C. Public Schools into a viable option that restored confidence among parents. She shares some of the key ingredients for success, the challenges of navigating political forces, her thoughts on the D.C. voucher program, and what really motivated district change. She also credits her controversial predecessor Michelle Rhee with challenging the district’s bureaucracy and creating some of the conditions for success. Lastly, she reflects on how the relationship-building skills she brought to her position are serving her well in her current role with Teach for All, which runs “Teach for America”-style programs in 53 countries; as an independent consultant in the U.S.; and on numerous boards, where she is involved in COVID relief efforts.

Stories of the WeekDr. Anthony Fauci, speaking at a U.S. Senate hearing this week, cautioned that reentry of students in the fall term would likely be “a bridge too far” due to the lack of available COVID treatments or a vaccine. Are American families and schools prepared for long-term digital learning? This week is National Charter Schools Week, the annual celebration of the charter schools that are educating over three million students, and have been so successful in bridging achievement gaps. Gerard and Cara reflect on the history of the charter movement, the many teachers, families, and local leaders involved in launching it, and the bipartisan political support that it has enjoyed.

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Kimberly Robinson, Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and the Curry School of Education. Kimberly discusses her new book, A Federal Right to Education: Fundamental Questions for Our Democracy, and the need for states to establish a “floor of opportunity” to ensure educational equity. She explores models of equity, including funding disparities, achievement gaps, and participation in democracy; and reviews the history of educational equity cases and the relative effectiveness of federal as opposed to state courts as an avenue of reform. She shares analysis of a recent United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruling that set a new precedent for its recognition of a right to a basic minimum education, under the U.S. Constitution, for Detroit students, after that school district was experiencing teacher shortages, out-of-date learning materials, and poor sanitary conditions. Lastly, she describes the inspiration for her work: her parents’ involvement in the Civil Rights movement, and the sacrifices they made for better educational opportunities.

Stories of the Week: New guidance from the U.S. Department of Education expanding federal aid through the CARES Act to private schools struggling to meet new pandemic-related challenges has drawn criticism from public school trade associations. American colleges and universities’ growing dependence on the increased revenue from international students, who pay larger tuitions than domestic students, has some concerned about the financial impact, especially in the COVID-19 era, on the ability to recruit skilled and talented applicants from abroad.

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by John M. Barry, author of the #1 New York Times best seller, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. John shares two major lessons from the previous pandemic on the importance of social distancing and transparent communication from leaders, and notes some surprising differences between the two crises, not just regarding their contagiousness, incubation period and duration, but also the extent of the government’s closing orders in each case. John discusses his New York Times op-ed this week on the likely impact of warmer weather, and the possibility of a second wave. He also addresses how to talk about this crisis to our children, who are experiencing something that nobody alive has lived through, and the increased responsibility it requires of them. They explore the impact on our global economy, our collective efforts to strike a balance between saving lives and minimizing economic cost, and who was and was not caught by surprise in terms of preparations for a pandemic.

Stories of the Week: In Detroit, where 40 percent of households lack Internet access, one charter school network of 2,400 students has distributed equipment and redirected federal funds toward technology to grow participation in online learning from 30 percent to 90 percent. In a call with the President, Catholic school leaders, including Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, pressed for federal aid to meet the challenges presented by the pandemic, including potential loss of tuition as a result of layoffs, and the expense of converting to online learning.

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Ashley Berner, Deputy Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. Ashley discusses what America can learn from other countries about how to shift from a uniform system in which district schools focus on workforce skills, to one that embraces a liberal arts curriculum delivered by many different models to advance excellence and equity, and close achievement gaps. She reviews which districts and states are incentivizing the use of robust curricula, assessment, and teacher preparation, with successful outcomes, and discusses her team’s alarming report that made national headlines last year on the Providence, R.I. public school system. They also talk about the new NAEP results for history, geography, and civics; the Founding Fathers’ view of the liberal arts’ centrality to democratic citizenship; and how to reverse troubling knowledge gaps. Lastly, they explore what COVID-19 is teaching us about our nation’s readiness, relative to other countries, for the transition to remote learning, and socioeconomic inequities.

Stories of the Week: In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt received criticism from the state’s schools superintendent and teacher union this week for announcing plans to use some federal CARES Act relief funds to support a tax credit program for scholarships that help low-income children attend private schools. In Utah, where only 40 percent of Navajo families have Internet access, schools are working to provide wireless hot spots for about 200 homes. Are issues with Wi-Fi access revealed by the COVID-19 crisis transforming the way we think about equity and states’ duty to educate all children?

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. Michael shares his thoughts on his mentor, the late Clayton Christensen, a renowned Harvard Business School professor, influential thinker, and best-selling author. They discuss the lessons we are all learning from the COVID crisis about technical advancements that allow schools to innovate, in ways that were unthinkable just 20 years ago. Michael explains his view of online learning as a means of shifting the focus from schooling en masse to individual growth and mastery, and the need to provide incentives for meaningful student outcomes. They also explore which states are leading in digital learning, which are lagging behind, and specific initiatives that are making a dramatic difference in children’s preparedness for kindergarten and academic achievement.

Stories of the Week: How should states move forward on online learning during COVID-19? A new Pioneer report by digital learning innovator Julie Young offers tips for state policymakers and district leaders seeking guidance on equipment, teacher preparation, meeting special education needs, and more. In California, Governor Newsom is identifying strategies for re-opening in the aftermath of the pandemic, including staggered start times, classrooms reconfigured for social distancing, and more online learning.

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Tim Keller, Senior Attorney with the Institute for Justice, which has been defending school choice from legal challenges, largely from state Blaine Amendments, for 30 years. Tim describes IJ’s work on behalf of the plaintiffs in the high-profile Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the impact of the pandemic on the timing of the ruling. They explore the case’s prospects for success, and some potential political and legal responses in the event of a favorable outcome. They also delve into the national implications of another recent case in Maine, involving families battling a long-standing state law prohibiting public tuition payments to religious school parents. Tim also shares the backstory of Arizona’s popular Empowerment Scholarship, an education savings account program that he helped design and defend.

Stories of the Week: Despite COVID-19 school closures, the College Board will move forward with Advanced Placement exams; but will the increased security measures enacted to prevent cheating raise controversy? Around the world, temples and churches have emptied as a result of the pandemic, but religious leaders are using technology to stream their services, and help congregants celebrate Passover and Holy Week even in the absence of physical connection.

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This week on “The Learning Curve” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Pulitzer-winning historian David Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History Emeritus at Stanford University. Professor Kennedy describes some of the distinguishing characteristics of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to the 1918 flu and the Bubonic Plague in terms of rapidity, scale, mortality rate, and death toll. They also delve into differences, such as our society’s technological advancements, that help ease the disruption; governments’ data gathering capacity to fully understand the impact, and ability to mobilize; and the credibility of our leadership and institutions. They explore whether public health crises have received sufficient attention in K-12 history instruction, and what goes unreported in most accounts; and discuss the delicate balance between protecting civil liberties while avoiding the dangers of spreading misinformation.

Stories of the Week: The Florida Virtual School is gearing up to train teachers to deliver over 100 K-12 courses in mathematics, English language arts, history, science, electives, Advanced Placement, and career and technical education to 2.7 million students, at no cost, until June 30. A Gallup survey reveals that 42 percent of parents are concerned about COVID-19 school closures’ negative impact on their child’s education, and 11 percent are not using any educational resources to fill the instructional gap.

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This week on “The Learning Curve” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Jay Mathews, Washington Post education columnist. They discuss the unique moment presented by COVID-19, and how it has reinforced the value of classroom teachers, but has also increased uncertainty about the future of testing and accountability. They also talk about Jay’s widely acclaimed biography of Jaime Escalante, the great East Los Angeles high school calculus teacher, who became nationally renowned for dramatically raising the academic bar for urban students and delivering amazing results. Jay shares the five key ingredients for success that he learned from Escalante and excellent charter schools across the country.

Stories of the Week: As millions of parents struggle with homeschooling, one mom shared her son’s hilarious reaction in a Facebook post that went viral. Are we all learning some hard lessons through this pandemic about the value of teachers? In Milwaukee, the 30,000 underprivileged children enrolled in private schools through the parental choice program are continuing to attend class each day through distance learning, while their public school counterparts are being offered free meals and some enrichment material that won’t be graded. How can we overcome the digital divide to ensure rigorous instruction for all students?

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This week on “The Learning Curve” (St. Patrick’s Day edition), Cara and Gerard discuss COVID-19’s ongoing toll on families and K-12 education. They interview Raymond Flynn, former Ambassador to the Vatican and three-term Mayor of Boston. Ambassador Flynn shares thoughts on the world-historical moment presented by the Coronavirus pandemic, how public leaders are responding, and how it compares to past crises. He recalls his background as an Irish-Catholic product of religious schools, who rose to service on behalf of a sainted Pope, to remind us of the benefits uniquely offered by Catholic schools, especially for urban poor and minority communities. He also calls on clergy members, elected officials, and policymakers to strengthen their advocacy efforts on behalf of faith-based education, so that we can finally end the bigoted legacy of 19th-century Blaine Amendments that block access to opportunity for all children.

Stories of the Week: In Philadelphia, the school district is refusing to provide remote instruction during the Coronavirus shutdown, claiming concerns about inequity on behalf of those who lack computers or high-speed internet at home. Is this a genuine recognition of the digital divide, or an excuse to deny 200,000 schoolchildren a quality education? The U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines specifically for America’s 7 million students with special needs, who are especially vulnerable as a result of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Dr. Anna Egalite, Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University. They discuss Anna’s experiences as a student growing up in Ireland and teaching at Catholic schools there and in Florida. She was inspired to pursue education policy after observing the differences between the two countries’ views of “public” and “private” education, and was surprised to find that families here didn’t have the same range of school options available to them as those in Europe. She also shares her research on the benefits of school voucher programs in India, which allowed students to attend private schools with longer days and lower rates of multi-grade teaching, with positive impacts on English language skills, especially for females. Lastly, they explore the role of family background on students’ long-term outcomes and intergenerational economic mobility.

Story of the Week: As the nation deals with COVID-19, Cara and Gerard discuss the implications for K-12 and higher education. Students across the country are shifting from campuses and classrooms to virtual learning; how prepared is our education system to deliver quality, online instruction? Are we doing enough to maintain community ties and minimize the disruption for low-income students and families, who have fewer supports?

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Kevin Chavous, President of Academics, Policy, and Schools of K12, Inc. They talk with Kevin about how his background and experiences visiting local state prisons and schools as a D.C. City Councilor led him to become one of the first Democrats to support charter schools. Kevin describes his work with other education reformers on behalf of the Opportunity Scholarship Program for D.C.’s low-income children and the “three-sector” system of combined federal support for public, charter, and private school scholarships that has resulted in 90-percent graduation and college attendance rates. Kevin calls for reframing public education from a robotic, factory approach to a model that is more responsive to the diverse needs of kids and parents. He discusses his current work in digital learning, promoting an innovative, state-of-the-art online learning curriculum now used in 100 schools, in over 30 states, to engage students unable to thrive in a traditional setting.

Stories of the Week: In Tennessee, the ACLU and other organizations have filed suit against the state over an Education Savings Account program that expands school choice for families in Memphis and Nashville, claiming public schools will be “irreparably harmed” by so-called “illegal spending.” In New Hampshire, some lawmakers are again pushing the state to accept $46 million in federal grant funding that was rejected by Democratic legislators because it was designated for charter school expansion. Are politics getting in the way of what’s best for the Granite State’s 1,300 children on charter school waiting lists?

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard engage in a candid conversation about education policymaking with Chris Stewart, Chief Executive Officer of Brightbeam, known to many by his popular Twitter & blog feeds as “Citizen Stewart.” Chris shares his background as a student, parent, school board member, and longtime activist, and how those experiences have shaped his outlook on the challenges facing school reform. They delve into the obvious and lesser known barriers to changing the status quo, including the lack of involvement among rank-and-file parents in policy decision making and the disproportionate influence of labor unions in politics and the media. Chris voices concerns about the Democratic political candidates’ growing hostility toward ensuring African-American schoolchildren have access to better learning opportunities, and how the focus on class warfare has misdirected attention from the reality of our public schools graduating individuals who cannot participate in the economy. They also discuss the relationship between education and other issues such as criminal justice reform.

Stories of the Week: This week, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, the inspirational icon featured in the 2016 film, “Hidden Figures,” passed away at 101. All schoolchildren should know her story, unacknowledged for so long, of struggle and triumph in the face of race- and gender-based segregation and discrimination. In Ohio, a new plan from the state superintendent would reduce the minimum scores on the graduation assessment so that students could qualify for a diploma if they demonstrate basic competency, rather than proficiency, in math and ELA. What impact will the lower bar have on graduates’ preparedness for options in higher education and employment?

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This week, Cara and Gerard talk with Margaret “Macke” Raymond, President of Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). Macke describes CREDO’s unique role and methodology in analyzing a wealth of data from state education departments to quantify the effect of charter schools on the amount of learning a student receives in a year’s time. They discuss charter performance on average, as well as in pockets of excellence; the performance of urban charters, including Boston; the types of charters that are succeeding consistently and replicating; and the formula for quality both in instruction and policymaking. They also delve into the waning policy support for charters despite favorable public opinion; what the data show about whether charters select or “counsel out” students; “diverse-by-design” charter schools; and the federal role in the charter movement.

Stories of the WeekThe New York Times highlights renewed interest in teaching phonics, a long-debated approach, especially in the wake of recent NAEP results showing only a third of American students are reading at proficiency. In Maryland, to address students’ declining academic performance and teacher retention issues, a state commission is proposing sweeping reforms – but the billion-dollar price tag is raising concerns about accountability for results.

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Special thanks to Bob Bowdon & Choice Media for helping us launch “The Learning Curve”! 

On this episode of “The Learning Curve,” Cara welcomes new co-host Gerard Robinson and guest Neal McCluskey, Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. They discuss America’s growing interest in school choice, with 500,000 children now attending private schools through vouchers, tax credits, or Education Savings Accounts, and another three million enrolled in charter schools. They also review President Trump’s federal tax credit proposal, its questionable constitutionality, and its prospects in Congress. Neal describes his public schooling “Battle Map” project that catalogues social conflict in K-12 education, and demonstrates the merits of greater school choice as a mechanism for ensuring government remains neutral in disputes between religious liberty and civil rights. Plus, the avid grillmaster shares his BBQ tips!

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” guest co-hosts Alisha Thomas Cromartie & Kerry McDonald talk with Julie Young, Deputy Vice President of Education Outreach and Student Services for Arizona State University and CEO of ASU Prep Digital High School. In 2019, 2.7 million K-12 students had an online schooling experience, an 80 percent increase since 2009, with 32 states offering fully online schools. Julie explains the wide appeal of online education for students of all kinds, especially those with learning differences, who are seeking a positive academic experience and more flexibility. They also discuss which states are leading the way and lagging behind, the variety and growth of digital learning programs, and how they enable students to accelerate their learning and contain the costs of higher education.

Stories of the Week: In his State of the Union Address this week, President Trump called on Congress to pass a tax credit scholarship program for low-income students to attend private and religious schools. But is this the proper role of the federal government? Where are the administration’s other proposals for improving public education, and is the rhetoric around school choice becoming politicized? A new report finds that 21 states have made it a high school graduation requirement that students pass a financial literacy course. Is this a welcome opportunity to help young people develop responsible budgeting skills and habits, or is it a form of state-mandated intrusion into subject matter that should be covered at home?

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