K–12 education in the United States is notoriously complex, as every state, district, and school has some autonomy when it comes to moulding the minds of our youngsters. Though the decentralized nature of our education system has many strengths—federal governance over 55 million students living in a variety of social, economic, and geographic contexts would certainly be unwieldy!—it also has a clear downside: Sometimes there’s just too much news, too many changes, and too many policies to keep up with. Add in Covid-19 and the rapid changes in governance and practices, and the situation can seem hopeless.
With so much to digest, how does one keep up with the latest developments in all things education policy and reform? And where does the motivated layperson who isn’t a policy wonk or researcher even start? Before I was Fordham’s podcast producer, I wasn’t an avid podcast-listener. But that experience showed me that a lot can be learned from fifteen minutes of dialogue between experts who know what they’re talking about! If you’re looking to further immerse yourself in the K–12 education policy field but don’t know where to begin, here’s what I and my Fordham colleagues recommend.
I had to kick it off with our own podcast, traditionally recorded in our “studio” (ahem, office), but recently moved to Zoom indefinitely. Our lively and genuine president, Mike Petrilli, runs the show for the most part, but it wouldn’t have the same flair without our senior associate, David Griffith, and his sarcastic wit, probing questions, and “young” perspective as our resident millennial (we’re being generous with “millennial”). First, our weekly episodes offer a quick recap of the latest stories on big topics like federal spending on education, state legislation on school choice, standardized testing, and—naturally—Covid-era school reopening. I generally come away with having learned what the implications are of the issue at hand and what we should do about it. Second, our two-part podcast features our whip-smart SVP for research, Amber Northern, who breaks down new studies, covering their findings and methods and offering actionable takeaways, which are often interesting enough to mention out at your next “fundatory” work happy hour!
Marty West, editor-in-chief of Education Next and host of this weekly podcast, interviews guests about the op-eds and research articles they write for the journal. As such, I like to think of this podcast as a delectable hodgepodge of education policy and research, the episode topics of which are inherently as diverse as the authors featured. For instance, the last three episodes were on effective school reforms to survive the pandemic, racial gaps in special education, and how education research can be made more relevant to practitioners. Marty has a knack for asking questions that enable guests to flesh out their arguments in detail.
Sorry-not-sorry for hitting you back to back with Education Next podcasts, but this one is run by Paul E. Peterson, renowned scholar and senior editor of the journal. The Education Exchange has a similar flavor of randomness, but with an extra dash of super-interesting-albeit-not-exactly-education-policy-related. Take, for example, its latest episode on the book A Round of Golf With My Father, and another episode titled “Why ‘Black Lives Matter’ Matters” (a personal favorite). Thanks to his vast knowledge and profound insights, these conversations can get really deep, as Paul isn’t afraid to put his guests on the spot and call it like he sees it.
Journalist Jennifer Berkshire and education historian and policy analyst Jack Schneider are co-hosts of this unique, semimonthly podcast. I’m a huge fan for several reasons. It has an engaging narrative style powered by Jennifer’s storytelling, the banter between both hosts is entertaining, and it provides episode transcriptions! While academics frequent the guest list, Have You Heard also features the stories of students, teachers, and district leaders, which makes it a bit more on-the-ground than is typical of these education policy podcasts. Definitely a change of pace from the rest of this list.
The Report Card is a semimonthly podcast from The American Enterprise Institute, run by its senior fellow and deputy director of education policy studies, Nat Malkus. It has done an amazing job covering education during the pandemic from every angle—school reopening, learning models, teaching, and leadership—and Nat brings an energy to the table that, if I didn’t already, makes me care about the matter at hand as much as he does. This podcast also discusses higher education topics sometimes, usually with guests from innovative institutions or programs.
Keith Heumiller is the managing editor at the CPRE Knowledge Hub and host of its weekly podcast, which aims to provide “accessible discussions of the latest developments, trends, and initiatives in education”—which I consider to be an accurate description. This is the podcast for you if you want to stay up to date with important education research and its implications for policymakers, district and school leaders, and other stakeholders.
This collection of podcasts covers more than education, but some of the episodes that are about America’s schools been some of the most impactful K–12 podcasts in recent years. In “Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read?” for example, lead correspondent Emily Hanford took a close look at the country’s struggle to provide children with effective literacy education, and why so many teachers don’t follow or aren’t aware of the scientific research that clearly establishes how to do this well. Other episodes cover topics like teacher shortages and the link between unstable housing and achievement.