This year, the Education Gadfly Show podcast covered many hot-button education issues. But our most-listened-to episodes reflect what we already knew: This was a big year for education politics!
The politics of school choice, testing, federal funding, and quarantine protocols dominated the topics discussed in our top ten. But we were also pleased to see that our faithful listeners continue to love the research: Our number one episode was an entry in our “Research Deep Dive” series, forgoing current events for an exploration of an important area of study. Listeners were also drawn to episodes exploring social and emotional learning, standards-based reforms, and Fordham’s school recovery plan, The Acceleration Imperative.
Be sure to stay tuned next year as we continue to give you our ed reform updates, as well as emerging research. And don’t forget to tell your friends to subscribe to the Education Gadfly Show on Apple and Spotify!
1. Research Deep Dive: The impact of urban charter schools, June 16
2021’s most popular episode featured Brian Gill, senior fellow at Mathematica, who has twenty years of experience in charter school research. He explained that studies of leading charter management organizations, such as KIPP, find some of the largest achievement impacts of any intervention. He also discussed charters’ long-term impacts on criminality, college and civic outcomes, segregation, and district finances.
2. What does Miguel Cardona’s time in Connecticut imply about his future in Washington?, January 6
When Miguel Cardona’s was appointed the United States Secretary of Education, we had Subira Gordon on the show. The executive director of Connecticut’s ConnCAN, she has known Cardona for a decade. She talked about his solid record in the state on tackling chronic absenteeism, pushing for school reopening when it was safe, encouraging parent choice, and being willing to work with ed reformers of diverse opinions. Also on that podcast, Amber Northern summarized the best research of 2020.
3. The virus isn’t done with schools, July 14
As the Delta variant of the virus started to make headlines, we asked John Bailey, a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, to discuss how it would impact fall reopenings. He explained the early data on Delta and predicted that overly-cautious school quarantine protocols would disrupt student learning. Sadly, he was right. On the Research Minute, Olivia Piontek, filling in for Amber, examined a study on standalone technical high schools.
4. Whatever you do, don’t call it social and emotional learning, August 12
David Griffith hosted this week’s discussion of Fordham’s report How to Sell SEL. Adam Tyner, our associate director of research, who authored it, summarized the main takeaway: Parents of both political parties broadly support the substance of social and emotional learning. But moms and dads dislike how some SEL initiatives are framed, especially the term itself. Amber talked about the effects of school-based mentoring.
5. Can curriculum reform succeed where the rest of standards-based reform failed?, July 1
Morgan Polikoff, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Southern California and author of a new book called Beyond Standards, came on the show to talk about it. He argued that standards-based reform has failed to improve instruction, urged reformers to focus instead on getting quality material into classrooms, and called for a stronger state role in curricular reform. Then Amber discussed a study about universal free meals’ impact on students’ perception of safety.
6. The education issues facing state legislatures in 2021, January 20
What could state governments do to tackle education issues in the wake of the pandemic? Patricia Levesque, chief executive officer of ExcelinEd, described how states like New Hampshire expanded access to tutoring to mitigate learning loss, and the challenge of giving districts sound guidance on using federal stimulus funds, dealing with enrollment shifts, and meeting parents’ rising demands for school choice. On the Research Minute, Amber looked at critics’ claims that charters are taking the best students from district schools and pushing the worst into them.
7. How districts are spending federal aid, July 21
Halfway through the year, we talked to Bree Dusseault, practitioner-in-residence at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, about how districts make use of federal aid. She said that schools have mostly focused on recovering student learning, mental health, and technology. Instead, she said more funds should go into reengaging absent students and supporting teacher capacity. Amber also examined a study of remote learning’s negative impact on student wellness and academic outcomes.
8. The House Democrats’ attack on charter schools, August 4
This year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that proposed a $40 million cut to federal Charter School Programs startup funds and also put other charter funding at risk. Our guest on this podcast was Ron Rice, senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, who laid out the harmful consequences, especially for disadvantaged students, if this bill were to become law. (The bill is currently before the Senate Committee on Appropriations, and that iteration undoes the cut.) Amber then reviewed data on the academic and professional benefits of participating in sports in high school and college.
9. Another reason we need to test students in 2021, January 13
Guest Eric Parsons, associate teaching professor of economics at the University of Missouri, discussed the Fordham report that he authored, Bridging the Covid Divide—in particular, how waiving annual testing requirements in 2020 would affect metrics for school improvement. He found that it’s possible to accurately gauge school growth while missing one year of data but not two. On the Research Minute, Amber examined a virtual charter school’s impact on student achievement.
10. Accelerating learning post-pandemic, March 24
In 2021, Fordham released The Acceleration Imperative, a crowd-sourced school recovery plan written with input from practitioners and other experts to help educators and district leaders with post-pandemic challenges. On this episode, we hosted David Steiner, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, who explained how educators can accelerate learning to help students make up lost ground. He argued that remediation doesn’t close gaps, but that teaching targeted grade-level content can. Then Amber discussed approaches to measuring teacher quality at scale.