K12 education has long been an EconTalk theme, and in this episode, host Russ Roberts welcomed author, teacher, ad education reformer Robert Pondiscio. Pondiscio shared his experience both as a second-career inner city teacher and a year spent in one of the (in)famous Success Academy charter schools in New York City.

Pondiscio introduces his work by saying he occupies a strange place in the education policy sphere, focusing on what kids do all day rather than the structure and institutions of schooling. He rejects the common assumption we only need to measure outcomes. So what should our elementary schools focus on? And how- and who- should we prepare to teach in them? We’re sure this conversation arouses strong feelings in a lot of you, and we’d love to hear about it! Use the prompts below, or simply tell us, as Roberts asks Pondiscio at the end of the conversation, about any of your own priors that may have changed after listening.



1- Throughout the conversation, the theme of how schools of education do a disservice to the teachers in training continues to emerge. What is Pondiscio’s biggest criticism of what is and is not taught in pre-service teacher programs? What’s your reaction to Pondiscio’s avowed love for a prescribed curriculum?


2- Much of the conversation was about Pondiscio’s experience at Success Academy, and leaves us with lots of questions. What are some of the things that make the chain so controversial? Success Academy students share many of the same advantages of suburban kids, according to both Roberts and Pondiscio. Do you agree? Is this fair? What about the downstream effects on public schools, which Pondiscio readily acknowledges?


3- Pondiscio likens teaching reading as using either a mirror or a window. What does he mean when he says, “The problem is if you’re not leading kids to the stuff they don’t know about, you’re kind of forcing mediocrity upon them. You’re limiting their literacy,”and what does it suggest about what literacy really means?


4- What makes the parent experience at Success Academies so unique? How does this compare to your own experience? Why DON’T we have more expectations of parents with regard to elementary education generally?


5- What are the challenges with scalability for schools such as Success Academies? Should schools focus on getting the best teachers or making teaching accessible to average people? (Consider the McDonald’s analogy offered by Roberts in the conversation.)