Robert Pondiscio: Why Our Kids Can't Read

A former teacher says there are bigger problems in K-12 education than CRT and wokeness—and that school choice may not fix them.


I'm the father of two adult sons who are thankfully out of the K-12 educational system. I say thankfully because I found education inherently anxiety-inducing. Turning your kids over to a school for years is no simple thing and my own ambivalent memories as a student didn't help.

I'm pretty sure it's always been this way, but today it just seems at a fever pitch of awfulness. There's growing (and ineffective) per-pupil spending; lack of meaningful choice for many, if not most, parents and students; a lack of transparency and accountability; the lingering effects of COVID-related lockdowns; the rise of highly politicized curricula about everything from critical race theory (CRT) to gender and sexual orientation; and a return to fights over library books.

Today's guest is Robert Pondiscio, an education expert with the American Enterprise Institute who wrote How the Other Half Learns, a fantastic book about Success Academy, a controversial and highly effective charter school system based in New York City (watch my 2019 interview with him about that). What's more, he actually taught in a low-income public school in the South Bronx.

Pondiscio is going to add another worry to our list of concerns: Schools aren't teaching kids to read in any meaningful way. He's a strong advocate for all forms of school choice and reform, but he says choice itself is simply not enough to help the lower-income kids who can most benefit from a really good education.

We talk about all that, plus wokeness and a ton of other related topics. Let's call this episode "Everything You Wanted To Know About What's Wrong With K-12 Education But Were Too Afraid To Ask." It first ran as a Reason livestream at YouTube (watch here) and is cohosted by my colleague Zach Weissmueller.

Today's sponsors:

  • Lions of Liberty Podcast Network. Take your first step toward freedom by checking out one of the oldest libertarian/anarchist podcast networks in the world. On Mondays, John Odermatt delivers a powerful mix of inspiration, health, and faith to set your mind, body, and soul free with Finding Freedom. On Wednesdays, Brian McWilliams will make you laugh at our broken world while providing the promise of a better future with Mean Age DaydreamFriday's offerings include shows like Meme WarsHatewatch, and Libertarians in Living Rooms Drinking Liquor. Listen today at Lions of Liberty Network and everywhere podcasts are found. Past episodes featuring Nick Gillespie talking postmodernism and South Park and Rick and Morty are here and here.
  • The Reason Speakeasy. The Reason Speakeasy is a live, monthly, unscripted conversation with outspoken defenders of free thinking and heterodoxy in an age of cancel culture and thought police. The next one takes place in New York City on Monday, February 6, with Nick Gillespie interviewing Reason contributorUnHerd columnistFeminine Chaos podcaster, and mystery writer Kat Rosenfield about celebrities caving to woke critics, cancel culture, and her new novel You Must Remember This. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 and include beer, wine, soft drinks, and appetizers. For more details and to buy tickets, go here now.