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  • A Tribute To Nat LaCour

    by Norman Hill & Velma Murphy Hill on October 27, 2020

    Our guest authors today are Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill. Norman Hill, staff coordinator of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is president emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Velma Hill, a former vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is also the former civil and human rights director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

    “Try to leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best.” - Robert Baden-Powell

    No words in any earthly language can adequately express our aching sorrow and heartbreak upon learning of the recent passing of our dear, dear friend and colleague, Nat LaCour. Yet, we must—as he would urge in all things—do our best, and so, in that light, we humbly offer tribute to this remarkable man and his undying legacy.

    At this time of both grief and celebration of Nat’s long and fruitful life, we add our voices to the great chorus of sympathies pouring forth to cherish his memory. We particularly extend a special embrace and comfort to Connie, Nat’s wife and true partner, and their children.

    The world, as we know and love it, will never be the same without Nat’s steady, tireless hand guiding and protecting progress for the many; all the while, illuminating the way with his reassuring smile.

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  • Putin Won. Will He Again?

    by Eric Chenoweth on October 22, 2020

    Our guest author today is Eric Chenoweth, director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe.

    Over the past four years, an authoritarian-minded president has posed a continuous challenge to American democracy.1 With electoral victory in doubt in the 2020 presidential election, he now even refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and openly states that he is stacking the Supreme Court in order to determine a contested outcome in his favor. 

    But an equally serious constitutional challenge has been obscured in the tumult of the 2020 presidential campaign. The republic’s democratic institutions have failed to respond to a hostile foreign power’s ongoing intervention in American politics and the outcome of its presidential elections. Despite all the attention given Russia’s efforts in 2016, no significant bipartisan action was ever taken sufficient to deter Russia from its ongoing active measures operations. 

    The reasons for this failure are as alarming as when the American public was first presented information of Russia’s interference.

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  • In Memoriam: Nat LaCour

    by Burnie Bond on October 13, 2020

    It is with great sadness that we report the death of Nat LaCour, one of the founders of the Albert Shanker Institute. He was 82. Nat was a giant of a man, who served as a mentor and an inspiration to many of those whose lives he touched.

    The son of a shipyard worker and a school cafeteria employee, Nat attended Southern University, a historically black public university in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he began his participation in the Civil Rights Movement. He graduated in 1960 with a B.S. and Master's in Biology. He began his first day of work as a New Orleans high school biology teacher on January 3,1961—four months late because of citywide disruptions over school integration. One of his first actions was to sign up with a local union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 527, which he knew was in full support of integration. 

    In 1972, the predominantly white Orleans Educators Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, and AFT Local 527 merged to form United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), electing Nat LaCour as its first president. That year, Nat was also elected to serve as a national AFT Vice President and a member of the AFT Executive Board. 

    The merger of the two unions led to the solidarity necessary to win collective bargaining rights in 1974 for all teachers in New Orleans. UTNO became the first teachers' union in the Deep South to win a contract through collective bargaining, largely helped by Nat’s campaign to gain parent and community support. Over 20,000 signatures by citizens supported collective bargaining rights for teachers in Orleans Parish.

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  • How Much Segregation Is There Within Schools?

    by Matthew Di Carlo on October 8, 2020

    Our national discourse on school segregation, whether income- or race-/ethnicity-based, tends to focus on the separation of students between schools within districts. There are good reasons for this, including the fact that the majority of desegregation efforts have been within-district efforts. Sometimes lost in this focus, however, is the importance of segregation between districts.

    This distinction can be confusing, so consider a large metro area with a central city district surrounded by a group of suburban districts. There may be extensive racial/ethnic segregation of students between schools within those districts, with students of color concentrated in some schools and their White peers concentrated in others. But total segregation across the entire metro area is also a function of segregation between districts - i.e., the degree to which students of certain races or ethnicities are concentrated in some districts and not others (e.g., students of color in the city, white students in the suburbs). In a sense, if we view diversity as a resource, there are multiple "chokepoints" at which that resource is distributed down to the next level—from states to metro areas to districts to schools—and this can exacerbate segregation.

    recent working paper provides one of relatively few pieces of recent evidence suggesting that, in addition to racial and ethnic segregation between districts and between schools within districts, there may be an additional important "layer": segregation within schools.

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  • Co-Teaching For Emerging Bilingual Learners: Theory And Practice

    by Lauren Schneider on September 30, 2020

    Co-teaching is an education buzzword frequently used in the context of instruction for students with special needs or English Language Learners (ELLs). When implemented thoughtfully and intentionally, co-teaching can be highly effective at meeting the unique needs of all learners. In this post, I will focus on co-teaching for English Language Learners, to whom I will refer to as “Emerging Bilingual Learners (EBLs), a more accurate label that highlights the assets these learners bring to the classroom. 

    My argument, which is supported by research and my own professional experience, is that co-teaching is a particularly effective method for EBLs when one teacher is trained to meet the language needs of EBLs (and all learners) and the other focuses on grade level standards. Using co-teaching models, language is not the end goal, but rather a vehicle that enables EBLs to gain understanding of grade level content. The focus is not solely on the language that students are developing but rather on the academic content all students must acquire. This is important because it does not stigmatize students and it levels the playing field for each learner.

    Not only does this inclusive model of teaching focus on the assets of every child, but it provides a more diverse learning environment while building trusting relationships amongst students' peers and teachers. The co-teaching model can be instrumental to fostering a greater sense of community within the classroom. Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995) stresses the importance of instilling community pride into a classroom, where teachers and students have a reciprocal autonomous relationship. EBLs need to feel a deep sense of belonging in order to be willing to take risks and make mistakes.

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  • In Memoriam: David K. Cohen

    by Burnie Bond on September 28, 2020

    We are devastated to report the death of David K. Cohen, a founding member of the Albert Shanker Institute’s board of directors who honored us with his service for 20 years. David was a gifted teacher, a brilliant scholar, and an absolute mensch. He was an inspiration and mentor to his colleagues and the many students he taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Michigan State University, and the University of Michigan, and the many students they in turn will touch. 

    David was the John Dewey Collegiate Professor of Education Emeritus and Professor of Public Policy Emeritus at the Graduate School of Education and the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. For the past five years, he served as a visiting faculty member at Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he had been a tenured faculty member from 1971 until 1984. He also served as  president of The Huron Institute (1971-86). He then served as the John Hannah Chair at Michigan State Universitys College of Education (1984-93) before coming to the University of Michigan.

    Prior to his academic career, David was a consultant on schools and race to the general counsel of the NAACP (1964-66) and then director of the Race and Education Project for U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1966-67), where his research established how Northern states preserved segregation by redrawing school district boundaries and how early federal funds for under-resourced schools did not greatly improve instruction.

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  • In Memoriam: Edith Gerber Shanker

    by Burnie Bond on September 21, 2020

    We are very sorry to report that Edith Gerber Shanker, or Eadie to her friends, passed away on September 19, 2020. She was a great lady whose voice, intellect and energy will be sorely missed.

    Born in 1933 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Eadie was just a year and a half old when her mother died. Her father died when she was seven, and she and her siblings were placed in orphanages and then a foster home together. When she was old enough, she worked herself through New York’s City College, while supporting herself as a waitress. After beginning a Masters degree in English literature, she decided to become a teacher. 

    She began teaching English at Junior High School 126 in Queens, NY, when, in September 1959, she went to a meeting to hear Albert Shanker speak. Al (who would eventually become the president of both the United Federation of Teachers and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers), recruited her to join the New York Teachers Guild, a precursor of the UFT. She became a union activist and served as a delegate at the UFT’s founding. She was also named as a picket captain in the UFT’s first strike in November 1960. Although the union only represented a small proportion of teachers, the strike caused enough of a disruption that the UFT eventually became the first teachers union in the nation to gain collective bargaining.

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  • Strikes And Power: Reflections On The "Black Lives Matter" Strike Of NBA Players

    by Leo Casey on September 11, 2020

    The NBA players "Black Lives Matter" strike has been criticized by some on the left, suggesting that the "radical action" of the players was co-opted by the "neo-liberal" Barack Obama, much of it riffing off the discussions described in this article. This criticism makes me wonder about the depth of understanding of how strikes and collective action operate. And behind that lack of understanding are some naïve conceptions of power—what it is, of how it is built, and how it can be used.

    Strikes are one form of collective action, an organized withdrawal of labor. The strike is designed to generate leverage that can compel action on the part of other actors—almost always, an employer. (Strikes can also be against the government, but most often they are against the government as employer—think of the Teacher Spring Strikes or safety strikes against government compelling teachers to provide in-person education in unsafe conditions.) Consequently, strikes almost always come with specific demands, and the leverage they generate is used to achieve as much of those demands as is feasible.

    Strikes can have a symbolic component, an assertion of dignity by the strikers. Think, for example, of the 1968 sanitation workers strike in Memphis, with the famous picket sign "I Am A Man." (Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 while supporting that strike.) The most powerful strikes have this component. But the symbolic component of a strike does not exist on its own: it rests on the foundation of the actual demands. In the case of the Memphis sanitation strike, the demands about the terms and conditions of work gave meaning and content to the assertion of dignity. Once this symbolic statement has been made, a decision to remain on strike should be based on what can be done to create maximum leverage and win as much of the demands as possible.

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  • Research And Evidence Can Help Guide Teachers During The Pandemic

    by Sara Kerr & Nate Schwartz on September 2, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guests today are Sara Kerr, Vice President of Education Policy Implementation at Results for America, and Nate Schwartz, Professor of Practice at Brown Universitys Annenberg Institute for School Reform. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    Teachers are used to playing many different roles, but this year they are facing the most complex challenges of their careers. They are being asked to be public health experts. Tech support specialists. Social workers to families reeling from the effects of layoffs and illness. Masters of distance learning and trauma-responsive educational practices. And they are being asked to take on these new responsibilities against a backdrop of rising COVID-19 cases in many parts of the country, looming budget cuts for many school districts, and a hyper-polarized political debate over the return to school.

    To make any of this possible, educators need to be armed with the best available science, data, and evidence, not only about the operational challenges of reopening that have dominated the news cycle but also about how to to meet the increasingly complex social-emotional and academic needs of students and their families. They dont have time to sift through decades of academic papers for answers. Fortunately, the nations education researchers are eager and ready to help.

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  • A Black Policeman's Sister On Police Reform And Police Unions

    by Burnie Bond on August 27, 2020

    My late brother was a police officer and, before his retirement, our late grandfather was the Acting Commissioner of Public Safety in the U.S. Virgin Islands. So it’s fair to say that I come from a police friendly family. Before coming to work for the Shanker Institute and before that, the AFT, I worked for the AFL-CIO alongside trade unionists from all trades and professions. So it makes it all the more painful to see the asinine responses that police unions have had to charges of police bias and brutality toward African Americans, especially since these charges can so easily be proven to be valid (see hereherehere and here). And, as the mother of a Black male teen, I am terrified to send him out into the world where his very existence may be seen as a threat (see herehere and here).

    One of ironies here is that recent calls to “defund the police” and “reform the police,” if executed with rational foresight, would actually go a long way to making the job easier for rank and file police officers. I remember my brother telling me that the call he hated the very most was responding to a person who was having a psychiatric episode. He thought that breaking up a fight or a robbery or even a murder would be preferable, because he had been trained how to respond in those situations. With mental instability, he had no clue: Should he try to talk them down? If they were violent, what was the proper use of force? How should he defend himself and others? Or should he just wait for medical personnel to arrive? In every case, he had to play it by ear. The call to “defund the police” is not actually a call to abolish police departments, as some on the Right have claimed. Instead, it’s a proposal to move some police funding to other municipal agencies that have more expertise in addressing the social ills that are now dumped on police departments as a last resort—such as mental disability, homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse, etc. The proposal, then, is to strengthen local social services to the point that they can relieve police forces of some of the functions that they are disastrously ill equipped to handle.

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