District fragmentation is a very important but sometimes overlooked factor shaping school segregation, school funding equity, and the relationship between them. Put simply, fragmentation refers to the fact that, in some states, there are hundreds of small districts, while other states are divided into a smaller number of large districts. For example, at the extremes, there are 67 (countywide) districts serving Florida’s 3 million public school students, whereas New Jersey maintains around 600 districts for its 1.3 million students.
Our guest author is Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, author of "Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race and Democracy" and a member of the Albert Shanker Institute Board of Directors.
I was saddened to read of the death of Bob Edwards, who for 24 years hosted NPR’s Morning Edition with a mix of gravitas and wit. For people of a certain age, he was, said NPR’s Susan Stamberg, “the voice we woke up to.” The obituaries noted that when, in 2004, he was fired at age 57, just shy of his 25th anniversary at NPR, listeners erupted in outage.
I got to know Edwards very casually when we overlapped as board members of the Albert Shanker Institute, and he shared his views on the role of labor in a democratic society. NPR listeners loved Bob Edwards for his fundamental decency and respect for people of all backgrounds. Those values were at one with his belief in the importance of a strong American labor movement.
Democracy & Abortion Access: How Underrepresentation of Women in State Legislatures Threatens Freedom
Our guest author is Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
When the Supreme Court handed down the damaging decision of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, it did not just strip millions of people of their ability to control their own bodies and reproductive choices by ending the constitutional right to access an abortion. The Court also deepened the effects of long-standing, systemic efforts to silence the voices of women in our democracy.
Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs argues that women can redress the denial of their individual freedoms, such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade, by exercising electoral and political power at the state level. But his statement is disingenuous and rings hollow upon closer scrutiny of the actual data.
The National Partnership recently conducted an in-depth analysis of representation in state legislatures as it relates to abortion access, entitled Democracy & Abortion Access: State Legislatures’ Lack of Representation Threatens Freedoms. It highlights the fact that many of those states which are the most restrictive when it comes to curbing abortion rights are also the least representative of women in their state legislatures. The presence of greater gender representation within the membership of state legislatures is connected to stronger abortion protections and policies which advance reproductive justice for the residents of those states.
Our guest author is Carl Davis, Research Director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. He was the project lead on the newest edition of ITEP’s Who Pays? report, which provides the only comprehensive measure of the progressivity, or regressivity, of state tax systems.
The vast majority of state and local tax systems are regressive, or upside-down, with the wealthy paying a far lower share of their income in taxes than low-and middle-income families. That is the topline finding of the latest edition of our flagship Who Pays? report, which measures the impact that state tax systems are having on families at every income level. Its findings go a long way toward explaining why so many states are failing to raise the amount of revenue needed to provide full and robust support for our public schools.
As we explain in the report, states with more progressive tax systems also raise more revenue on average. States with regressive tax codes, on the other hand, typically raise less. The reason for this is simple. High-income families receive a huge share of overall income, so when states choose to tax that huge amount of income at lower rates than what everyone else pays, they’re inevitably going to struggle to raise adequate revenue overall.
As we celebrate 25 years of the founding of the Shanker Institute, we have enjoyed working alongside you again this year, providing you with insightful commentary on critical topics to strengthen public education, the labor movement, and democracy. Before taking some time off in anticipation of all that 2024 has in store, here is a brief year-in-review.
Our guest author is Kata Solow, Executive Director of the Goyen Foundation where she led its multi-year transformation process and created the Goyen Literacy Fellowship to recognize exceptional reading teachers. She is a former classroom educator, school administrator and field organizer.
Call it the Curriculum Champions vs. the Teacher Defenders.
Over the last four years, forty-six states have passed laws about reading instruction. While much of the mainstream coverage of these laws has focused on phonics, the actual legislation is much broader in scope.
As states have gotten more involved in reading instruction—even mandating certain reading curricula in some places—I’ve started to see a new battlefront open in the so-called “Reading Wars.” It's all about curriculum.
Our guest author is Sarah Johnson, a practicing public school educator in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She has taught in elementary classrooms, coached new teachers as a Peer Assistance and Review consulting teacher, served as an Academic Content Coach, led professional development on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and helped launch the Parent Teacher Home Visit project in Saint Paul Public Schools.
It’s October. For some that means apple orchards, leaf viewing, and pumpkin spice. For educators, it also brings Parent Teacher conferences . . and a dread of all the candy and unbridled enthusiasm for that last day of the month, but that’s a different blog. Over the years I’ve seen educators approach conferences with a variety of perspectives and approaches: some excited to update families on the new learning, some worried about how families might respond to a concern, and some exhausted from the preparation and longs days. Thankfully, it’s quite rare that some take Ted Lasso’s view, shared when he met Rebecca’s mom, “Boy, I love meeting people’s moms. It’s like reading an instruction manual as to why they’re nuts.”
During my 29 years as an educator in various roles in Saint Paul Public Schools, the approach I have learned is that meaningful family partnerships* are integral to student success. Cory Jones, one of the founding teachers of Parent Teacher Home Visits explains it like this, “With a great curriculum, with a great teacher, if you leave out the home the results for that individual student will be lower.” He’s right, families and schools need to be on the same team. This October, I’d like to encourage educators to take this parent-teacher season and challenge themselves to create opportunities for meaningful family engagement year-round. If you’re an educator leading a system instead of leading a classroom, then I challenge you to find ways of supporting and structuring these opportunities year-round as well.
Our guest author is Jeanne Jeup, co-founder and CEO of the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education and a former first-grade teacher.
Change starts at the top with legislation, a constant force shaping how teachers teach and students learn. Navigating the intricate path from the inception of legislation to its effective implementation within classrooms is a multifaceted and demanding endeavor. By nurturing collaboration among educators, administrators, and policymakers, a trickle-down effect is created that can successfully bridge the immense gap between policy and practice. The majority of states that enacted reading legislation in the past four years recognize the role of science and evidence in reading reform.
The legislative landscape in reading education is complex and multifaceted. Due to the combined efforts of educators, parents, and state leaders, there has been a movement toward science-based reading instruction. This push brought about an onslaught of legislation to address the persistent reading deficits of all American students, namely those living in poverty and those from black, brown, and indigenous communities who are disproportionately affected.
The journey of reading education legislation begins with policymakers and educational experts collaborating to draft bills and set expectations. Well-intentioned from the start, the challenge lies in ensuring that these laws, once passed, are effectively communicated and implemented throughout the education system at large. As these policies filter down through the layers of the education system, from the state level to the district level and finally to the classroom, interpretation and implementation can vary significantly. Without an educator on the local classroom level who can communicate and take ownership of the changes, legislation becomes just words on a page without being put into practice. This leads to a disconnect between the intent of the legislation and its real-world application through clear and actionable implementation solutions.
Our guest author is Jenn Kalata, an adult services library associate at Worthington Public Libraries and treasurer for Worthington Public Libraries United, Local #6606.
I work in a small library system in Worthington, Ohio, just north of Columbus. My colleagues and I have started sharing the latest book bans from around the country as a strange sort of bonding exercise. Although our community tends to be open to all sorts of materials, we have noticed an increase in book challenges. The director and building managers are wonderful at talking to these folks and getting them to reconsider, reminding them that our collections reflect our community. One librarian put together a display specifically to highlight banned books, and it has been a hit with patrons. It is always satisfying when I can grab a book from those shelves and put them into the hands of someone looking for a good book. However, I often find myself feeling like we are avoiding the worst, given the rise of book bannings happening all over the country.
When I began working in public libraries six years ago, the culture surrounding book bans was already shifting. At first, book bans seemed to stem primarily from particularly stalwart religious or far-right groups. At the private Roman Catholic School where I grew up, for instance, the irreverent Captain Underpants books were banned. In 2023, though, there is something far more insidious and frightening about the increasing vitriol of the current bans. They are far more frequent and the scope of what is being deemed inappropriate has widened far beyond commonly challenged books such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
On National Voter Registration Day, our special guest author is Rhode Island Secretary of State Gregg M. Amore.
Preparing our next generation of civic leaders, engaged voters, and informed citizens starts in the classroom. In Rhode Island, young people are eligible to pre-register to vote as early as age sixteen. We know that when voters are engaged early, they’re more likely to vote consistently throughout their life. As a former educator, I feel it is essential that we lay the foundation to support students and young people, encouraging them to become civically engaged – as voters, advocates, community members, and even elected officials themselves. As we recognize National Voter Registration Month, we must think about how we set our next generation of voters up for success, including inspiring and encouraging them to register to vote.
I was sworn in on January 3, 2023 as Rhode Island’s thirtieth Secretary of State, but my election as Secretary of State wasn’t my first step into politics. I first ran for elected office in 2012, serving the residents of my hometown of East Providence, Rhode Island as a State Representative for a decade. My role as a part-time legislator, coupled with my career as a civics and history teacher, afforded me the opportunity to advocate for my students both inside and outside of the school environment.
Perhaps one of my proudest moments as a Representative was the passage of the Civic Literacy Act, a bill I sponsored that emphasizes “action civics,” requiring students to demonstrate proficiency in civics education through a project-based, immersive curriculum before high school graduation. Another bill I was proud to sponsor that recently became law in Rhode Island allows 17-year-olds who will turn eighteen by a general election to vote in the primary that determines the general election’s candidates. Better civic education as well as increased access to the ballot box are key to encouraging young people to become lifelong voters.
My classroom and legislative experiences made clear to me what was needed in order to ensure that students have the tools they need to succeed as citizens and participants in civic life. There’s no doubt that the policy-making and legislative process can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never been invited to be part of the process before. As a teacher, I encouraged my students to take the concepts and lessons we learned in the classroom and apply them to the real world. In one of my last years in the House of Representatives, my East Providence High School students researched, discussed, and debated an issue of importance to them, compensation for individuals who had been wrongfully convicted, eventually helping to inform a bill that I was able to co-sponsor. That bill was signed into law by the governor – a great outcome. But another positive outcome was that my students got to see that the State House wasn’t only for legislators, and they could truly make a difference by being civically engaged.