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  • Our Profession Requires Hope, Now And Ever Since

    by José Luis Vilson on May 19, 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 contributor today is José Luis Vilson, a math educator for a middle school in the Inwood/Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. He publishes regularly on his own site. Otherposts in the series are compiled here. 

    On most mornings, I tweet a good morning message intended to share my intentions for the day and the work ahead of me. People usually receive it well because they understand I’ve worked at a school that serves marginalized students in underserved communities for the better part of 15 years. On occasion, I have to remind the occasional tweeter how important this context is in the midst of my more optimistic tweets. In many people’s minds, rage and fury are necessary accouterments for activists where positivity and smiles look like tools of the apparat. To express any form of affirmative outlook is to betray the ideals of disruption to the status quo. 

    Yet, teaching in our most dire contexts necessitates hope, and this is no more evident than in what we’ve dubbed “remote learning.” In New York City, we’ve now entered two months of correspondence with peers and students through the Internet and called this process schooling. For years, we understood school as compulsory, inequitable, and vital to the very environment that created these conditions. More learning begets unlearning. More education presumably leads to more engaged citizens who would create a better world for their children than we did for ours. Many of us follow this principle in systems deeply antagonistic to these goals. 

    When our government asked the nation’s largest public-school system to flip our entire system, we did so dutifully. Yet most of us knew that such a transition would exacerbate the already entrenched inequities in our system.

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  • Why School Climate Matters For Teachers And Students

    by Matthew A. Kraft & Grace T. Falken on May 18, 2020

    Our guest authors today are Mathew A. Kraft, associate professor of education and economics at Brown University, and Grace T. Falken, a research program associate at Brown’s Annenberg Institute. This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of The State Education Standard, the journal of the National Association of State Boards of Education.

    Over the past decade, education reformers have focused much of their attention on raising teacher quality. This makes sense, given the well-evidenced, large impacts teachers have on student outcomes and the wide variation in teacher effectiveness, even within the same school (Goldhaber 2015Jackson et al. 2014). Yet this focus on individual teachers has caused policymakers to lose sight of the importance of the organizational contexts in which teachers work and students learn. 

    The quality of a school’s teaching staff is greater than the sum of its parts. School environments can enable teachers to perform to their fullest potential or undercut their efforts to do so. 

    When we think of work environments, we often envision physical features: school facilities, instructional resources, and the surrounding neighborhood. State and district policies that shape curriculum standards, class size, and compensation also come to mind. These things matter, but so do school climate factors that are less easily observed or measured. Teachers’ day-to-day experiences are influenced most directly by the culture and interpersonal environment of their schools.

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  • Educational Equity During A Pandemic

    by Peter Levine on May 14, 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 contributor today is Peter Levine, Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship at Tufts UniversityTisch College of Civic Life. He blogs regularly on his own site. Posts in the series will be compiled here.

    My wife and I have each spent many hours teaching by video this spring. While sitting in the same house, I meet online with college students who attend a selective private university; she meets with 5-to-9-year olds in an urban public school system, helping them learn to read. 

    Both of us think and worry about equity: how to treat all students fairly within our respective institutions and across the whole country (even the world). And both of us discuss these issues with our respective colleagues. I suspect that many other educators are similarly wrestling with the challenges of teaching equitably while schools are closed. 

    Before the pandemic, schools were already dramatically inequitable. In our state of Massachusetts, total expenditures per pupil vary from $14,000 to $31,000 among regular school districts. But the worst-funded Massachusetts district still allocates twice as much per student as Utah does. In Uganda, the government spends $2.12 per student per year on education (although many families spend more).

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  • What's Next For Schools After Coronavirus? Here Are 5 Big Issues And Opportunities

    by Andy Hargreaves on May 6, 2020

    This is post is our first in a new blog 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 contributor today is Andy Hargreaves who is Research Professor at Boston College. This blog post originally appeared in The Conversation. Future posts in the series will be compiled here

    No schools, no exams, more online learning and parents in COVID-19 lockdown with their kids. What a mess!

    People are responding heroically. Some parents are working from home, others have lost their jobs and teachers are creating an entire new way of doing their jobs — not to mention the kids themselves, stuck inside without their friends. Somehow, we will get through this. When we do, how will things look when school starts again? 

    One of my university projects connects and supports the education leaders of six countries and two Canadian provinces to advance humanitarian values, including in their responses to COVID-19

    From communication with these leaders, and drawing on my project team’s expertise in educational leadership and large-scale change, here are five big and lasting issues and opportunities that we anticipate will surface once school starts again.

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  • The Early Years Of The New York City Teachers Union

    by Leo Casey on April 30, 2020

    New York Citys Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation (GVSHP) has published an appeal to grant protected landmark status to the “12-story Beaux Arts style office building” at 70 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The building was built in 1912 for George Arthur Plimpton, a publisher of education textbooks, a collector of rare books, a philanthropist and a peace activist. For many years, the GVSHP tells us, the building was a haven for radicals and liberals.” I immediately recognized the address as that of the offices of the New York City Teachers Union (TU) for two decades. There is an intriguing story behind that address and the Teachers Union, and it provides a revealing window into the political history of early teacher unionism.

    In the same year as 70 Fifth Avenue was built, Henry Linville and a small number of New York City teacher comrades launched a publication, The American Teacher, to report on the economic and professional status of the educator workforce and the politics of American public education. Linville was a biology teacher of some note with a Ph.D. from Harvard; one can still find copies of influential science textbooks he authored. He was a democratic socialist and pacifist who had a particularly close relationship with Norman Thomas, the longtime leader of the Socialist Party. The two worked together in an unsuccessful effort to oppose American involvement in World War I.

    In the early twentieth century, there was a great deal of trans-Atlantic cross-fertilization between British and American leftists, with London and New York as the two intellectual centers in this exchange of ideas. From the Womens Trade Union League and the settlement house movement to Fabian Society proposals for reform and the idea of labor party, from anti-imperialist support of Irish and Indian independence to militant suffragist tactics and campaigns for birth control, sex education and the decriminalization of gay sex, New Yorkers often drew inspiration from their British counterparts. The American Teacher followed the development of the National Union of Teachers in the United Kingdom, and New York teachers on the left increasingly looked to it as a model of what could be done in the United States.

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  • The Crucial Role Of State Policy In The Impending School Budget Crisis

    by Matthew Di Carlo on April 29, 2020

    Last week, we published a report on the probable implications of the coronavirus pandemic for K-12 education funding. My co-author Bruce Baker and I present a bunch of data on the impact of the 2007-09 "Great Recession" on education funding, as well as outcomes illustrating states' responses to the budget crisis caused by the recession. Using insights from these descriptive analyses, we offer a set of recommendations for minimizing the harm of the coronavirus recession on school budgets. 

    I won't go through our findings and recommendations individually; you can download the full report, or read the executive summary. I do want to discuss on one overarching theme of the recommendations, and it's very simple: any truly effective response to the impending budgetary crisis cannot consist solely of a federal assistance package. The way states fund public schools has to change, with a forward-thinking focus on faster recovery from this crisis as well as systems better equipped to handle future crises. Chess rather than checkers.

    To be clear, federal funding will be absolutely crucial in smoothing the large decreases in revenue that will occur. Without this federal help, there will likely be cuts to school budgets (and those of other public services) so severe that recovery in many states may be a matter of decades rather than years. Moreover, districts serving larger shares of disadvantaged students will bear a disproportionate amount of the harm. Accordingly, we recommend that federal funds be drawn out in two "phases" over a 5-7 year period, and that states be required to distribute them in a manner that targets assistance to those districts that need it the most. But this won't be enough.

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  • The Inequities Of AP And SAT Exams Amid Covid-19

    by Emilee O'Brien on March 25, 2020

    Last week, The College Board announced plans to develop at-home AP Exams while the May SAT will be postponed until until further notice. In contrast, President Trump announced on March 20th that the U.S. Department of Education will not require state standardized testing in public schools for students in elementary through high school. Now that the federal government has relaxed state testing for the 2019-2020 school year, it is time to rethink the standardized test structure for college admissions-focused tests, such as AP Exams, the SAT, and the ACT. Eliminating or postponing these tests must be done through a lens of equity and resource allocation. 

    While innovation in instruction and learning is happening daily, the transition to virtual learning also has the potential to exacerbate two existing inequities and opportunity gaps that surround standardized testing, particularly those resulting from the SAT, ACT, and AP exams. The first inequity is lack of access to internet based learning platforms. Unfortunately, the transition to online learning has already proven the glaring reality of the digital divide and illuminated barriers to educational opportunity in terms of access to broadband for students who are not equipped with Wi-fi at home. Libraries and community centers that would have been a resource for students to access Wi-fi for test preparation, are now closed. If AP Exams and SAT testing are moved online, not all students will have consistent internet access to the virtual lessons that can help prepare them for the tests, let alone access to the tests themselves in a web-based format. 

    The second existing inequity, made more evident in the transition to online learning, is the issue of access to effective test-prep. Standardized tests such as the SAT and AP exams are gatekeeping tests that have long made clear the presence of opportunity gaps and unequal resources, including access to extensive test preparation programs, tutors, and quality academic coursework. SAT performance is more of an indicator of a student’s socio-economic status and zip code than an indicator of future college success. When The College Board announced that they would consider a move to online operations at the end of the spring term, backlash from students and teachers was swift. Criticism focused on potential inequities that standardized testing from home would perpetuate, including concerns about unequal access to quality digital learning to prepare for testing.

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  • Education Must Be Part Of Our Coronavirus Response

    by Stan Litow on March 19, 2020

    Our guest author today is Stanley Litow, Professor at Duke and Columbia Universities, where he teaches about the role of corporations in society, and the author of The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward. He formerly led Corporate Social Responsibility at IBM, where he was twice selected as CEO of the Year by Corporate Responsibility Magazine.

    Americans are doing their best to cope with coronavirus and the disruption and healthcare emergency it has caused in all of our lives. We are in the midst of a crisis we have not experienced over many generations. The impact on our economy will be cataclysmic, affecting all Americans in all states and territories. Millions of jobs are at risk, along with savings and retirements. But as horrific as this event is (and it is clearly not over), a coordinated response and massive spending from local, state, and federal governments can help to mitigate the disaster and speed recovery. Whether it takes months or years, we will experience a recovery. And while the economic disruption will last for a very long time, the educational disruption is likely to last much longer. A generation of America's children have seen their educations thrown into chaos and we will need a response equal to, and perhaps greater than, what our governments are now doing.

    With little time for preparation or planning, just months before the end of the school year, schools across the nation were abruptly forced to close. While some parents are attempting to continue their children's learning opportunities at home, the vast majority of American children are receiving little to no educational support. School districts across the nation have also started to deliver some hastily produced classes online, but families at the bottom of the economic system often have no access to technology or internet access, making the challenge almost impossible. In addition, most other educational entities have been closed: public libraries, museums, after-school programs, and not-for-profit social services agencies, etc., leaving impoverished families with few viable options, even for public access to online schooling. 

    When our schools reopen, as they ultimately will, and the economic and health crises have begun to improve, our schools will still need a focused, sustained, and elevated national response, and it must have the support of all Americans and every segment of society. The 2020-21 school year will be a test for our nation.

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  • A Champion Of Democracy: Clifford B. Janey (1946–2020)

    by Richard D. Kahlenberg on February 27, 2020

    Our guest author today is Rick Kahlenberg, Director of K-12 Equity and Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation and member of the Shanker Institute Board of Directors. This piece originally appeared on TCF's website, and has been reprinted with the author's permission.

    More than any other school superintendent I have ever met, Clifford B. Janey believed in democracy. While it might be easier to run a school system in a top-down, autocratic fashion, he knew that doing so would send a terrible message to the students who were closely watching how the adults around them behaved. Dr. Janey, who died earlier this month, was the superintendent of schools in Rochester, New York (1995–2002), Washington, D.C. (2004–2007), and Newark, New Jersey (2008–2011); and everywhere he went, he made sure that democracy was at the center of the education that children experienced. 

    Embodying Inclusivity and Equity 

    I came to know Cliff when we served together on the board of the Albert Shanker Institute, a progressive think tank associated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Like Al Shanker, the president of the AFT from 1974 to 1997, Cliff could hardly have a conversation about education without talking about democratic values. In that sense, he was the mirror opposite of his successor in Washington, D.C., Michelle Rhee, who was often autocratic, and who and famously invited a camera crew to film her firing a school official.

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  • Interpreting School Finance Measures

    by Matthew Di Carlo on February 20, 2020

    Last week we released the second edition of our annual report, "The Adequacy and Fairness of State School Finance Systems," which presents key findings from the School Finance Indicators Database (SFID). The SFID, released by the Shanker Institute and Rutgers Graduate School of Education (with my colleagues and co-authors Bruce Baker and Mark Weber), is a free collection of sophisticated finance measures that are designed to be accessible to the public. At the SFID website, you can read the summary of our findings, download the full report and datasets, or use our online data visualization tools.

    The long and short of the report is that states vary pretty extensively, but most fund their schools either non-progressively (rich and poor districts receive roughly the same amount of revenue) or regressively (rich districts actually receive more revenue), and that, in the vast majority of states, funding levels are inadequate in all but the most affluent districts (in many cases due to a lack of effort).

    One of the difficulties in producing this annual report is that the our "core" measures upon which we focus (effort, adequacy, and progressivity) are state-level, and it's not easy to get attention for your research report when you basically have 51 different sets of results. One option is assigning states grades, like a school report card. Often, this is perfectly defensible and useful. We decided against it, not only because assigning grades would entail many arbitrary decisions (e.g., where to set the thresholds), but also because assigning grades or ratings would risk obscuring some of the most useful conclusions from our data. Let's take a quick look at an example of how this works.

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