Happy Holidays From the Shanker Institute
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.
Public education, the labor movement, and democracy all shared the spotlight again in 2023.
In March of 2023, ASI and AFT president Randi Weingarten delivered a major speech at the National Press Club, In Defense of Public Education, calling attention to better meet the needs of students through community schools, experiential learning, renewing and reviving the teaching profession, and strengthening relationships among educators, families and communities.
The Albert Shanker Institute, in collaboration with former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education and professor of Childhood and Early Literacy at the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development Susan B. Neuman, published Reading Reform Across America—a Survey of State Legislation, a valuable contribution to the science of reading discussion across the country. Our report documents how state legislatures have reacted, or in some cases shaped, teaching and learning from 2019-2022. As shared in the initial release, the report identifies missing priority areas, like comprehensive supports for teachers and students, it also reveals a growing policy consensus about how to tackle reading reform in state legislatures, perhaps signaling an ebb in the perception of raging “reading wars.”
The most labor-friendly president in our nation’s history, high profile and successful strikes, and the incredible support for and appeal of labor unions in annual polling, have all added up to create a dynamic 2023 for workers—and a prologue to an ambitious 2024.
The Albert Shanker Institute was privileged to post the speech of ASI Board of Directors member and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler’s Inaugural State of the Unions address on our longstanding and well-regarded Shanker Blog on Labor Day 2023. President Shuler detailed the evidence of workers reclaiming their voice in the workplace and the power of collective action and solidarity. More workers are joining unions, more Americans are supporting unions, and more people are recognizing “it’s better in a union.”
Our democracy continues to require vigilance. In April the Albert Shanker Institute hosted U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, for a conversation: The Supreme Court, from Guardian of Rights to Extremist Majority. This dynamic and motivating conversation examined the dramatic right turn of the Supreme Court of the United States, from one that expanded rights and protections over time, to one that was striking down long-standing precedents and long-enduring laws, all combined to eliminate guarantees for many of our rights and freedoms.
2023 also saw shocking stories exposing unethical behavior by Supreme Court justices (thank you, investigative journalists). Attention by journalists and congress and public pressure combined to force the justices of the Supreme Court to adopt a voluntary Code of Ethics this fall. While this code is weak, it is proof that essential elements of democracy: a free press, checks and balances from another branch of the Federal government, and the voice of the populace, can work together to insist on integrity in our government.
That work together cannot, and will not, stop at the ethics needed from our Supreme Court justices. “It is not too late to preserve American democracy--yet,” as ASI and AFT president Randi Weingarten details in her latest “Where We Stand” column. The 2024 presidential election will be a referendum on our democracy. As Randi states, “the ability to thrive depends on pluralism and democracy.”
Democracy depends on public education and the ability of workers to join a union and have a collective voice on the job. The Albert Shanker Institute was founded 25 years ago and 2023 has been our Silver Anniversary year. Our commitment to strengthening public education, workers’ voices, and democracy remains as resolute as the day we were founded by the AFT to honor legendary leader Al Shanker. We urge you to take a look at highlights from our first 25 years.
It is with sadness that 2023 also marked the passing of long time Shanker board member Tom Donahue, a legendary labor leader and democracy advocate in his own right. Tom made extraordinary contributions to the labor movement and democracy, and we will always be deeply grateful for his lifetime of dedicated work and his service on the Shanker board.
Last but certainly not least, we want to thank a founding member of, and extraordinary colleague at the Shanker Institute, Burnie Bond, who this year stepped away as Director of Programs after 25 years at the Institute. Burnie has been dedicated to the labor movement, public education, and democracy work for her entire career and spear headed a wide range of projects at the Institute related to all three of the institute’s key issue areas of educational excellence and equity, unions as advocates for quality, and the support of democracy and democratic institutions, both at home and abroad. Burnie is a former staff assistant in the Office of AFT President Albert Shanker, where she served as coordinator of the AFT’s Education for Democracy Project, a program to promote a rigorous history and civics curriculum, and was formerly the director of research and publications for the International Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO, where she worked on international trade and labor rights issues. She also served on the 1992 Clinton Transition Team at the USIA. We will certainly miss her talents, dedication, fellowship, and friendship.
The staff and leaders of the Albert Shanker Institute wish you a happy holiday season and New Year. Stay close because we look forward to working with you to make progress in 2024.