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  • Can It Happen Here? Donald Trump And The Fracturing Of America's Constitutional Order

    by Eric Chenoweth on June 29, 2020

    Our guest author today is Eric Chenoweth, co-director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe and principal author of the Albert Shanker Institute’s Democracy Web, an extra-curricular resource for teachers. 

    “The main thing is, they’re talking about us.”
    Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries, 1932-34

    Comparing Trump’s presidency with past fascist regimes, and particularly that of Hitler’s Germany, is generally seen as partisan hyperbole. Past warnings of a Nazi-like leader taking hold in America — like Sinclair Lewis’s ironically titled It Can’t Happen Here — were belied by history. America’s constitutional system can withstand even Trump. Can’t it?

    The Trump presidency is certainly not the emergent Third Reich. Adolf Hitler, once handed power, acted swiftly to supplant the existing constitution by emergency decree, directed widespread repression against political opponents, purged Jews from state institutions, and held elections and referenda under conditions of mass intimidation to cement Nazi rule. By contrast, America saw three years of generally unhindered political opposition, media criticism, and free (if flawed) elections in which an opposition party made serious gains. 

    Yet events keep giving resonance to the warnings about Donald Trump’s rise to power. In response to national protests and unrest over brutal police violence against African Americans, Trump had peaceful demonstrators in front of the White House attacked and ordered the military to “expand the battlespace” to U.S. soil. What is happening here?

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  • Marie Kondo The Curriculum

    by Jal Mehta & Shanna Peeples on June 25, 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 Jal Mehta and Shanna Peeples. Mehta is Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the author, most recently, with Sarah Fine, of In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. Peeples is the 2015 National Teacher of the Year and the author of Think Like Socrates: Using Questions to Invite Wonder & Empathy Into the Classroom. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    As we turn our eye towards next year, there is increasing concern about “catching students up,” particularly those students who are presumed to have done the least learning during quarantine. This might mean summer school, double blocks of reading and math, and high doses of remediation.

    We have a different suggestion. Marie Kondo the curriculum.

    As everyone now knows, Marie Kondo is the Japanese cleaning expert who showed you how to declutter your home by keeping only the items that bring joy.

    The curriculum is as overstuffed as most American houses. Curriculums are often decided by committees, who have different views of what is important, and they compromise by giving every faction some of what they want. The result is a curriculum with too many topics and too little depth. When Jal and Sarah Fine wrote their book on deeper learning, teachers said that district pacing guides are one of the top three factors that limited their ability to engage in deep learning (teacher evaluations and state tests are the others). Conversely, students said that almost every memorable or powerful learning experience came when they had the time and space to go deeper. Thus there are sound educational reasons to thin the curriculum, and some leading jurisdictions around the world, like British Columbia, are already moving in that direction.

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  • School Organizational Practices And The Challenges Of Remote Teaching During A Pandemic

    by Matthew A. Kraft & Nicole S. Simon on June 24, 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 Matthew A. Kraft, Associate Professor of Education and Economics at Brown University and Research Director at Upbeat, and Nicole S. Simon, director in the Office of K-16 Initiatives at the City University of New York. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered schools across the United States, upending traditional approaches to education. The health threats posed by the Coronavirus, a sudden shift to remote teaching, and added caretaking responsibilities at home have created a uniquely stressful and demanding context for teachers’ work. Major concerns exist about teachers’ wellbeing during the pandemic and their ability to successfully deliver instruction remotely. Teachers have also expressed apprehension about their willingness to return to the classroom when schools are able to reopen. Even more troubling are projections of substantial student learning loss and the likelihood that differential access to technology and learning supports at home are exacerbating longstanding achievement gaps along racial and socio-economic lines. 

    We developed the “Teaching From Home Survey” for Upbeat to support districts in better understanding and responding to teachers’ experience in working remotely. Between April 27 and May 26, 2020, a diverse sample of 7,195 teachers working across nine southern, midwestern and eastern states answered the survey. 78% of teachers responded to the survey, including teachers working across 8 districts and 3 charter school networks in rural, suburban, and urban areas. Our analyses complement and extend recent findings by smaller, nationally representative surveys by USA Today, Educators for Excellence, Ed Week, and RAND. The large and diverse sample of respondents allow us to explore how teachers’ experiences working remotely differ across both individual and school characteristics.

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  • All You Need Is Love (In The Time Of COVID-19)

    by Susan B. Neuman on June 16, 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 guest today is Susan B. Neuman, Professor of Early Childhood & Literacy Education, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, & Human Development at New York University. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    I know this is a strange title at a time of crisis. But as the Beatles would say, “There’s nothing you can do that can't be done,” and with that spirit in mind, sometimes a crisis, or in this case, crises can give us a fresh perspective, a new way of thinking about an old topic.

    The topic I refer to is reading, which is the subject of an excellent series of articles in the American Educator, the AFT’s magazine. In this series there are articles about the importance of educator knowledge, choosing the right texts for children to read, building background knowledge, bilingualism, and the research base of reading. All important topics. And all related to what is now described as the “science of reading.” The notion is that if we teach the right skills, at the right time, and give children the right books in the right language, then children will read and achieve, right?

    I wish it were so. But after years of pendulum-shifting this way and that way, from skills-based, whole language, scientifically-based, balanced, and now the science of reading, we have made strikingly little progress in closing the reading gap, particularly for those come from economically distressed communities. Today, our children are in more danger of learning loss than ever before, and with the understanding that “nothing you can make that can’t be made,” it’s time to consider a fresh perspective about reading.

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  • The Pandemic And Cultural Scripts Of School-Family Relationships

    by Sherman Dorn on June 11, 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 guest today is Sherman Dorn, director of the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College of Arizona State University. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    In the last recession, the federal government used the desperation of states as a lever (or maybe a fiscal piston) to push changes in state-level policy. Money and flexibility on NCLBs mandates came with requirements. That last wave of school reform brought the Common Core State Standards, attacks on teachers and their unions, two giant state testing consortiums, and attempts to tie teacher careers to student test scores. 

    That prior reform wave did not help schools prepare for a pandemic or its aftermath.

    And yet it looks like we have yet another cycle of schools-must-change rhetoric. There is now a little industry devoted to hot-takes about how this is the end of X as we know it,” and there are plenty of entries in education, such as those from Conor WilliamsDavid Mansouri, and Diane Ravitch -- as well as political calls for an education rethink” from federal Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

    From politicians especially, this rhetoric leaves me with the impression that they are trying to cover wishful thinking of different sorts with the facade of deep thought.

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  • The Pandemic And Federal Education Policy: From The Race To The Top To The Plunge To The Bottom

    by Stan Karp on June 9, 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 guest today is Stan Karp, a Rethinking Schools editor who also taught English and Journalism to high school students in Paterson, New Jersey for 30 years, and is currently Director of the Secondary Reform Project for New Jersey's Education Law Center. This an edited version of a piece posted by Rethinking Schools. The full version is here. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    In 2009, federal intervention during the last financial crisis gave rise to the Obama administration’s signature education initiative: the Race to the Top (RTTT). Created with $4.3 billion from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, RTTT weaponized its forerunner, the No Child Left Behind Act, and led to new levels of assault on unions, the teaching profession, and public schools, and to a decade of damaging privatization. 

    It took years of resistance, pushback, and policy failures to turn the tide. NCLB and RTTT were ultimately unsustainable and failed to deliver on their promises. As the 2018 Red for Ed teacher strike wave and the early stages of the 2020 presidential campaign showed, resistance and activism helped shift the focus of national education politics from charters and tests to school funding and teacher salaries. Mobilized, militant teachers became the voices of communities digging out from decades of austerity, and support for public education was again on the rise.

    But now the Trump pandemic and the lethal fiasco of the response by U.S. economic and political institutions have remade the education landscape again. We are back in shock doctrine, disaster capitalism territory and public schools are again in the crosshairs.

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  • Five Things Not To Do When Schools Re-open

    by Pasi Sahlberg on June 3, 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 guest today is Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Education Policy at the Gonski Institute at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    So much has been said already about teaching and learning during the Covid-19 pandemic that it is hard to say something new. More focus on social and emotional learning, student and teacher wellbeing, authentic assessments, distance learning with technology, relationships in schools and recess during school days. Fewer high-stakes standardized tests, less unproductive consequential accountability, more direct instruction in school, and less rote textbook learning. All these ideas were presented already before this crisis, but people see that the time is right to transform schools after the pandemic is gone. 

    Rather than add more to the already exhaustive list of ideas for schools post-pandemic, I want to suggest five things that we should not do when schools re-open. These five things are collected from my numerous conversations and debates during the past few months about the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic for schools, teachers, students and parents. My basic assumption is that schools change slowly, even when pressured by external shocks like the pandemic. I think that the underlying emotion in this devastating turmoil, which by now has affected healthcare, education, economic systems, and the daily lives of billions of people, is fear. 

    Many are afraid losing their health, the lives of loved ones, their jobs, their dreams, and their futures. What most parents probably expect from schools now is safety and stability, not revolution or change. I like many others think that now is the time to reimagine schools. But I am afraid that making these dreams come true at scale will be very difficult. But if real change is to have any chance, I offer these five suggestions of what not to do. I have long believed that in education policymaking what we stop doing is as important as what we should do. In this playful spirit I offer the following ‘5 Don’ts.

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  • Teaching During School Shutdowns Should Be A Team Sport

    by Susan Moore Johnson on May 28, 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 guest today is Susan Moore Johnson, the Jerome T. Murphy Research Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    When schools suddenly closed in March and moved to online instruction, I wondered how I would have responded if I'd still been a high school English teacher. I imagined having to prepare a series of engaging Ted Talks with follow-up Q&As. But having talked with many administrators and teachers, I’ve realized that good online schooling during the pandemic is a team sport not a solo performance. It calls for careful preparation and coordination among many players. Just as Covid-19 has revealed hidden shortcomings in our society, it has exposed the limitations of compartmentalized schools that continue to rise or fall on the skills, autonomy and self-reliance of individual teachers.

    As teachers faced the sudden reality of online teaching, they had many pressing questions: Are my students safe and confident or are they at risk, hungry, and fearful? Am I responsible for finding students who don’t show up online? What kind of schedule provides meaningful routines with necessary flexibility? How can I create social learning experiences for students who are isolated at home? What can I do to help students who fall behind? How can we meet the special learning needs of students who rely on one-to-one support? How can I fairly grade students’ progress when I can’t provide extra help to those who need it?  

    In many schools, teachers struggled with such questions alone. Without a reliable forum where they could explore and resolve urgent problems with others, individuals did their best. Some convened their classes occasionally for live meetings, so students to could see one another and talk about how things were going for them. Many prepared weekly work packets for parents to pick up at the school or they posted assignments online—typically math problems or reading comprehension questions—for students to complete and upload for grading. Some relied on web-based educational resources, including short lectures by presenters their students had never seen. Many teachers were dismayed to realize that their repertoire of instructional practices had been drastically reduced to a few barren components. Meanwhile students within the same school might have either engaging or tedious learning experiences, depending on who their teacher was.

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  • Coronavirus Is A Risk To Education In America: A Comprehensive National Response Is Needed

    by Stan Litow on May 26, 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 guest 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 RewardHe formerly led Corporate Social Responsibility at IBM, where he was twice selected as CEO of the Year by Corporate Responsibility Magazine. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    The economic effects of the coronavirus are presenting increasingly difficult challenges for the nation. In the month of April, nearly 30 million Americans moved onto the unemployment rolls and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dipped by nearly five percent. All projections from labor economists indicate that these numbers will continue to go in the wrong direction during the months ahead. The U.S. economy is in its most serious decline since the Great Depression. From a policy perspective, our nation needs to place a high priority on making our nation healthy again, but it also needs to protect workers, small businesses and our economic future. Most economic news reports focus on U.S. industries that are likely to suffer the most, such as as the retail industry, restaurants, small businesses, airlines and the entertainment industry. While each of these sectors are indeed experiencing serious problems, and deserve intervention and support, an industry that is likely to suffer severe, long-term damage is often overlooked—that is, public education and specifically our nation's public schools and public colleges. They face a very difficult future and need our attention and our assistance.

    Why is education in America at risk? An interruption in schooling across all grade levels will likely result in a serious decline in student achievement, especially for those students who are the most disadvantaged. This is likely to result in increased drop out rates, a spike in special education, a decline in high school graduation rates, a decrease in college enrollment, lower college readiness rates and declining college completion rates. A large increase in mental health and social service needs should also be expected, which will have a negative impact on student learning and achievement. With increased need and declining resources, our schools, universities and teachers will be faced with a daunting challenge. The long term effect on students and on the nation could be devastating.

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  • Have We Found Hector, Yet? A Love Letter To Educators In The Midst Of Crisis

    by Michelle Fine on May 21, 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 guest today is Michelle Fine, a Distinguished Professor of Critical Psychology, Women’s Studies, American Studies and Urban Education at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    Each evening we ask Caleb the same question; as the numbers of 6th and 7th graders responding to his online “office hours” increase by the day, we ask “Have you found Hector yet?”

    I am quarantined in Montclair, New Jersey, six adults and an infant; a home of heterogeneous teachers and activists. We are healthy and fortunate. We spend our days in Google Meets with 6th graders, community college students, working-class 4-year and doctoral students, most with deep roots in the working-class/immigrant/public housing community, and the news gets more and more grim. Each evening around the dinner table, the stories grow more painful; more students-grandparents-parents-loved ones-siblings are ill-dead-unemployed-hungry-worried about a grandmother in Ecuador or in a nursing home or in the next room in the Bronx. We don’t eat until we have each spoken “one good thing that happened today.” It’s harder now. In the month of March we saw people dying; in the month of April we witness institutions and the precious fibers of democracy – like public schools and universities and voting – placed on life support in budget slashing season.  

    And they still won’t release people from prison or detention centers.

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