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  • Why Teach The Constitution?

    by Zeph Capo on September 15, 2021

    In honor of Constitution Day (September 17th), this blog series invites teachers and leaders in the field of civics and democracy education to address the question: Why is it important to teach the Constitution? Our guest author today is Zeph Capo, a public school science teacher, president of the Texas AFT, and member of the Shanker Institute Board of Directors. Other posts in this series can be found here.

    Collective bargaining is the cornerstone on which we built the middle-class. As a labor leader, it is the best tool used by workers to earn a seat at the table as equals with their employer. It is also how we develop a contract outlining one another’s roles, rights, and responsibilities in the workplace. As an educator, I ask: How do we expect workers to understand the process and power of collective bargaining if they don’t understand the power and process of governance as outlined in our Constitution?

    I believe teaching the Constitution is vital, because it is the premier collectively-bargained contract present in our lives. The rights, responsibilities, and regulations set forth in the Constitution serve as the bedrock on which we develop all other aspects of the agreements governing the many facets of our society.

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  • Teaching Students The Textualist Interpretation Of Law

    by David Said on September 14, 2021

    In honor of Constitution Day (September 17th), this blog series invites teachers and leaders in the field of civics and democracy education to address the question: Why is it important to teach the Constitution? Our guest author today is David Said, a social studies teacher at Athens High School in Troy, Michigan. Other posts in this series can be found here.

    In a fairly recent court case, Bostock v. Clayton County (2020), the US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that sex discrimination does cover gay and transgender individuals under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. One of the more surprising aspects of this case was that the majority opinion was delivered by associate justice Neil Gorsuch. Appointed by President Trump to replace the late Antonin Scalia, most assumed he would tow the line of conservative jurisprudence. In joining with Chief Justice John Roberts and all three of the courts liberal leaning justices, Gorsuchs majority decision showcased a level of judicial independence that is important for the maintaining the integrity of this important institution. 

    A key part of Gorsuchs judicial philosophy is grounded in a concept called textualism.” Simply put, textualism is an interpretation of law in which the words of the legal text are analyzed through the lens of their normal meaning. It is quite common for Justices to include authors’ intent, historical examples, and most importantly precedence as factors when deciding a case that comes before the Supreme Court. Textualism appears to simplify this process altogether by requiring one to truly dig deep into the meaning of words and phrase. In the Bostock case, the word that Gorsuch zeroed in on was sex” within Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Discriminating against an individual or group because of their sex could reasonably be interpreted to include gender as well as sexual orientation. The six Justices in the majority agreed with that preceding sentence. Conversely, the Justices in the minority were quick to point out that members of the legislative branch were likely not thinking of anything beyond men or women in the year 1964.

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  • Understanding The Complexities Of History

    by Stephen Lazar on September 13, 2021

    In honor of Constitution Day (September 17th), this blog series invites teachers and leaders in the field of civics and democracy education to address the question: Why is it important to teach the Constitution? Our first guest author is Stephen Lazar, is a National Board Certified Social Studies teacher, who is typically teaching students Social Studies and English at Harvest Collegiate High School in NYC, which he helped to start. This year, he is on sabbatical and a Ph.D. candidate in history at the CUNY Graduate Center and is one of the Shanker Institute Civics Fellows. Other posts in this series can be found here.

    This is my first Constitution Day in some time where I will not be teaching high school students, since I am on sabbatical as I work towards a Ph.D. in history. When I am teaching history, there are two things I want students to understand more than anything else. First, history is complicated; things are rarely simply good or bad. Second, I want students to understand that that history is not merely a list of sequential facts. Instead, history is made up of competing interpretations. I regularly tell my students that historians, far more knowledgeable than we are, look at all the available evidence and come to different conclusions from each other. When I return to the classroom next fall, I plan to engage my students in one such disagreement in looking at the impact of the Constitution on people who were enslaved.

    Increasingly over the past few years, my students have come with strong opinions on the Constitution’s relationship to the institution of slavery. This happens for a variety of reasons: engagement with the Black Lives Matter movement, watching Thirteenth on Netflix, and exposure to the growing public discourse that examines the history of racism in the United States. Whereas a decade ago, most of my students knew very little about the Constitution or had a relatively positive view of it, now a critical mass of my students strongly believe that the Constitution laid the foundation for a racist society because it was proslavery.

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  • Returning To School During The Pandemic: An Opportunity To Integrate Social-Emotional AND Academic Learning

    by Bill Wilmot & Bryan Mascio on September 9, 2021

    Our guest authors today are Bill Wilmot and Bryan Mascio. Bill is a UDL Implementation Specialist at CAST and adjunct faculty at Lasell University, supporting educators to create more inclusive curriculum, classrooms and systems. Bryan is a Teaching Faculty at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, where he helps prepare new teachers and works with schools to become more equitable and inclusive.

    As we return to school in an ongoing pandemic, how do we support all learners to heal from what has been an overwhelming emotional toll accompanied by social isolation? How do we support students from what, for some, felt like insurmountable barriers to academic learning? How do we create a pedagogical approach and a means of responding to student behavioral needs that simultaneously and synergistically prioritizes compassion and knowledge building?

    Policymakers, researchers and practitioners planning for a return from the last year and a half of pandemic schooling overwhelmingly recommend two consistent focal points of our energies. In the ED COVID-19 Handbook Volume 2, the US Department of Education guides us to focus on “meeting the social, emotional and mental health needs of students... and addressing lost instructional time.” The Annenberg Institute summarizes research saying that “Unaddressed trauma diminishes students’ abilities to benefit from rigorous instruction.” And, “whole-school strategies for addressing trauma tend to be more effective than strategies that focus on identifying individual students for secondary intervention” by shaping the very culture of the classroom. During the pandemic, practitioners across the country embraced the need to check in on the social and emotional well-being of learners not just during morning circle and advisory, but during math and social studies instruction as well. This push toward an empathy orientation and creating the space for emotional processing was so important and continues to be essential as we return from the pandemic.

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  • A Continued Commitment To The Common Good

    by Mary Cathryn Ricker on September 3, 2021

    I am proud to announce my position as Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute on Labor Day. Labor Day is the federal holiday dedicated to workers, and it signals both a traditional back to school and a traditional start to election season. The Albert Shanker Institute is a think tank dedicated to voices for working people, strong public education, and freedom of association in the public life of democracies. These ideals are interdependent. 

    Strong public schools are the foundation of our democracy. Workers’ voices—in their workplaces, professions, and at the ballot box—contribute to a vibrant democracy. A resilient and sustainable democracy protects and secures the voices of workers, the right to participate in our democracy, and the support of our public schools as a common good. I am honored to be immersing myself in this confluence of ideals at a time when our collective recommitment to the common good would create so much mutual progress in our communities, our country, and our world. ASI has a mission to generate ideas, foster candid exchanges and promote constructive policy proposals related to public education, worker voice, and democracy. Ideas, candid exchanges, and constructive policy proposals are all necessary avenues to our cooperative commitment to progress to the common good. My lived experience and my study of history convinces me that the triad of strong public education, healthy worker voice, and a vibrant democracy can make progress for all unstoppable. I relish the opportunity to convene great and divergent thinkers and successful activists to make meaning, shape plans, and accomplish policy to improve people’s lives across our country.

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  • Building Power, For Teachers And Educational Justice

    by Leo Casey on August 2, 2021

    For nine years, I have served as the Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute. Over this period of time, the Institute has done much work in our mission themes of public education, trade unionism and democracy advocacy. It has built a record and a reputation which makes all of us who work here—and everyone in the American Federation of Teachers, with which we are affiliated—quite proud.

    One of the important responsibilities of leadership is to know when the time has come to turn over the stewardship of the work you have achieved and the organization you have nurtured to a younger and fresher generation. Social justice work is a relay race, and as much as we do our individual best on our own leg, it is the race that is important, not our personal performance. When the time comes to pass the baton to the next runner, fresh and ready, we should not hesitate. That is why, earlier this year, I told my long-time and dear friend Randi Weingarten that the time for a new Executive Director of the Shanker Institute had come. At the last meeting of the AFT’s Executive Council, I tendered my resignation, and the Council elected Mary Cathryn Ricker as the Institute’s new leader. As of July 1, I have moved to the AFT proper, where I will be an assistant to the president.

    At these junctures in our lives, we are often moved to reflect on what has been accomplished, and what is being passed on to those who follow us.

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  • A More Actionable Take On The Science Of Reading

    by Susan B. Neuman on July 8, 2021

    Our guest author today is Susan B. Neuman, Professor of Early Childhood & Literacy Education, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, & Human Development at New York University.

    Over the past few years, “the science of reading” has become the latest obsession in the field of education. From professors and textbook publishers claiming they teach it to politicians and principals claiming they follow it, the science of reading is everywhere.

    And nowhere.

    Like so much jargon, “the science of reading” is fast becoming a meaningless label—it’s applied to draw attention to political circumstances and no longer signals any deep understanding of how literacy develops. So let’s take another approach. Let’s define reading proficiency in a way that may be comprehensible and compelling, not only to educators but to the general public as well. And the clearest model to date is Gough’s and Tunmer’s “the simple view of reading.”

    The simple view of reading is rather elegant in its efficiency.  Basically, it argues that reading comprehension—that is, reading with real meaning is a product of fluent decoding and language comprehension. Essentially the model goes like this:  Reading comprehension (RC) = fluent decoding (D) X language comprehension (LC). Neither fluent decoding nor language comprehension alone is sufficient for reading comprehension. Like Sinatra would say, you simply can’t have one without the other.

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  • School Funding And Equal Educational Opportunity

    by Matthew Di Carlo on June 22, 2021

    Equal opportunity is kind of the endgame in education policy. That is, school systems should provide all students, regardless of their backgrounds or economic circumstances, with what they need to achieve minimum acceptable outcome levels. 

    School funding is a huge factor in the equal opportunity realm, given that virtually all effective education policies require investment. From the finance perspective, states can achieve equal opportunity by allocating funds such that districts with higher costs—e.g., those serving higher-poverty populations—have enough to pay those costs (primarily by using state funds to help districts with less capacity to raise funds locally). In other words, the job of states is to ensure that funding is adequate in all districts.

    What we’ve found in the School Finance Indicators Database (SFID), in short, is that there is plenty of educational opportunity in the U.S., but it’s not equal. Let’s quickly visualize some of our SFID data and see how that’s the case.

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  • The Disturbingly Persistent Decline In State Education Effort

    by Matthew Di Carlo on May 25, 2021

    Fiscal effort (or simply “effort”) is an important tool for evaluating states’ school finance systems. Effort tells you how much of a state’s capacity—how big a slice of its “economic pie”—is devoted to K-12 schools. Effort indicators help you determine whether states lag behind in spending because they have smaller economies from which to draw revenue, or because they have simply failed to devote a large enough share of their capacities to their public schools.

    Effort can change over time due to changes in spending, capacity, or both. The trend in fiscal effort over the past 20 years, and particularly since the “Great Recession” of 2007-09, is among the most concerning results we have presented from the School Finance Indicators Database (with our collaborators Bruce Baker and Mark Weber).

    The graph below presents U.S. average effort (unweighted) between 1997 and 2018. Effort is calculated very simply: we divide each state’s total spending (direct to K-12 education) by its total capacity. The latter can be measured in two different ways, each of which is represented by a different line in the graph: gross state product (the blue line) and aggregate personal income (the red line). These two denominators produce extremely similar trends. The estimates for all years exclude D.C., for which effort is not calculated, and Vermont, due to irregularities in that state’s spending data in 2018 (the state is excluded from all years to keep a consistent set of states across years). Finally, note that the y-axis in the graph starts at two percent, and so year-to-changes appear a bit larger than they would if the axis started at zero.

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  • How Non-Zero Tolerance Policies Better Support Our Students: Part II

    by Lauren Schneider on May 10, 2021

    As I discussed in a previous post, one of the most controversial approaches to school discipline in the U.S. is the use of zero-tolerance policies. These policies include exclusionary practices, such as office referrals and suspension, which remove students from their classroom and isolate them from the school community. Zero tolerance policies in schools have been shown to have a detrimental effect on all students, particularly Black and Brown students. Skiba et al (2011), for instance, wrote about how these punitive methods cause students to miss critical instructional time and feel less connected to their teachers and peers. 

    Zero tolerance policies are embedded in high-stakes accountability structures. As White (2020) states, these policies overly focus on student behavior and the idea that individual hard work is the best way to promote high test scores. They do not foster a sense of community- and relationship- building. While policymakers had positive intentions in promoting a more rigorous and equalitarian experience for students—laying out each infraction and punishment with the intention of applying discipline uniformly across student groups—that is not what has happened. According to the aforementioned research, Black and Brown students were still punished more harshly for the same infractions than were their peers. Thus, the negative consequences of these policies have far outweighed the benefits. 

    Many schools are implementing alternative methods of discipline that stress the importance of taking proactive measures to reduce exclusionary practices. In the previous post, I focused on the importance of restorative justice policies as a strong strategy to support children and their development. But there are also multiple alternative models that have been shown to be effective among students of varying ages and demographics. These models focus on relationship development, and staff training, which I will discuss below. Specifically, the three other models include: School Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS), Monarch Room, and Inclusive Skill-Building Learning Approach (ISLA). In short, the idea that zero tolerance is the only approach is unsupportable.

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