• Reading Reform on the Ground: How SoR Policy is Showing Up in Schools

    On International Literacy Day, we publish a guest post by educator, researcher, and author Callie Lowenstein who shares her incredible perspective of the in-depth thinking teachers offer to their practice and how sincerely teachers want to meet the needs of students.

     

    One thing about teachers: we want to get our instruction right. 

    After decades of mixed messages and misinformation in our professional development (PD), teacher training programs, and curricular materials, many classroom educators are eager to get on top of the science, to ensure that our efforts and hours, our lesson planning and detailed feedback and materials prep and book purchases and deep care for our students, are not being wasted. 

    Indeed, after a major balanced-literacy leader published an unapologetic deflection of the science of reading movement last year, a group of teachers from across the country wrote our own open letter, collecting over 650 teacher signatures in a matter of days, attesting to the ways we, teachers, wished we had done better by our students.

    As authors Susan B. Neuman, Esther Quintero, and Kayla Reist so expertly and carefully highlighted in the Shanker Institute’s Reading Reform Across America report, it’s not just us. 

  • Inaugural State of the Unions Address

    On this Labor Day, 2023, the Shanker Institute reposts AFL-CIO President and Shanker Board Member Liz Shuler's "Inaugural State of the Unions Address" as prepared for delivery on August 29, 2023.

    Good morning, everyone! 

    To our union family and friends here in the House of Labor, and everyone watching along: Thank you for being part of this new Labor Day tradition.

    Every year, we’re going to come together and talk about where working people stand in this country.

    The story we’re going to share with you today, at this inaugural State of the Unions, is our story as working people. It’s the story of a number — 88% — which I’ll come back to in a few minutes.

    But first I want to reflect on what we just heard from our speakers here today.

    Every day, I travel this country and I talk to workers — workers in unions, of course, but also working people who aren’t yet part of a union. And this is what I hear from them:

    I don’t feel good about my future. 

    I need to make more money. I need a stable job. I wish I could afford a home. I wish I had some power over my work and my life right now.

    There is a reason that song, Rich Men North of Richmond, is the number one song in the country right now. For a long time, working people in this country have felt powerless. They’ve been powerless. 

    But here is the truth we’re going to talk about today: 

    Working people are reclaiming our power. 

    Working people are taking on the companies that have exploited us for a long time now.

    The State of the Unions is on the rise.

  • The Birth of Coalition Politics

    Guest authors Norman and Velma Hill have been activists and leaders in the civil rights and trade union movements for six decades. Their joint memoir, “Climbing the Rough Side of the Mountain” (Regalo Press) is coming out in the fall.

    “Let the nation and the world know the meaning of our numbers. We are not a pressure group, we are not an organization or a group of organizations, we are not a mob. We are the advanced guard of a massive, moral revolution for jobs and freedom.”

    Most people remember the stirring speech of the day’s last speaker, but these were the opening words to the 250,000 people who attended the 1963 March on Washington. They were delivered by A. Philip Randolph, the March’s director, still considered “the Chief” of the civil rights movement even as he passed the torch of leadership that day to Martin Luther King, Jr. His was not the call of a day or of a year or even of a decade, but of a lifetime in pursuit of civil rights and economic justice.

    Randolph had organized and led the first mass Black trade union in the United States (the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters), having forced the Pullman company into submission after 12 years of hard conflict. With the BSCP as a base, Randolph spearheaded the original March on Washington movement in 1941 that, by its threat of 100,000 Blacks marching on the capital, successfully pressured Frankin Delano Roosevelt to sign an executive order desegregating defense industries and federal employment just prior to US involvement in World War II. In 1948, Randolph organized protests on the Democratic and Republican Conventions and threatened to lead a mass boycott of young Black men to the draft to achieve desegregation of the US armed forces. He led the long, successful battle to rid the AFL-CIO of Jim Crow unions and to get the labor federation and its leadership firmly on the right side of civil rights.

    In late 1962, seeing the desperate economic conditions and lack of progress towards equality for Blacks on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Randolph called in Bayard Rustin, his long-time collaborator. “It’s time to march again.” He tasked Rustin with preparing a plan for a new March on Washington. We are the two surviving members of Rustin’s planning group, which included the civil rights and trade union strategist, Tom Kahn.

  • Decades of Dedication to the Science of Reading

     

    MARY CATHRYN
    As director of the Albert Shanker Institute, the think tank endowed by the American Federation of Teachers, I had the privilege of leading the development and release of the ASI’s new report released in late July, Reading Reform Across America. It’s a survey of reading legislation adopted over the course of four years by states across the country, with good and bad news. The report was met with immediate interest, and attention.

    To the good, states are finally noting that the research underlying strong reading instruction is not typically matched by the curriculum and instruction in most schools, and they are taking legislative action. Also, despite fears that much of the legislation might only call narrowly for phonics, most states called for the full range of instruction noted as essential in the renowned 2000 National Reading Panel report.

    On the downside, the legislation is generally too narrow. In almost every state, there is scant attention to the importance of background knowledge, oral language, and even writing, now understood to be vital to strong reading comprehension and overall literacy.

  • Why Does Knowledge Matter?

    We recently released a report examining reading laws enacted by states in the past four years. One finding that has generated interest is the fact that these laws pay almost no attention to the role of background/content knowledge in reading. Specifically, 6 out of 46 states that passed reading legislation between 2019 and 2022 mention background/content knowledge in their laws; of these, only 4—Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—include a more substantive (if brief) mention.

    Florida’s law, for example, requires the state’s department of education to “develop and provide access to sequenced, content-rich curriculum programming, instructional practices, and resources that help elementary schools use state-adopted instructional materials to increase students' background knowledge and literacy skills.” But language like this is almost non-existent in the corpus of over 220 reading bills we examined. Why does this omission matter?

    There's widespread agreement within the reading community regarding the association between knowledge and reading comprehension: the more you know, the more you understand when you read, and the more you gain from reading. Furthermore, there's a growing body of evidence (also here and here) suggesting that this association is causal. Thus, building knowledge, particularly through a content-rich curriculum, is expected to enhance general reading comprehension. While this is a encouraging finding, shouldn't we value knowledge for its own inherent worth? Beyond its essential role in comprehension, why else might knowledge matter?

  • Demystifying the Science of Reading

    Over the past year, the Albert Shanker Institute has been examining four years worth of literacy legislation — stay tuned for our report, which will be released soon. In discussing our findings with colleagues and friends, we often find ourselves starting from scratch, filling gaps, and debunking misconceptions. This post aims to address one question we frequently encounter.

    What is the science of reading?

    While organizations such as the Reading League have put out useful materials about what the science of reading is, we aim to keep it simple here. Essentially, the science of reading is synonymous with academic research on reading. It refers to the vast body of knowledge that scholars have accumulated over decades about how people learn to read. Thus, the phrase is a shorthand for work of hundreds of scholars in countless studies. This body of knowledge includes things that are known with certainty, those that we are just beginning to understand, and everything in between. Like any scientific field, reading science is dynamic and evolving. It is not settled.

  • Experiential Civic Learning for Democracy

    Our guest author is Wilfred Chirinos, an associate on the Policy and Advocacy Team at Generation Citizen.

    In the recent past, commentators such as David Leonhardt in his New York Times article ‘A Crisis Coming’: The Twin Threats to American Democracy," have spoken to some of the greatest threats against our democracy at this moment, including the heightened sense of partisanship with calls for a “national divorce”1; the ilk of authoritarianism on the edges of the ideological spectrum, and amplified through the coverage of our political discourse; and the rapid development of social media and AI technology in what some have labeled a “post-truth” era.2 These concerns are rightfully identified as looming threats to democracy. Taken together, they suggest that we stand at a pivotal moment in American history. While some contend that these issues are intractable, reports collected by the Center for American Progress and my experience within civics education suggest that revitalizing our democracy can begin with civic learning in our classrooms.

    As said by AFT President Randi Weingarten, “Experiential learning engages students through problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, and learning by doing. We need to help kids engage with the world, with ideas, and with each other….”3 Through experiential learning, we can encourage students to engage creatively in their education to develop life-long skills. Experiential learning catalyzes their journey of becoming engaged citizens with the tools to interact meaningfully with the world around them.

    At Generation Citizen, students are provided with an experiential learning opportunity through our action civics programs. Students are taught to engage with their community by identifying relevant problems,  researching issues that they select, and presenting evidence-based policy solutions to stakeholders and decision-makers. The goal of this process is to instill a spirit of civic duty and engagement while enhancing their practical civic knowledge. Students learn about the history and structure of their local governments while connecting with these institutions, which often feel far removed. As they engage these institutions, they themselves are changed in the process and can influence the public policy process in significant ways, that reverberate far beyond the classroom.

  • From Invisibility to Solidarity: An AAPI experience

    Our guest author for AAPI Heritage Month is Jessica Tang, President of the Boston Teachers Union, an AFT vice president, co-chair of the AFT Asian American and Pacific Islander Task Force, and a Shanker Institute Board Member. This blog first appeared on AFTvoices.org on May 1, 2023.

    While I have called Boston home for over two decades, I actually was born in Ohio and grew up in several states, including Pennsylvania, Indiana and New Jersey. What each of these states had in common throughout my years of attending school was that not once did I have an AAPI teacher. Nor did I ever learn about Asian American or Pacific Islander history.

    Like so many AAPI students, I grew up feeling not too sure where I belonged — whether it was embarrassment as a child when I was told my home-cooked lunches “smelled” and “looked weird,” or when during a social studies lesson about an Asian country other students would look at me as if I were supposed to know all the answers. I had never been to Asia and certainly did not know about the dozens of countries with disparate cultures, languages and customs.

    It wasn’t until college and later that I truly started to learn more about the Asian American diaspora — those who, like me, had families that immigrated to the United States and shared common experiences. Only then did I realize that I was not totally alone.

  • Beyond Brown: What We Must Protect

    On the 69th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, our guest author is Leon W. Russell, Chair of the NAACP Board of Directors.

    In 1948, the sixty-four-member national board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) endorsed its Special Counsel and head of the Legal Defense Fund Thurgood Marshall’s strategy to direct the organization’s legal advocacy efforts to racially integrate society through the education system. Following nearly two decades of legal battles and cases ranging from early childhood to graduate education, this decisive choice made by the leaders of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization set the stage for a victory in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, and subsequent victories in the fight for civil rights and social justice.

    The all White-male Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled that “Separate but equal educational facilities for racial minorities is inherently unequal, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” The significance of their unanimous decision precipitated a journey and fight that has spanned nearly 70 years and continues as we seek to build an inclusive community rooted in liberation where all persons can exercise their civil and human rights without discrimination. But how do we continue to build on the work of those like Thurgood Marshall, Mary White Ovington, Roy Wilkins, Albert Shanker and countless others when we presently face extremist dissenters of equality who continue to use one of the most basic hallmarks of American life – education – as the battlefield to degenerate our society?