• Allied Around Student Success

    I see multiple stories published daily about the fragile state of the teaching profession and educators themselves. There is also concerning anecdotal evidence suggesting that the work of other school-related professionals, such as bus drivers, paraprofessionals, and substitute teachers, is also suffering due to stress from the pandemic, which may also be contributing to turnover and educator shortages. What can be most productive at this point would be to refocus on and rebuild the trust between families and educators to help promote student learning.

    One thing the adults (and the students) in our schools don’t need right now is an opportunistic wedge being driven between the most natural allies in the cause of student success: families and educators. Rather than focus on problem-solving and communication, there are many stories that are focused on pitting educators and families against each other over teaching practices and materials, which is increasing the stress of teaching and learning just about every day.

    I’m not just talking about late-in-the-game advertisements during the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey. The work to create distrust between these longstanding partners—educators and parents—rather than nurture communication and collaboration, goes back months and has presented itself in state houses across the country. Leading the effort are state laws that create a climate of shoot-first ask-questions-later when it comes to perceived instructional transgressions. Books are being banned rather than discussed in Texas. The Tennessee Department of Education has instituted emergency rules for financially penalizing districts, and  disciplining or reporting teachers violating  a law  of 14 concepts deemed too contentious by the legislature. Similarly, the New Hampshire Department of Education has created an online form to collect complaints about teachers from parents and students. A growing number of states have introduced or passed laws similar to these in 2021, while other states have plans to introduce similar measures in future legislative sessions.

  • The Intersection Of Disability Rights And Voting Rights

    Our guest author today is Norman Hill, lifelong activist in the Civil Rights and Labor movements. Mr. Hill served as the president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute from 1980 to 2004, the longest tenure in the organization’s history. He remains its president emeritus.

    The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is among the most consequential legislative achievements in the history of the United States, having codified for the first time the right to vote for Black Americans established in the 15th Amendment of the Constitution. The resulting enforcement of the VRA led to increasing levels of voter participation not just by Black Americans, whose rights had been viciously suppressed in the South, but also nationally for all Americans of color and those who did not read or speak the English language. In the 2008 and 2012 elections, Black Americans surpassed White Americans in voter participation. In 2018 and 2020 elections, there was record participation by Latino, Asian American and Native American voters.

    Little known or mentioned in the law is a provision that also greatly affected the voting rights of another large and previously segregated minority: disabled Americans. In addition to establishing the right of un-coerced assistance for those unable to read or write in English, Section 208 of the VRA established that right for “any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness or disability.”

  • I Voted

    Our guest author today is Rui Rui Bleifuss, a disability activist and senior at Highland Park Senior High School in St. Paul, MInnesota.

    It was November 2, 2021. Slightly annoyed and nervous, I walked into a room to do something I’d never done before.

    I was annoyed because it was the end of the first semester of my senior year in high school, and I was way too busy. It seemed like I was going out of my way to do something important but routine, something that was taking me away from more immediate concerns. I had so much homework, but here I was, on my way to vote for the very first time.

    I was nervous because I didn’t know how I would be treated. Empowered and supported? Discouraged and suppressed? I am an Asian American woman who is physically disabled. I knew about so many people who had experienced voter discrimination, and the many states trying to pass voter suppression laws. I’d never heard of a first time voter being supported, so why would I expect anything like that? 

    I had been so excited in the months leading up to this. But now voting just felt like another thing I needed to check off my to-do list.

  • What Teachers Want From PD

    Teacher professional development (PD) often gets a bad rap. As a former educator of nearly a decade, I can count on one hand how many successful PD sessions I attended over the years. I can also remember how impactful those select few sessions were to my teaching craft.

    According to the 2020 International Literacy Association (ILA) survey for teachers, higher education professionals, literacy consultants, and school administrators, PD was identified as a top priority for improving instruction. Participants also stated that PD needs more focus and attention to support teachers in their ongoing professional growth. Teachers understand the need for PD, but often feel unfulfilled by the experience.

    So, I wondered—what do teachers really want from PD? After reviewing several articles and studies from the perspective of primary and secondary teachers, six common trends emerged.

  • The Struggle Over The Power Of Naming

    Our guest author today is Leo Casey, former Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute and current Assistant to the President at the American Federation of Teachers. He is the author of The Teacher Insurgency (Harvard Education Press, 2020).

    Do teachers have a “free speech” or “freedom of conscience” right to call students by the name and pronouns the teacher wants to use, rather than a responsibility to use the name and pronouns students’ provide for themselves—as some on the political right in education now claim?

    I come to this question as someone who has spent the last four decades of my life as a teacher unionist fighting for the “freedom to teach.” For me and for the great preponderance of the teachers I have worked with, that freedom was never an unconditional right to do whatever we wanted to do in a classroom. Rather, it was our collective right to teach in accordance with the best educational practices, as understood by the professional teaching community.* To properly address the question of what name(s) a teacher should use, therefore, we must situate it in the work that teachers do, and the responsibilities that work entails.

  • Strikesgiving

    October has ended with Scranton educators and Las Cruces bus drivers announcing job actions, along with the on-going strikes of miners in Alabama, nurses in Worcester, MA, hospital workers in Buffalo, NY, 10,000 John Deere workers and  Kelloggs’ workers, but #Striketober is far from over. But we both see this optimistically.

    Certainly these are labor disputes, however, seen in contrast to all the news around The Great Resignation (also known as The Big Quit), these workers are actually demonstrating an enduring commitment to their work via their united voice. These workers have had every opportunity to walk away from their work permanently, like those who have done so amidst the Great Resignation. However, they are using their collective agency to commit to their jobs by telling their employers (after trying every other way of making their point) how to be a place that will retain them and how to make their workplaces better. These workers are so committed to their work that they are willing to strike to get their employers’ attention, and to make their work bearable so they don’t have to quit. They are walking out rather than walking away and by doing so, giving their employers the opportunity not to be another Big Quit statistic.

    At 6 percent, U.S. private sector collective bargaining is near the bottom of the world’s democracies. In part the quit rate celebrated in the media is directly connected to the slugfest with employers that workers must endure in order to organize and bargain. Passage of the PRO (Protect the Right to Organize) Act and further reforms would help, along with increasing union support for the organizing upsurge now evident across the private sector.

  • Early Reading: Screening, Diagnosis, And Prevention

    This is an updated excerpt from a publication I developed in 2000 while working for the AFT Educational Issues Department, “Putting Reading Front and Center: A Resource Guide for Union Advocacy.” By tapping the expertise of teachers of reading among members, local unions can use their collective voice to strengthen reading instruction.

    The best form of reading remediation is to prevent children from falling behind in the first place. To many educators, this statement seems so obvious that its an education truism. Yet its one thing to agree on a basic truth and quite another to figure out how to implement it as part of a comprehensive school improvement effort.

    The importance of assessing early reading skills

    The first essential step in building an effective support system for struggling readers is to identify difficulties quickly, before an achievement gap can develop. The second is to implement effective prevention and early intervention strategies—i.e., stepping in while students are so young that reading failure never occurs, or early enough that it is relatively easy for students to catch up. For reading, its particularly important that this support begin at the earliest possible grade level.

  • What Teachers Say About Literacy

    There is no denying the impact that literacy has on everyday life. Literacy skills allow us to seek out information, explore subjects in-depth, and gain a deeper understanding of the world around us (The University of Kansas, 2021). Given the importance of literacy, a teacher’s role not only plays a fundamental part in a child's education but also their well-being. To understand what drives a teacher’s pedagogical approaches, two recent surveys from EdWeek and The International Literacy Association (ILA) have attempted to capture how teacher practices, experiences, and knowledge shape their literacy instruction.

    In fall of 2019, the EdWeek Research Center set out to gain a clearer sense of teacher practices and knowledge by sending out two surveys about topics related to early literacy instruction. The first survey was completed by 674 K-2 and elementary special education teachers who self-reported having taught children how to read. The second survey was completed by 533 higher education instructors from four-year colleges or universities who indicated they had taught early literacy instruction to teachers or prospective teachers. Both surveys included questions about approaches to teaching early literacy instruction.

    The ILA survey, developed by a 17-member focus group of literacy experts, was completed by 1,443 teachers, higher education professionals, literacy consultants, and school administrators from 65 countries and territories. In winter of 2020, based on the survey results, the ILA released the What’s Hot in Literacy Report looking at the experiences of reading instructors and identifying critical topics to advancing literacy.

  • The Science of Reading Reporting: What’s in It for Parents of Young Children?

    The past two or three years have witnessed extensive media coverage of the research on reading (see here, here, here and here for a few examples). This work has informed the public and sounded an alarm on the disconnect between what experts know about reading and the extent to which this knowledge informs instruction across America’s classrooms. Reactions to this in-depth reporting have been positive for the most part, but some critical voices have noted it has helped to reignite the so-called “reading wars” and contributed to a narrow view of the scientific research on reading (see here and here). Specifically, some of these critics have taken issue with what they view as a hyper focus on one of the two main aspects of reading, decoding or word recognition, at the expense of the second, language comprehension, which is just as crucial to becoming a skilled reader (see here). In addition, almost completely absent from the conversation has been any discussion of the system and organizational/school conditions that shape reading instruction and reform (see here). 

    In this post I discuss my own perception of this journalism, what I find remarkable about it, but also what I wish had been more central to it and why. To be clear, I am not an expert on reading, but I am an education researcher (and a parent of a preschooler) who has spent some time reading and reflecting on this topic. Importantly, I am steeped in a context where literacy is central: the Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers have, for over two decades, been translating the science of reading (SoR) for educators (see herehere, herehere, and here) in a consistent, comprehensive, and balanced way. What I have learned from my colleagues over the years has deeply influenced how I’ve contextualized and made sense of the latest SoR reporting.

  • What Literacy Can Do

    "In today’s society, the child who doesn’t learn to read does not make it in life. If children don’t learn to read early enough, if they don’t learn to read with comprehension, if they don’t read fluently enough to read broadly and reflectively across all content areas, if they don’t learn to read effortlessly enough to render reading pleasurable, their chances for a fulfilling life—by whatever measure: academic success, financial stability, the ability to find satisfying work, personal autonomy, self-esteem—are practically nil."

    This is the first paragraph from a 1998 AFT resolution on beginning reading instruction. It was true then, and it’s true now. The quote above is harsh, but it is backed by a host of research evidence from eminent scholars, including Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (National Research Council), The National Reading Panel (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development), and Reaping the Rewards of Reading for Understanding (National Academy of Education). It could also explain why the teaching of reading has so much passion around it; reading well is just that important.