Early Childhood Education

  • Can a quality preschool experience help to narrow the achievement gaps that plagues our society? This question has been a subject of contention between researchers and policymakers for over five decades. The Institute began its work in early childhood by trying to help answer this question, working to bridge the historic divide among early childhood researchers, advocates, and practitioners, on the one hand, and their counterparts in K-12 education on the other.

    In February 2001, we convened a successful off-the-record seminar for leaders in the early childhood and public school communities about their common interest in supporting a dramatic expansion and improvement of educational opportunities in early childhood. A central topic was whether advocates of early childhood care and early childhood education could be brought together around a few key principles, framed by advances in cognitive research.This was soon followed by an Institute-sponsored study trip to France to examine that country’s universal system of crèches and ecole maternelles, or government nurseries and public preschools, which serve children from the ages of 3 months to 3 years, respectively.

    Since that time, the Institute has hosted many more meetings and seminars, sponsored research and publications, and worked to develop resources and tranings to help support the important work of early childhood educators.

    In general, there are two ways for social policy to affect educational outcomes for preschool-aged children who live in poverty: the first is to improve the social and economic condition of their families; the second is to use a preschool or daycare setting to compensate for these conditions.  While the first option would be more direct -- and many would argue more effective and long lasting -- it is also more difficult and unlikely. Thus, the Institute's continuing work is to focus on the national consensus in favor of equal educational opportunity to ensure that all children are able to begin school on a more equal footing.

  • Reading Reform Across America: A Survey of State Legislation

    This report authored by Susan B. Neuman (New York University), Esther Quintero (Albert Shanker Institute), and Kayla Reist (University of Virginia), examines reading-related state legislation enacted between 2019 and 2022.

  • Eugenia Kemble Research Grants

    In honor of its founding executive director, the Albert Shanker Institute announces the creation of the “Eugenia Kemble Research Grants Program.” Tax-deductible donations to this program are welcome. Please make donations through PayPal or by check to the Albert Shanker Institute (555 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001). More information. Watch the Memorial Service.

  • Publications Order Form

    Use this form to order hard copies of any publication. All copies are free unless otherwise indicated.
  • Video: Let's Talk

    This 5-minute video, a part of the Institute’s Let’s Talk initiative, explains how children’s knowledge and language develop in tandem, forming the foundation for all subsequent learning, and what parents and caregivers can do to help.

  • Let’s Talk Foundations: Oral Language Development I

    Oral language—listening and talking—is the primary means by which young children learn about and interact with the world. This training module for early childhood educators offers simple but powerful ideas to support young children build the skills, knowledge, vocabulary, and attitudes that can help prepare them for future academic learning across the content areas. Here, we offer excerpted materials for a workshop on supporting English language learners.

  • Let's Talk PD: Early Literacy Development

    This module for early childhood educators presents an overview of research on the foundations for literacy and how they may be enhanced in early childhood, including applied information to help guide instructional improvement. The materials are designed to be presented as an intensive one-day seminar or can be broken into separate workshops covering the areas of print and book awareness, phonological awareness, letter knowledge and early word recognition, and written expression and curriculum integration. This excerpt includes materials for a professional development workshop on phonological awareness.

  • Let’s Talk PD: Early Mathematics Development

    This training module for early childhood educators provides an overview of the research and standards on age-appropriate mathematics development, including practical takeaway materials to help assist in instructional. The most important early childhood mathematical foundations are addressed, including numerical sense and problem solving, building math vocabulary, using math manipulatives, and curriculum integration. The materials may be presented as a very intensive one-day session or broken into separate workshops. This excerpt contains materials for a workshop on curriculum integration.

  • Let’s Talk PD: Early Science Development

    This module for early childhood educators provides research-based information on early science development in the three key areas of physical science, life science, and earth science, along with applied information for improving instruction in each area. These materials can be implemented as an intensive, day-long professional development seminar or broken up into a series of workshops. This excerpt contains materials for a workshop on life science.

  • How Relationships Matter In Educational Improvement

    This short video explains some shortcomings of mainstream education reform and offers an alternative framework to advance educational progress. Educational improvement is as much about the capacities of individuals as it is about their relationships and the broader social context.

  • Literacy Ladders

    This curated collection of essays for early childhood educators and others examines the research on increasing young children's language, knowledge, and reading comprehension.

  • Comprehensive Reading Curricula and Teacher Expertise: We Don’t Have to Choose

    Our guest author is Kata Solow, Executive Director of the Goyen Foundation where she led its multi-year transformation process and created the Goyen Literacy Fellowship to recognize exceptional reading teachers. She is a former classroom educator, school administrator and field organizer.

    Call it the Curriculum Champions vs. the Teacher Defenders.

    Over the last four years, forty-six states have passed laws about reading instruction. While much of the mainstream coverage of these laws has focused on phonics, the actual legislation is much broader in scope.

    As states have gotten more involved in reading instruction—even mandating certain reading curricula in some places—I’ve started to see a new battlefront open in the so-called “Reading Wars.” It's all about curriculum.

  • Celebrate Family Engagement All Year Round

    Our guest author is Sarah Johnson, a practicing public school educator in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She has taught in elementary classrooms, coached new teachers as a Peer Assistance and Review consulting teacher, served as an Academic Content Coach, led professional development on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and helped launch the Parent Teacher Home Visit project in Saint Paul Public Schools.

    It’s October. For some that means apple orchards, leaf viewing, and pumpkin spice. For educators, it also brings Parent Teacher conferences . . and a dread of all the candy and unbridled enthusiasm for that last day of the month, but that’s a different blog.  Over the years I’ve seen educators approach conferences with a variety of perspectives and approaches: some excited to update families on the new learning, some worried about how families might respond to a concern, and some exhausted from the preparation and longs days.   Thankfully, it’s quite rare that some take Ted Lasso’s view, shared when he met Rebecca’s mom, “Boy, I love meeting people’s moms.  It’s like reading an instruction manual as to why they’re nuts.”

    During my 29 years as an educator in various roles in Saint Paul Public Schools, the approach I have learned is that meaningful family partnerships* are integral to student success.  Cory Jones, one of the founding teachers of Parent Teacher Home Visits explains it like this, “With a great curriculum, with a great teacher, if you leave out the home the results for that individual student will be lower.”  He’s right, families and schools need to be on the same team. This October, I’d like to encourage educators to take this parent-teacher season and challenge themselves to create opportunities for meaningful family engagement year-round. If you’re an educator leading a system instead of leading a classroom, then I challenge you to find ways of supporting and structuring these opportunities year-round as well.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Teacher Pay: Five Reasons to Factor in National Board Certification

    Our guest author is Erin E.H. Austin, a National Board Certified French teacher in Fort Collins, CO, and the 2023 CCFLT Teacher of the Year. She is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your Original World Language Resources and Going Global in the World Language Classroom (Routledge, forthcoming). Follow her on Twitter @Erin-EH-Austin.

    “We as a country have minimized the teaching profession so much that we are okay with teachers needing a second job to survive. I am not okay with it, our teachers deserve better and at @usedgov we are working to make better happen.”

    The quote above is from an April 6, 2023, tweet by U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona. Similar tweets, media statements, and advocacy have been ramping up for months, spanning the Department of Education, Secretary Cardona, and other education-invested adults around the country. Teachers are no exception to this advocacy work, though for many teachers, it has, indeed, been a life-long pursuit falling largely on deaf ears.

    Statistics that support the need for increased teacher pay abound. The National Education Association reported in 2019 that almost one in five teachers holds a second job at some point during the year, though the percentage of teachers who do have a second job is often dependent on age. Typically, the younger/newer the teacher, the more likely they are to have a second job. EdWeek reported similar numbers in 2022. The Teacher Salary Project surveyed 1,200 teachers in 2021 and found that 82% of the teachers surveyed held a second job either at the time of the survey or in previously during their teaching career.

  • In Defense of Public Education

    On March 28, 2023, Shanker Institute Board President Randi Weingarten delivered a major speech, In Defense of Public Education. Today, with permission, we reprint the speech as prepared.

    I. THE PROMISE AND PURPOSE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION

    Today, we once again grieve for families shattered by senseless gun violence. Please join me in a moment of silence for the lives lost at the Covenant School in Nashville, and for all victims of gun violence.

    Today we renew our call for commonsense gun safety legislation including a ban on assault weapons. This is an epidemic that our great nation must solve.

    There’s a saying: You don’t have to love everything about someone to love them. I’m sure my wife doesn’t love everything about me, but she loves me. (I, on the other hand, love everything about her.) Nothing is perfect. Banks aren’t. Congress isn’t. And neither are our public schools—not even our most well-resourced and highest-performing schools. Those of us involved in public schools work hard to strengthen them to be the best they can be. But only public schools have as their mission providing opportunity for all students. And by virtually any measure—conversations, polls, studies and elections—parents and the public overwhelmingly like public schools, value them, need them, support them—and countless Americans love them.

    Public schools are more than physical structures. They are the manifestation of our civic values and ideals: The ideal that education is so important for individuals and for society that a free education must be available to all. That all young people should have opportunities to prepare for life, college, career and citizenship. That, in a pluralistic society such as the United States, people with different beliefs and backgrounds must learn to bridge differences. And that, as the founders believed, an educated citizenry is essential to protect our democracy from demagogues.

  • Women's History Month: Celebrating History Makers, Like Burnie Bond, Working Alongside Us

    The attention to great women in history every March is both inspiring and motivating. Being reminded of the work of Frances Perkins, learning from the leadership of Delores Huerta, discovering another extraordinary fact about Harriet Tubman—all the opportunities to celebrate these women make March feel like it comes in and goes out with a roar.

    As this Women’s History Month is coming to a close I have been reflecting much closer to home, by thinking about the incredible women I have had the opportunity to work alongside, or work for, in my career. From my first teaching job where I worked for an indomitable principal and alongside talented and dedicated colleagues, which set the tone for my entire career in education, to my current work where I work for and alongside another group of talented and dedicated individuals to strengthen public education, worker voice, and democracy.

    Working alongside colleagues who share a mission to contribute to the common good feels like an opportunity to take women’s history off the page and live in the midst of the work to improve people’s lives that has been building up and out for generations. It has become a priority for me to learn what motivates the people I am privileged to work alongside and so, one day when we were launching a project to strengthen civics and democracy education, I asked my colleague, Burnie Bond, where her confidence in leading civics work comes from.

    Burnie has been dedicated to the labor movement, public education, and democracy work for her entire career. She 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 United States Information Agency. So, when I asked her what story or experience was foundational to her commitment, I was expecting an anecdote from one of the powerful roles she had in her career.

  • The Albert Shanker Institute at 25

    The Shanker Institute turns 25 years old this month!

    The Shanker Institute was formed in 1998 to honor the life and legacy of AFT President Al Shanker. The organization’s by-laws commit it to four fundamental principles—vibrant democracy, quality public education, a voice for working people in decisions affecting their jobs and their lives, and free and open debate about all of these issues.

    From the beginning the Institute has brought together influential leaders and thinkers from business, labor, government, and education from across the political spectrum. ASI continues to sponsor research, promotes discussions, and seek new and workable approaches to the issues that shape the future of democracy, education, and unionism.

  • Instructional Coaching: Education Buzzwords or Effective PD?

    As a former classroom teacher, I can vividly remember my first interaction with an instructional coach. It was during my third year of teaching and the county assigned one coach to work with more than twenty teachers to help increase student engagement. The coach observed our classrooms once a semester and then led a one-hour group debriefing session. Needless to say, this particular instructional coach appeared over-extended, and it led to a somewhat negative perception of the whole process.

    Five years later, I met and worked closely with a mathematics instructional coach in my graduate program. This coach worked with elementary teachers in a specific building and was one of the most dedicated educators I have ever encountered.

    After two extremely different experiences, I started to ponder the effectiveness of the coaching practice, and it seems as if I am not alone in my inquiry.