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.
Let’s Talk: Professional Development Modules
The highest rate of vocabulary development (and corresponding acquisition of background knowledge) occurs during the preschool years. This makes preschool a crucial time for effective, content-rich instruction. Accordingly, the Institute has developed a series of Common Core State Standards (CCSS)-aligned modules, which are designed to strengthen the ability of early childhood educators to impart rich, academic content in fun, developmentally appropriate ways. The modules cover the academic domains of oral language development, early literacy, early science, and early mathematics.
Measuring School Settings: The Preschool Educational Environment Rating System
The Preschool Educational Environment Rating System (PEERS) is a measure designed to examine the quality of instruction in preschool settings. Unlike other rating scales, it not only measures the environment, it also examines both how teachers construct their classroom for instruction and the quality of the enactment of instruction.
Positive Behavior in the Early Years
This new program investigates what may be driving high rates of suspensions of poor children of color in early childhood classrooms. Our prelimnary work suggests that, aside from the important issue of unconscious bias, some problems arise from children’s lack of experience in using language to mediate behavior and the failure to provide teachers with alternatives to suspension.
Let's Talk - Overview
Young children’s oral language development has long-term implications for their academic success; but there are profound differences in word learning and content knowledge between children living in poverty and those from more economically advantaged homes. By the time they enter school, children of middle class families may know as many as 15,000 more words than their less advantaged peers.
Implementing Large-Scale Change in a Midsize Urban District
This program helped in the development of a high-quality, districtwide professional development plan for pre-K oral language development in St. Louis Public Schools, building on a unique labor-management partnership and a joint commitment to increasing both the quantity and quality of pre-K classrooms in this midsized urban school system.
Learning About the French Early Childhood System
In 2001, the Institute organized a study trip to France, designed to enable participants to get an intensive look at the French preschool system, which has gained international attention for being both universal and of high quality.
Countering Misinformation in the Classroom: A Media Literacy Discussion with Randi Weingarten and NewsGuard
In this Q & A style session, AFT President Randi Weingarten and Steven Brill discussed the misinformation trends NewsGuard’s analysts are encountering in the field, and the tactics educators can employ in their classrooms to counter these trends.
Literacy: Systems Matter. An Infrastructure Approach To Reading Achievement
Watch a discussion highlighting the importance of a reading infrastructure to create the conditions for effective, science-based reading instruction.
Strike for Common Good Book Discussion
Strike for the Common Good Book Discussion with editor Rebecca Givans and Joe McCartin, Georgetown University. Monday, January 25, 2021, 5:00 pm ET.
"Slaying Goliath" Discussion and Reception with Diane Ravitch and Randi Weingarten
In “Slaying Goliath…,” Diane Ravitch writes an impassioned, inspiring look at the ways in which parents, teachers, activists--citizens--are successfully fighting back to defeat the forces that are privatizing America's public schools.
Zombie Education Reform
Economists talk of “zombie reforms”—policies that continue to live on in the political realm despite a paucity of evidence that they can accomplish their stated objectives. Education is not immune to this phenomenon.
Early Childhood Education: The Word Gap & the Common Core
Given states’ difficulties in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) thoughtfully, many early childhood educators have begun to worry about what the NAEYC refers to as “a downward pressure of increased academic focus and more narrowed instructional approaches.”
Teaching: Art, Craft, or Science?
In the modern era, the debates over teaching have increasingly focused on views that have seen teaching as an art, a craft or a science – different ways of conceiving of the intersection of knowledge and practice.
The 2018 Elections: What Do They Mean for American Education?
What are the implications of the results of the 2018 election for American education, in Washington D.C,. in state capitols and in the nation’s schools and classrooms?
Puerto Rico: The Road to Recovery and Reconstruction
With the future of Puerto Rico hanging in the balance, this national conference focused on what needs to be done to rebuild the Puerto Rican economy and its educational system in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.
Deborah Meier Book Event and Reception
These Schools Belong to You and Me - Why We Can't Afford to Abandon Our Public Schools
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.
Tiny Crayons & Big Promises: What is Next for Early Care Provider Compensation in the U.S.?
Society’s youngest members have received some pretty big mentions recently—and for good reason. The United States isn’t heading into a childcare crisis any longer; it is fully in it. The already struggling industry was hit especially hard by the pandemic and has impacted families across the nation. The childcare crisis is so pervasive that President Biden prioritized childcare and prekindergarten stating, “if you want America to have the best-educated workforce, let’s finish the job by providing access to preschool” in his State of the Union address.
In the audience, several U.S. Representatives brought individuals directly impacted by the childcare crisis as their guests of honor. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts brought Eugénie Ouedraogo, a mom and nursing student who depends on access to affordable early care and education. Senator Patty Murray of Washington brought Angélica María González, a mother who experienced firsthand the lack or quality care for her children and a Moms Rising advocate. Senator Murray took her statement of support beyond who was sitting with her to what she was wearing. Senator Murray organized Democrats in the House and Senate to wear pins in the shape of tiny crayons to signal support for childcare funding, as President Biden proposed at the beginning of his administration. In an analysis of the State of the State addresses given by governors, First Five Years Fund found that the childcare crisis was an important issue on both sides of the aisle, with 40 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats talking about it. However, of the governors who specifically mentioned early childhood education as a priority for their states, only one in four governors referenced the childcare workforce and the struggle to find, recruit and retain workers. While these are exciting developments (especially in contrast to Donald Trump’s one 16-word sentence in his State of the Union in 2019) why is so little of the conversation centered around the early care workforce? The priority seems to be getting parents with young children back to work with affordable childcare.
Who Will Stand Up for Public Education?
Our guest author is Karin Chenoweth the founder of Democracy and Education an organization dedicated to providing information and support to school board candidates who are standing up to the extremist threat.
With all the attention on federal and state campaigns in November 2022, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that right-wing extremists had set their sights on winning school board elections.
School board elections tend to be an afterthought among both voters and those most involved in electoral politics. Civic-minded community members running without party affiliation—sometimes without opposition—traditionally have made for rather staid elections. Voters walking determinedly into the polls fully informed about presidential and congressional races can be stopped in their tracks with the question, “Do you know who you’re voting for school board?” They often haven’t thought about it.
And yet, with more than 88,000 school board members in more than 13,000 school districts, there are more elected school board members than any other category of elected official. Often intimately involved in their communities while working many hours for little or no pay, school board members are in many ways the face of small-d democracy in their communities.
School Vouchers: There Is No Upside
Our guest author today is Josh Cowen, Professor of Education Policy at Michigan State University.
What if I told you there is a policy idea in education that, when implemented to its full extent, caused some of the largest academic drops ever measured in the research record?
What if I told you that 40 percent of schools funded under that policy closed their doors afterward, and that kids in those schools fled them at about a rate of 20 percent per year?
What if I told you that some the largest financial backers of that idea also put their money behind election denial and voter suppression—groups still claiming Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Would you believe what those groups told you about their ideas for improving schools?
What if I told you that idea exists, that it’s called school vouchers, and despite all of the evidence against it the idea persists and is even expanding?
Towards the end of the summer of 2022, citing a recently-published article, Chester Finn wondered whether we have seen the end or a new beginning for standards-based reform. The theorized mechanism behind standards-based reform is that alignment across three key areas: academic standards, curriculum, and student assessments will drive student achievement. A hallmark of the accountability policy era, standards-based reform links assessment and materials, while paying less attention to the role of leadership to frame and implement the adoption of standards and curricular materials, the role of curriculum in organizing and sequencing instruction, or the role of professional development in ensuring access to information and support for enacting standards-based instruction. Many standards-based reforms presuppose that schools are equally primed for change and that change will be meaningful if accomplished. The gains from 30 years of implementing standards-based reforms have been lackluster. Many wonder whether standards-based reform is not only a failed experiment, but one we could have predicted would fail.
Heartwarming or Heartbreaking: Reflections on Abbott Elementary and Our Underfunded Schools
It took me about eight minutes into the pilot of Abbott Elementary, before I let out a sigh. For those who have not seen it, Abbott Elementary is a “mockumentary” that follows a group of passionate educators, all with vastly different experience levels, coming together to teach at an elementary school in Philadelphia. My sigh was coming from a place of relief—finally, someone had captured the duality of how heartwarming and heartbreaking being a teacher could be. The frustration, the tension, the passion, and the warmth was all there, neatly wrapped in about 22 minutes per episode. Now, Abbott Elementary is being nominated (and winning!) award after award, but to many former and current teachers, it is so much more than that. Personally, the show feels like my chance to explain what I did—to explain why I loved what I did but also to explain why ultimately, I had to leave the teaching field.
Some scenes felt so close to my own experiences, I wondered if the creator and star of the show, Quinta Brunson, had quietly but closely been watching my teaching journey. She had to have been there; she captured my experience too well to have not been with me through the astronomical highs and the gut-wrenching lows. From the anticipation and optimism of the first day, to my first moment of true clarity and understanding after a difficult yet urgent meeting with a parent, to the moments of connection with students. It is clear that despite having never taught, Brunson understood and continues to understand, the sheer joy that comes from being a teacher. But she also captured the disappointment, the feelings of failure, and the never-ending frustration of having to navigate problems that you did not create—all on top of the fact that when you finally get to go home, you live the lifestyle that comes with low pay and low respect. After watching and reflecting, I realized that perhaps my experience as a burnt-out teacher in an underfunded school was not as unique as I thought it was.
Teaching Kids What It Means To Be An American
Richard D. Kahlenberg is a Senior Fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, where he is working on a project to strengthen American identity through public education. He is the author or editor of 17 books, including Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race and Democracy, and a Shanker Institute board member.
Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday, many of us shared our gratitude for the results of the recent election, setting aside partisan considerations, because the outcome provided strong evidence that large numbers of American voters care deeply about the health of our democracy.
While the pundits warned that people were focused only on economic issues (which are important, to be sure), it turned out that “preserving democracy” was a salient theme for many Americans as well.
Candidates who denied the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election – a falsehood that was used by rioters on January 6 to try to disrupt the peaceful transition of power – lost in large numbers. The defeats by election deniers were particularly notable in high-profile elections in the Great Lakes states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
Whose Knowledge Matters in Literacy Instruction?
Our guest author today is Dr. Courtney Hattan. Dr. Hattan is an Assistant Professor of Elementary Literacy Education in the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University.
Knowledge is inarguably crucial for reading comprehension. What students know, including their academic knowledge and personal experiences, will influence what they understand and remember from texts. Therefore, recent efforts that call for building students’ knowledge base during elementary literacy instruction are important. Attention to knowledge-building enriches the conversation about reading science and helps bridge the research-to-practice gap. However, what’s missing from some of these conversations is a consideration of whose knowledge matters and what perspectives should be centered in the texts that students read.
In 1990, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop stated that students need to read texts that serve as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. Windows expose students to new ways of thinking and seeing the world, while the sliding glass doors provide opportunities for students to be immersed in those new worlds and perspectives. Mirrors allow students to see their language practices, histories, and values represented in the characters and experiences that are communicated through texts. Providing students with multiple perspectives allows them to consider various points of view, grapple with potentially conflicting information, and draw conclusions about what they believe to be true.
From Circletime to Civics: Involve our Youngest Learners in Civic Engagement
Early childhood classrooms are a surprising yet ideal site for introducing meaningful civic engagement. Schools, particularly preschools, are often the first institutions where children must work alongside others, beyond the members of their families and their immediate circles. With the somewhat shocking change that entering a school environment brings, there is also the opportunity to introduce and practice good civic skills. Think about it, at the blocks center, children begin to develop their negotiating and compromising skills for a limited set of resources. At dramatic play, children navigate competing interests, advocate for themselves and their ideas, and navigate big emotions as they are experienced when they don't get their way. Do these skills sound like they should be applicable outside the classroom? I hope they do, because they are the foundational skills for engaging in civil discourse and participating in the democratic process. This is more than just voting on what to name the classroom pet fish—democracy, in its purest and most beautiful form, is woven deep within the seemingly mundane play interactions children engage in and teacher-supported instruction. Too often, we observe children developing these skills without giving the experience the acknowledgment it deserves: lived experiences that cultivate civic capabilities and a developmentally appropriate understanding of equity. These skills, and the acknowledgment of these skills, are more critical now than ever.
How Relationships Matter In Educational Improvement
This short presentation explains some shortcomings of mainstream education reform and offers an alternative framework to advance educational progress.
Let's Talk Video
This video is part of the Let’s Talk initiative, a program aimed at raising community awareness and expertise in how a child’s knowledge and language develop in tandem, forming the foundation for all subsequent learning.
The Early Language Gap is About More Than Words
The vocabulary gap between rich and poor children develops very early and it is about more than just words. In fact, words are the tip of the iceberg. So what lies underneath? Find out by watching this three-minute video.
Early Childhood Education: The Word Gap & The Common CoreGiven states’ difficulties in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) thoughtfully, many early childhood educators have begun to worry about what the NAEYC refers to as “a downward pressure of increased academic focus and more narrowed instructional approaches.” But, as the NAEYC’s statement on the CCSS also observed, that “threat also provides an opportunity” for early education to exert more positive, “upward pressure” on the K–12 system.