Early Childhood Education

  • Oral Language Project Boosts Preschoolers' Vocabulary in St. Louis

    This paper, from NYU's Steinhardt School, describes a Shanker Institute-sponsored pilot project designed to help pre-K teachers in the St. Louis Public Schools increase the oral language development of their students.

  • Video: 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 words. If words are just tip of the iceberg, what lies underneath? Watch this three minute video and find out.

  • Tips on How to Promote Early Oral Language

    Download this brochure offering tips and suggestions on early oral language development for educators, parents and caregivers put together by the AFT and ASI

  • Call for Common Content

    A statement released by the nonpartisan Albert Shanker Institute and signed by dozens of educators, advocates, policymakers, researchers and scholars from across the educational and political spectrum, highlights one largely ignored factor needed to enable American students to achieve to high levels and become internationally competitive—the creation of voluntary model curricula that can be taught in the nation’s classrooms.

  • Preschool Curriculum: What's In It For Children and Teachers

    Preschool Curriculum is an accessible research synthesis of how and how much young children learn in the academic domains of oral language, literacy

  • Best Research to What Works Luncheon Series: Transcripts

    This forum series was designed to highlight best research on key educational issues, then to link these findings to the practical steps that schools can take to improve student achievement. Held periodically from 2002 to 2007, these events brought together a select group of researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to discuss crucial issues about which research and practice appear to diverge.

  • Early Language and Literacy Development

    What is known about the language and literacy development of young, preschool-age children and how does this relate to their long-term success in school?

  • Early Reading: Teacher Preparation

    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.

    New findings from 50 years of international research in such diverse feels as neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, and education have helped illuminate the process by which children learn to read. This research indicates that, although some children learn to read with relative ease, others will never learn unless they are taught in an organized, systematic way by a knowledgeable teacher using a well-designed instructional approach. And, although a large number of students come to school unprepared to achieve in reading, the reading difficulties of most at risk and struggling students could be prevented or ameliorated by literacy instruction that includes a range of research-based components and practices, unfortunately very few teachers of reading have been taught how to deliver such instruction.

    Where We Are

    Ask almost any elementary school teacher what he or she knew about the teaching of reading before entering the classroom, and the answer will be: “Not nearly enough.”

  • Constructing And Animating The Infrastructure For Reading Instruction

    The Albert Shanker Institute is talking with educators and school leaders daily. Our conversations range from attention-grabbing issues of the moment to long-range plans to strengthen and improve teaching and learning. Throughout the pandemic we have featured the voices of practitioners and earlier this fall we also renewed the Albert Shanker Institute’s commitment to strengthening reading instruction and literacy. We recognize our schools are currently being asked to accomplish the enormous task of keeping schools and communities safe and healthy from COVID—including improving air circulation and revamping physical plants without disrupting classroom instruction, fill perennial hard-to-staff positions, provide nutritional and community support to students and families, and address interrupted learning. Everything must be read in consideration of a productive path forward as we work collectively to meet the needs of students. 

    Today’s guest blog post from Sarah L. Woulfin (The University of Texas at Austin) and Rachael Gabriel (University of Connecticut) is no different. The deep ideas of structural change (and the infrastructure that must be addressed) offer a path forward that is collaborative, effective and research-based. The authors provide certainty and confidence in a time when we could use both. Rather than bounce from quick, one-time fixes, we need to pause to redesign teaching and learning going forward. Our students deserve our most thoughtful work.

    From Why Johnny Can’t Read, to the Reading Wars and Reading First, to the Science of Reading, multiple constituents—from policymakers and journalists to district leaders and parents—have spelled out problems in teachers’ reading instruction and students’ reading achievement. Concerns about reading instruction, with attempts to convert schools towards evidence-based practice, are not new. Proponents of the “Science of Reading” (SOR) now concentrate on the necessity of teachers covering particular strands of reading instruction and using particular instructional methods (e.g., phonics, explicit instruction, and systematic teaching of foundational skills) (Barnes, 2016; Brady, 2011; Hanford, 2018). They apply assumptions that specific content is not being taught in preferred ways because of deficits in teacher knowledge or the absence of appropriate instructional materials (Korbey, 2020; Lyon & Chhabra, 2004). Therefore, much of the SOR discourse hones in on individuals over systems and structures.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • In Memoriam: Eugenia Kemble

    It is with great sorrow that we report the death of Eugenia Kemble, the founding executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, after a long battle with fallopian tube cancer. “Genie” Kemble helped to conceive of and launch the institute in 1998, with the support of the late Sandy Feldman, then president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Endowed by the AFT and named in honor of the AFT’s iconic former president, the Albert Shanker Institute was established as a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research reports and fostering candid exchanges on policy options related to the issues of public education, labor, and democracy.

    A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the University of Manila, Genie entered the teacher union movement as part of a cohort of young Socialist Party activists who were close to Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and deeply involved in the civil rights struggle. She began her career in 1967 as a reporter for the newspaper of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the AFT’s New York City local, and became a top aide to then UFT president Albert Shanker. She was a first-hand witness to the turbulent era during which Shanker served as UFT president, including the UFT strike for More Effective Schools in 1967, the harrowing Ocean Hill Brownsville strike over teachers’ due process rights in 1968, the remarkable UFT election victory to represent paraprofessionals in 1969, and the masterful bailout of a faltering New York City government through the loan of teacher pension funds in the mid-1970s.

  • Where Al Shanker Stood: The Problem of Student Mobility

    In this New York Times piece, published on January 13, 1991, Al Shanker discusses the persistent problem of student mobility, how it disrupts children's lives and educational prospects, and what schools and school systems might do to help.

    Once upon a time, people talked about student achievement in terms of the kids' responsibility for what they leaned. Some youngsters were smart, and others were dummies. Some worked hard; some were lazy. Nowadays, we've discarded these crude yardsticks because we understand that many things can influence a child's success in school. But we've substituted something just as crude. I mean the notion of accountability that makes schools totally responsible for student learning.

    Of course, people have the right—the responsibility—to find out whether schools are doing a good job. And they have the right to call for the changes that are needed. But people should also understand that schools face some big problems over which they have no control.

    Take the problem of student mobility, especially among poor children in urban school systems. Every year between September and June, an enormous number of students transfer in and out of these schools, often because their families are in a state of collapse or because they've lost their current housing and have to find somewhere else to live. A recent Wall Street Journal article (November 14, 1990) about the Rochester, NY, schools says that in 1987 annual student mobility—that is, the number of student transfers in relation to the entire student population—reached 64 percent. In one elementary school, it was 100 percent. And if this is true in Rochester, there's no question that something like it goes on in other urban school systems. What does it mean for teaching and learning in these schools?

  • Student Discipline, Race And Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter Schools

    At a recent press conference, Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz addressed the issue of student discipline. “It is horrifying,” she told reporters, that critics of her charter schools’ high suspension rates don’t realize “that five-year-olds do some pretty violent things.” Moskowitz then pivoted to her displeasure with student discipline in New York City (NYC) public schools, asserting that disorder and disrespect have become rampant.

    This is not the first time Moskowitz has taken aim at the city’s student discipline policies. Last spring, she used the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to criticize the efforts of Mayor Bill De Blasio and the NYC Department of Education to reform the student code of conduct and schools’ disciplinary procedures. Indeed, caustic commentary on student behavior and public school policy has become something of a trademark for Moskowitz.

    The National Move to Reform Student Discipline Practices

    To understand why, it is important to provide some context. The New York City public school policies that Moskowitz derides are part of a national reform effort, inspired by a body of research showing that overly punitive disciplinary policies are ineffective and discriminatory. Based on this research evidence, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and School Discipline Consensus Project of the Council of State Governments have all gone on record on the harmful effects of employing such policies. The U.S. Education Department, the U.S. Justice Department, civil rights and civil liberties organizations, consortia of researchers, national foundations, and the Dignity in Schools advocacy coalition have all examined the state of student discipline in America’s schools in light of this research.1

  • Onboard The Early Childhood Express Train, But Let’s Shift Tracks

    Our guest author today is Emma Gulley, a preschool teacher and current Master’s student at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, where she studies early childhood language acquisition.

    Government-funded early childhood education works. It works for students as they learn academic as well as social-emotional skills. It works for low income and middle class families, who can leave their children in trusted and closely monitored learning environments, rather than in less regulated day care arrangements. It works for school districts that can now, with effective early childhood education in place, avoid expensive early intervention programs, since more students are arriving at school “ready to learn.”

    And it works for the United States broadly, since, according to a recent White House press release, investments in high quality childhood education provide benefits to society of about $8.60 for every $1.00 spent. Why is it, then, that 30 percent of Americans do not favor using federal funds to expand universal preschool? Why do only 39 percent consider preschool to be extremely important, while 69 percent think high school is extremely important?

    If we want increased support for federal funding of early childhood education we need to provide more clarity regarding: A) what actually happens in the early childhood classroom; B) what improved school readiness means for students’ future success; and C) how that $8.60 benefit is calculated and what constitutes those long-term benefits to society. That is to say, abstract statistics are powerful, but they may not be sufficient or salient enough to convince everybody that early childhood education is about more than just finger paint.

  • Knowledge For Literacy

    Our guest author today is Marilyn Jager Adams, a visiting scholar in the Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences Department of Brown University. Marilyn is internationally regarded for her research and applied work in cognition and education, including the seminal text Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print. This post is adapted from Literacy Ladders, our anthology of articles on early childhood literacy learning.

    The very purpose and promise of schooling is to prepare students for responsible adult lives—to be civically minded and informed, to pursue higher education, and to find gainful work that allows them to grow and contribute to society. To accomplish this, students must be given ample support and practice in reading, interpreting, and writing about texts as complex as those that characterize life beyond high school. But here lies our great dilemma. Increasing the sophistication of assigned texts, all by itself, is unlikely to do much good. After all, we know that many students are unable to understand such rigorous texts, and nobody learns from texts that they cannot understand.

    What this means is that we, as educators, need figure out how to help raise our students’ language and literacy skills to levels that enable them to understand and gain from complex texts. Working with the Albert Shanker Institute, the American Federation of Teachers, and Core Knowledge Foundation, I recently helped produce an anthology of research essays — Literacy Ladders — that addresses this challenge. Below are a couple of the key takeaways.