K-12 Education

  • Efforts to help strengthen and improve public education are central to the Albert Shanker Institute’s mission. This work is pursued by promoting discussions, supporting publications and sponsoring research on new and workable approaches to ensuring that all public schools are good schools. As explained by Al Shanker below, these efforts are grounded in the belief that a vibrant public school system is crucial to the health and survival of the nation:

    "...I believe that public education is the glue that has held this country together. Critics now say that the common school never really existed, that it’s time to abandon this ideal in favor of schools that are designed to appeal to groups based on ethnicity, race, religion, class, or common interests of various kinds. But schools like these would foster divisions in our society; they would be like setting a time bomb.

    "A Martian who happened to be visiting Earth soon after the United States was founded would not have given this country much chance of surviving. He would have predicted that this new nation, whose inhabitants were of different races, who spoke different languages, and who followed different religions, wouldn’t remain one nation for long. They would end up fighting and killing each other. Then, what was left of each group would set up its own country, just as has happened many other times and in many other places. But that didn’t happen. Instead, we became a wealthy and powerful nation—the freest the world has ever known. Millions of people from around the world have risked their lives to come here, and they continue to do so today.

    "Public schools played a big role in holding our nation together. They brought together children of different races, languages, religions and cultures and gave them a common language and a sense of common purpose. We have not outgrown our need for this; far from it. Today, Americans come from more different countries and speak more different languages than ever before. Whenever the problems connected with school reform seem especially tough, I think about this. I think about what public education gave me—a kid who couldn’t even speak English when I entered first grade. I think about what it has given me and can give to countless numbers of other kids like me. And I know that keeping public education together is worth whatever effort it takes."

    Albert Shanker, 1997

  • I Don’t Like History... But I Love Civics

    In the second post of the Shanker Institute's Constitution Day 2022 Blog Series, guest author James Dawson, a UFT Teacher Center Instructional Coach at Paul L. Dunbar Middle School in the Bronx and Shanker Civics Fellow, contends that by infusing the concept of civic readiness into lessons, we are able to impart civic knowledge while encouraging civic engagement.

    When I first started coaching my school's social studies team, I was excited and naive. Excited by the chance to share my enthusiasm for (and, if I flatter myself, my considerable knowledge of) history Old World and New, ancient and modern. I was surprised to discover that my retention of the latter was considerably less than I had envisaged; I was surprised and dismayed that only a few students shared my enthusiasm. The narratives of the human experience that had drawn me to my history classes, my teachers’ descriptions of the earthier and less celebrated sides of well-known historical figures, their ponderings on the “could-have-beens” that would changed the course of the river of time, enthralled me.

  • Painting a Portrait of Professional Learning for the Science of Reading

    Assumptions about homogeneity are baked into schools and schooling; grade levels are sorted by student age, classrooms by numbers of desks, and sets of standards specifying what to teach and when students will reach proficiency. While most people understand and would agree that students’ needs and rate of learning vary greatly, we seem to forget this when it comes to adult learning. Based upon this, we emphasize not all teachers need the same learning experiences and environments to develop expertise.

    Teachers differ in the nature of their personal and professional experiences, in the assets and dispositions they bring to the job, in the role they play in their particular schools, and in their specific goals as educators. Thus, the professional learning opportunities available to them should not be one size fits all. This is easier said than done. Differentiating professional learning in any domain is complex, and reading is no exception. It is easier to book a speaker and order some materials than it is to design opportunities for professional learning that meet each educator where they are. Yet, for Science of Reading (SOR) based reforms to be implemented in ways that make a difference for students, coherent, contextualized, and engaging professional development on the SOR is crucial.  

    As a wave of reading reform, legislation related to the SOR represents an attempt to focus instruction on the explicit teaching of foundational skills, based on research that affirms the importance of phonemic awareness and phonics in beginning reading. Many SOR reforms aim to boost the knowledge and skills of individual teachers, with less attention to the ecosystem of schooling where these teachers are embedded, or to how leaders and teachers collaborate to improve instruction. SOR reforms often mandate that districts adopt new curricula and teachers teach with these materials. But implementing SoR reforms is complex, as it simultaneously involves individual learning and organizational change. Therefore, as we have described here, here, and in this podcast, it is crucial to align professional development, curriculum, and leadership – the three pillars of the reading infrastructure. These pillars enable instructional improvement by creating organizational conditions for systemic change. In this post, we concentrate on the professional development pillar.  

  • A More United America: Teaching Democratic Principles and Protected Freedoms

    by Kelly Booz

    On the last day of the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 17, 1787, Elizabeth Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, "Well, doctor, what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?" to which Franklin replied: "A republic, if you can keep it."

    America is built on the foundation of democracy. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution spells out the democratic principles we seek to achieve for "We the People.” The Constitution was written, the preamble says, “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

    Now, 235 years later, as we celebrate Constitution Day on Sept. 17, 2022, our Constitution is considered the longest-serving Constitution in the world. The U.S. Constitution and the freedoms granted within it belong to all of us, as long as we can keep it.

  • Reimagining Teacher Mentoring Programs: A Key to Solving the Teacher Shortage

    It is officially that time again. The time when teachers start returning to their classrooms for another school year. For an estimated 310,000 teachers (Perry-Graves, 2022), this will be their first time in the classroom, and back to school also means meeting their assigned mentor. Most districts use a formal mentoring program in which districts place new teachers with veteran colleagues. While many believe that mentors are only responsible for providing feedback on their mentee’s classroom instruction, the mentor’s role is much more complex. A good mentor can be an essential resource for helping novice teachers navigate the hidden curriculum of their new workspace, find a sustainable work/life balance, juggle the countless demands of the profession, and rely upon a consistent sounding board for what is sure to be a rollercoaster of a year.

    As a former teacher, I was lucky enough to have an active and caring mentor during my first year of teaching, and was able to model those relationships as I moved from mentee to mentor later in my career. My mentor and my mentees were all good matches for my personality, and we were able to establish strong relationships through shared goals and reciprocal trust. But I know my experience might be an outlier, as the effectiveness of mentoring programs is often questioned. Given these concerns, I have identified several interconnected areas that need further consideration to improve the mentoring experience for novice teachers.

  • Tennessee Trains Thousands of Secondary Teachers in Reading Science

    Guest Author Barbara R. Davidson, President of StandardsWork, Inc. and Executive Director of the Knowledge Matters Campaign, looks at how to address and elevate the literacy needs of secondary students.

    For all the welcome attention being paid to the Science of Reading, and literacy in general, there has been little focus in public policy on how to address the learning needs of secondary students who, for whatever combination of reasons, have failed to learn to read in elementary school.

    Earlier this year, the “What Works Clearinghouse,” an arm of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences (IES), made steps to elevate the narrative about secondary literacy when it issued a practice guide entitled, Providing Reading Interventions for Students in Grades 4-9.

  • What the Science of Reading Misses

    Time just published the latest high profile story on the Science of Reading – adding to the list of major news outlets (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist) that have covered this topic in the years following Emily Hanford’s seminal reporting.

    Many of these stories go like this: U.S. students underperform in reading; a literacy crisis plagues the country. Why? Despite the consensus among experts and researchers, reading continues to be taught in ways that are inconsistent with the science because teachers don’t know (or weren’t taught) this body of knowledge during their training.

    This narrative has (understandably) created alarm and put literacy front and center, spurring a public conversation and related wave of legislation to address the state of reading instruction and achievement across the nation. However, this narrative is not one hundred percent accurate; rather, it neglects a few key elements that I worry need to be understood and addressed to achieve and sustain real progress.

  • New York State Continues to Lead the Way in Education Innovation through P-TECH Schools

    New York State Senator and Chair of the New York State Senate Education Committee Shelley B. Mayer discusses her state's leadership in educational innovation and policies, particularly in the development of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School Program or P-TECH which are school to career programs that create a successful pathway from high school to college to career.

    New York State has long been a leader in educational innovation and policies. In 1890, New York City’s first kindergarten was established; and, after World War II, New York State was one of the first states in the union to make high school mandatory. And while New York State continues to lead, particularly with a focus on equity for all students, regardless of zip code, we know we have more work to do.

    Among our recent achievements, in 2021 and again in 2022, New York State finally fulfilled its promise of full funding under the Foundation Aid Formula. It was established almost 15 years ago based on the promise of a “sound basic education,” and as a way to depoliticize the funding of public education and base state funding for public schools on quantifiable need. And equally important, with strong leadership from the Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Carl Heastie, NYS has now begun to greatly expand full day Pre-k for 4 year old’s to hundreds more school districts, while New York City already led the way with federal funding and then local funding for full day Pre-K for all 4 year old’s several years ago.

    New York State has also led with the development of innovative school to career programs that create a successful pathway from high school to college to career. The P-TECH program, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School Program, continues to grow stronger and expand to more districts. I am proud to support this program, which provides a grade 9-14 combined high school and community college program linked directly to real career opportunities. P-TECH began in New York City over 14 years ago and now has been replicated across New York State. Former President Barack Obama featured P-TECH in his 2015 State of the Union address and came to visit the initial school in Brooklyn, New York. And as a further sign of success, New York State’s P-TECH innovative model has spread now across 13 states and 28 countries with large numbers of P-TECH schools in Texas, Maryland and Colorado and other countries, including Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, France and Taiwan.

  • The Gap Between Policy and Practice: Where Textbooks Fail Teachers

    Guest author William Schmidt, university distinguished professor and founder and director of the Center for the Study of Curriculum Policy at Michigan State University and Shanker Institute Board member, discusses how mathematics education must provide all children not only the formal ideas, concepts, algorithms, and procedures that define mathematics, but also focus on opportunities to experience quantitative reasoning to solve higher-order real-world applications.

    The world in which we now live has become increasingly complicated, not just in terms of artificial intelligence (AI), computers, robotics and other forms of technology, but in terms of the ways in which we acquire the knowledge we need to live, work and respond to the complicated issues that now confront the world’s population. Pandemics rage, economies plunge, and the occurrence of floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes increase exponentially in conjunction with climate change. Understanding these issues not only requires literacy in the sense of being able to comprehend what you read, but also requires mathematics literacy, such that a person is able to comprehend the necessary information that increasingly is numerical in nature and is often presented in graphical or tabular form.

  • Reflecting on What DACA Has Meant to Me

    As June marks the 10th anniversary of DACA, Guest author Karen Reyes, a special education teacher and DACA recipient, recounts her personal experience.

    June 15, 2012 is a day I will always remember. It was the day that President Obama announced DACA. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing—because it was a day that provided some relief. I would be able to put my education degree to good use; I would be able to get a license and drive; I would be able to live without the overwhelming fear of deportation.

    Two weeks ago marked the 10th anniversary of this program and I’ve been thinking a lot about it.

  • Effects of COVID-19 on Students’ Academic Achievement, Behavior, and Social-Emotional Well-Being

    Our guest author today is Dr. Alvin Larson, Director of Research and Evaluation at Meriden Public Schools, a mid-sized urban Connecticut school district that serves about 8,700 students in Meriden, CT.  Dr. Larson holds a B.A. in Sociology, M. Ed., and M.S. in Educational Research, and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.  The work and social-emotional instruments utilized below were made possible with the support from Meriden’s community, leadership and educational professionals.

    Over the past year or two there have been many reports, and predictions, in the media of students losing “years” of academic and social development as a direct or indirect result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many of these reports are based on first-hand views of school professionals such as understaffed school psychologists, counselors, and teachers who have witnessed large increases in concerning student behaviors and a decrease in academic skills.

    I am an Educational Psychologist embedded in an urban school district, where 77 percent of students are eligible for free/reduced price meals, 75 percent are minority, 20 percent are classify for special education, and 17 percent are English Language Learners. These students are exposed to many of the typical urban issues which add to our education challenges. Thanks to the support of the Meriden community, leadership, and educational professionals, I have been able to reliably measure student academic, behavioral and social-emotional development over the past ten years. In this essay, to estimate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ well-being; I am reporting cross-sectional data from three academic years 2019-20 (pre-COVID), as well as 2020-21 and 2021-22 (during/post COVID). While I will share aggregate changes in students’ academic measures as well as data on students’ suspension and teacher level data on perceptions of students’ behaviors across the pre-post COVID years, my primary focus is on students’ social-emotional well-being and how it has changed over the past few years.