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

  • Let’s Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week by Acknowledging and Repairing A VERY Broken System

    Each May, as the school year winds down, districts across the country will soon celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. In previous years, receiving doughnuts, gift cards, and T-shirts was a nice way to end the school year. One could even laugh at the less than stellar tokens of appreciation, like the mini box of raisins with a sticker that exclaimed “thank you for ‘raisin’ student achievement.” But, amid COVID-19 and a host of new challenges that are facing educators, this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week may function as a going away party for many teachers who will soon leave the profession.

    That unfortunate reality of rising teacher burnout has serious consequences across the education system and requires greater attention to reverse this alarming trend. To put a number on this problem, a recent report found that 55% of teachers will leave the profession sooner than they had planned, and a staggering 90% are suffering from burnout (Kamenetz, 2022). I am one of these statistics. After years of suffering from burnout, I finally hit my breaking point — a persistent eye twitch induced by stress — and left the profession. After walking out of my classroom, I raced straight ahead to do as much research as possible on teacher burnout because I love the profession, and I know we must improve it for educators. 

  • It Takes a Community to Raise a Reader

    The relationship between family engagement and literacy development is often a one-sided story. Researchers regularly inform us that familial involvement in a child’s reading is vital to emergent literacy. However, we seldom hear about the differences and complexities in resources, time, language, and strategies that influence family engagement. We know that being involved in reading activities at home has a positive impact on reading achievement, language comprehension, expressive language skills, interest in reading, and attitudes towards reading for children throughout their educational careers (Clark, 2007). Yet, many families would benefit from knowing more about how to support their child’s literacy development. Thus, it is important for schools and families to build partnerships that strengthen at-home literacy. To this end, schools must actively reach out to families and equip them with the necessary tools to support their children’s literacy development.

  • Massachusetts: A Systems Approach To Improving Reading

    Guest author Heather Peske, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Senior Associate Commissioner for Instructional Support and the incoming President of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), discusses Massachusetts’ new systems approach to improving reading outcomes for students across the state.

    In Massachusetts today, despite our status as the highest performing state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only about half (45%) of our fourth grade students demonstrated proficiency on the 2019 NAEP reading assessment. Disparities persist in achievement among racial groups, with only about a quarter of Black (24%) and Latino (25%) fourth graders reaching proficient levels on NAEP Reading, compared to 54% of white fourth graders. These gaps represent opportunity gaps where we as a system have failed to provide students with access to the instruction and support they need to learn to read. And the data could lead to excruciating consequences, both for our students and for us as a democratic society that depends on engaged and informed citizens to thrive.

    The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has embarked on a systems approach to change reading instruction across our state and to change outcomes for students. It is our responsibility and privilege to serve more than 900,000 students and to partner with 75,000 educators and 70 educator preparation programs to impact reading instruction from Boston to the Berkshires, and every city and town in between.[1] Individuals cannot do this alone. We must approach this as a system to create the conditions within districts, schools and higher education so students successfully learn to read.

  • iCivics, A Trusted Resource For Teachers

    Our guest author today is Amanda Setters, who taught middle and high school social studies courses, including U.S. History, World History, AP U.S. History, IB History and Government, in Cincinnati, Ohio for over 20 years. Amanda loved iCivics so much during her teaching career that she recently joined the team as a Curriculum Associate in 2022 to support the creation of new resources and curricular materials for teachers and students nationwide.

    When the COVID-19 pandemic upended so much of what was taken for granted in people's lives, not even our children's education was spared. But, for the love of their students, teachers did what they do best—found a way through. That way was to pivot, pivot, and pivot again.

    The move from in-person to hybrid to remote (and even quarantine) learning has put teachers and students in a constant state of flux. Administrators, families, and teachers have worked incredibly hard over the past two years to make difficult decisions for the well-being of students and the larger school community. The lingering needs of students now need to be addressed.

    As a teacher, I definitely felt that pressure. We had to keep both feet on the gas to maintain pacing and make up for lost instructional time. But we also faced classrooms full of students who needed assistance with school routines, skill development, and social-emotional needs unlike anything we’d dealt with before.

    Amidst the chaos, I relied heavily on iCivics resources to relieve the pressure I was experiencing. The high-quality and low-prep materials from iCivics lightened the demands of lesson planning and creation, and helped me teach my high school World History and AP U.S. History classes. It was also extremely valuable as the need to provide literacy instruction to help fill instructional gaps in reading and writing skills (which has been huge in the last few school years). I’d particularly recommend iCivics for teachers who may be struggling with the following areas, like I was.

  • Reading Opens The World

    Our guest author today is Evelyn DeJesus, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and a member of the board of directors of the Albert Shanker Institute.

    Today I am going to be talking about a topic that is very close to my heart, reading instruction and literacy—the bedrock, the deepest foundation for what we do as educators. And I’ll also talk a bit about the AFT’s new, multimillion dollar, multi-year literacy campaign, Reading Opens the World

    Literacy Instruction and the Science of Reading

    Because strong reading and comprehension skills underlie everything else that we do in the classroom, the AFT has been “all in” on literacy for more than two decades. As President Randi Weingarten reminded us in her opening speech at TEACH last summer, “Over 20 years ago, the AFT first identified the need for educators—whatever their subject or level—to know more about research-based literacy.

  • Russian Teachers Fight Against Putin's War And For Democracy

    The Albert Shanker Institute is honored to welcome Jeffrey C. Isaac, the James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Blooomington, to the Shanker Blog. Professor Isaac offers needed perspective on what the activism of Russian teacher Ms. Irina Milyutina should mean to American educators.

    I was struck by Ms. Milyutina’s statement, “I’m doing it because my heart tells me to. I stand for justice, for peace and good relations with other countries, for progress…“ “My heart tells me to” represents the universality of educators who have historically chosen to stand up in the center of the struggle. Yes, educators are often backed up intellectually by data, surveys, strike votes, or evidence, and hearts tell educators based on the experiences the heart has recorded in the profoundly privileged space of teaching and learning. The actions that Ms. Milyutina’s heart has produced should challenge all educators to listen to their hearts and match her strength in our own activism for her and Ukraine’s school communities. That is exactly where Professor Isaac’s piece leaves us, to connect the challenge of Ms. Milyutina’s activism with our own and do something. Beyond finding NGOs to donate to, changing social media profiles, and educating ourselves, educators are in a powerful position to educate others. Let’s show Ms Milyutina we hear her heart. This piece was originally published on March 6, 2022 on Democracy in Dark Times. - Mary Cathryn Ricker

    Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife. -John Dewey (1916)

    Education is a dangerous thing for authoritarian leaders and regimes, for it nurtures free-thinking individuals capable of asking questions and seeking their own answers. For this reason, teachers have long been on the front line of the struggle for democracy.

    In the U.S., teachers are facing a well-orchestrated political campaign by the far-right to limit the teaching of certain subjects and perspectives in public schools, all in the name of a “patriotism” that is manifestly hostile to a multi-ethnic and multi-racial democracy and a well-educated citizenry.

    Right now Russian teachers are facing an even more nefarious and powerful campaign by Vladimir Putin to restrict education and attack academic freedom in the name of his brutal war of aggression in Ukraine.

  • What We’ve Learned About Creating Safe, Equitable, And Engaging Schools

    Every year, the Learning First Alliance convenes Public Schools Week to recognize the importance of public schools. The theme of Public Schools Week 2022 is “Creating Safe, Equitable and Engaging Public Schools,” which directly aligns to the AIR-authored volume, Creating Safe, Equitable, Engaging Schools. In this series, contributors to the volume provide fresh insights on what safe, equitable, and engaging means in our current context.

    Successful teaching and learning have always been hard, but right now, for educators, students, and their families, these activities feel almost impossible. The importance of safety, engagement, and equity for all students, educators, and families has never been more palpable. Addressing the social, emotional, and academic needs of our children, educators, and communities seems almost too daunting. It is certainly too big and too important to do alone, and it is imperative that schools and families work together. But how should we begin this work? The answer to that question is grounded in fundamentals that we knew well before the pandemic and our current social and political crises.

  • A Recipe For Successful Literacy Instruction

    As a former high school English teacher of nine years, I know how daunting it can be to tackle literacy instruction. You stress over the lack of resources. You crave more professional development. You worry about your assessment choices. You question your administrator’s support. On any given day, you have a stream of worries and concerns running through your mind. While many districts rely solely on the ever-changing state and federal literacy mandates to inform their instruction, there are many adjustments and services districts can provide within their own schools and classrooms to support students and teachers.

    The infrastructure of school systems contributes heavily to literacy instruction and achievement (Gabriel & Woulfin, 2022). One effective way to support system-level literacy is through a district literacy plan. These plans serve as a way to bring together various stakeholders to form a committee intent on better supporting students and improving literacy practices. When preparing a district literacy plan, stakeholders must use a combination of ALL the following ingredients to create a recipe for successful literacy instruction that promotes student learning.

    Vision Statement: A district literacy plan should open with and be centered around a vision statement for learning. The Glossary of Education Reform defines a vision statement as “a declaration that schools or other educational organizations use to describe their high-level goals for the future and what it hopes students will learn” (The Glossary of Education Reform, 2015). Essentially, a vision statement encompasses a district’s belief system about literacy and serves as a guide for their work.

  • Inequity Is Embedded In School Finance

    Our guest author today is Fedrick Ingram, secretary-treasurer of the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers.

    Every February, it comes around: Black History Month. It may seem like a feel-good event that has nothing to do with the nitty gritty of school policy and everything to do with uplift. But in my mind, the Black excellence we celebrate and try to nurture this month is the very reason we scrutinize one of the most foundational school issues we face: School finance.

    Before I get to that, let me say the obvious: Black history should not be relegated to one month a year. And it should not be limited to predictable recitations of Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and Martin Luther King Jr. We need to go deeper.

    We need to celebrate intellectual luminaries like Mary McLeod Bethune, Ida B. Wells, Bayard Rustin and Carter G. Woodson—the man who lobbied so hard to establish Black History Month back in the 1920s. And I want to celebrate Black excellence in today’s leaders. People like Rep. Maxine Waters, who has steadily held her ground to protect democracy; Sen. Raphael Warnock, who courageously ran for office in a state unlikely to elect him—and wound up tipping the Senate toward the Democrats by winning a seat once held by a Confederate general; Jason Reynolds, who publishes true-to-life stories that resonate with and engage Black children; and Nikole Hannah-Jones, who gave us the 1619 Project and continues to lift up all the history that has been missing from our classrooms for so very long.

    But as much as we have to celebrate, there is still so much more to do. School finance illustrates the point.

  • 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.”