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

  • Happy Holidays from the Shanker Institute

    Happy Holidays!

    We have enjoyed working alongside you again this year, providing you with insightful commentary on critical topics of the day, including pressing public education, labor movement, and democracy issues. To provide time for our colleagues to step away from work, rest, and recharge, the Albert Shanker Institute will be pausing new blog entries until January 2023. We look forward to working with  you to make progress in 2023.

    If you can, we encourage you to support AFT’s effort to provide generators to Ukrainian schools and community centers. Use this link: https://www.aft.org/aft-disaster-relief-fund and choose “Ukraine” in the dropdown menu

    Also, in keeping with our goal to give back this holiday season, our gift to you is to highlight a few adoptable pets from one of the nonprofits our staff members support. This year particularly, shelters and rescues are reaching capacity with record breaking numbers of adoptable pets. Here are a few of the beautiful cats available for adoption from the Montgomery County Partners for Animal Well-being (MCPAW). (See all MCPAW's adoptable cats and MCPAW's adoption application.)

  • 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.

  • In Memoriam: Michael Maccoby

    It is with sadness that the Albert Shanker Institute acknowledges the passing of longtime board member, Michael Maccoby. He was 89. Michael was a talented expert on leadership, an accomplished author, and sought-after consultant and advisor. On the Shanker Institute Board of Directors, Michael was a leader and thoughtful contributor. We will miss him.

    In a January 2018 blog post for the Shanker Institute, “For a More Just and Prosperous America,” Mr. Maccoby closed, “We need leaders who transform fear into productive activity, bring us closer together, and spark hope by working to implement a vision of a more just and prosperous America.” The Albert Shanker Institute remains grateful that Michael Maccoby devoted his life to studying, elevating, and being that kind of leader.

  • What Do You Know About Tribal Sovereignty?

    This guest blog, by National Board-Certified educator Julie Hutcheson-Downwind, walks readers through an understanding of the role and history of tribal sovereignty that should be common knowledge for all Americans. Additionally, Ms. Hutcheson-Downwind concludes with an example of what this can and should mean for our students. The Albert Shanker Institute, whose offices reside in the ancestral land of the Anacostans (also documented as Nacotchtank), and the neighboring Piscataway and Pamunkey peoples, is committed to strengthening our collective understanding of and respect for historic and contemporary tribal sovereignty.

  • 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.  

  • Creating an Innovation Ecosystem that Works for Working People

    A special issue of the New England Journal of Public Policy (Vol. 34, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2022) featured essays on the topic of the Future of Work which were solicited by the American Federation of Teachers for a conference on the subject it jointly hosted with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Albert Shanker Institute. In the ninth of these essays, guest authors Amanda Ballantyne et al explore how labor unions help workers navigate economic turmoil and play a crucial role in shaping sweeping societal and workplace technological changes.

    The digital transformation of the economy is disrupting workplaces, daily life and the social fabric. Workers face new challenges from advanced robotics, big data, artificial intelligence, and social media that exacerbate economic and racial inequality. Big business and Big Tech companies, supercharged by taxpayer-funded research, are imposing these changes on workers without their consent or input. This has minted a host of tech billionaires, but workers have not gotten a fair share of the economic benefits. Labor unions have long helped workers navigate economic turmoil and have a crucial role to play in shaping the technological changes that are sweeping society and the workplace.
    Read the full article.

  • Collective Bargaining and Digitalization: A Global Survey of Union Use of Collective Bargaining to Increase Worker Control over Digitalization

    A special issue of the New England Journal of Public Policy (Vol. 34, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2022) featured essays on the topic of the Future of Work which were solicited by the American Federation of Teachers for a conference on the subject it jointly hosted with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Albert Shanker Institute. In the eighth of these essays, guest authors Eckhard Voss and Daniel Bertossa discuss the future of collective bargaining in the face of increasing digitalization.

    In “Collective Bargaining and Digitalization: A Global Survey of Union Use of Collective Bargaining to Increase Worker Control over Digitalization,” WMP consultant Eckhard Voss and PSI expert Daniel Bertossa discuss what the future of collective bargaining looks like in the face of increasing levels of digitalization. Through an in-depth evaluation of seven key areas affected by digitalization, the authors discuss the deficits in collective bargaining, before approaching the herculean task of confronting them.

  • 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.

  • Reshaping the Digitization in Public Services

    A special issue of the New England Journal of Public Policy (Vol. 34, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2022) featured essays on the topic of the Future of Work which were solicited by the American Federation of Teachers for a conference on the subject it jointly hosted with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Albert Shanker Institute on July 13, 2022. This is the seventh of these essays.

    Digitalization is already a sweeping force throughout private and public spaces, and public services are on the forefront of this new frontier. Unfortunately, this has not been an easy process, with rights being violated and harm being caused. In “Reshaping the Digitization in Public Services,” Christina Colclough, founder of the Why Not Lab, discusses the measures needed to protect human rights and put in place safeguards to ensure digitization proceeds in a manner that benefits everyone.