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

  • 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. 

  • The Ongoing Journey to Equitable Practices

    Guest authors Allie Tompkins, Marie Collins, Bryan Mascio, and Beth Fournaf share efforts to balance the need to address concerns about equity and social justice in their schools and the need to engage in difficult conversations with colleagues, students, families, and the broader community.

    Introduction
    While education has been the site of many contentious battles throughout history, the last year has been rife with conflict around public school curriculum, including how issues of race, gender, and sexuality are discussed, or in some cases, silenced. These and other topics often referred to broadly as "divisive concepts" have been particularly polarizing among politicians and parents, and within school walls (The New York Times, November, 2021). As a result, educational leaders are in a challenging position: balancing the urgent need to address concerns about equity and social justice in their schools and the need to be prepared to engage in difficult conversations with colleagues, students, families, and the broader community.

    In this article, the authors share our efforts to balance these concerns in our work with early career educators teaching in K-12 public schools. We share our experiences with these individuals in a rural teacher preparation program in the northeastern United States. The program focuses on building teacher capacity in high-need rural schools by preparing new teachers over the course of a 15-month graduate program, which included a full-year teaching residency alongside an experienced mentor.

  • 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.