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

  • School District Fragmentation, Segregation, and Funding Equity in New Jersey

    District fragmentation is a very important but sometimes overlooked factor shaping school segregation, school funding equity, and the relationship between them. Put simply, fragmentation refers to the fact that, in some states, there are hundreds of small districts, while other states are divided into a smaller number of large districts. For example, at the extremes, there are 67 (countywide) districts serving Florida’s 3 million public school students, whereas New Jersey maintains around 600 districts for its 1.3 million students. 

  • How the Fairness of State Tax Codes Affects Public Education

    Our guest author is Carl Davis, Research Director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. He was the project lead on the newest edition of ITEP’s Who Pays? report, which provides the only comprehensive measure of the progressivity, or regressivity, of state tax systems.

    The vast majority of state and local tax systems are regressive, or upside-down, with the wealthy paying a far lower share of their income in taxes than low-and middle-income families. That is the topline finding of the latest edition of our flagship Who Pays? report, which measures the impact that state tax systems are having on families at every income level. Its findings go a long way toward explaining why so many states are failing to raise the amount of revenue needed to provide full and robust support for our public schools.

    As we explain in the report, states with more progressive tax systems also raise more revenue on average. States with regressive tax codes, on the other hand, typically raise less. The reason for this is simple. High-income families receive a huge share of overall income, so when states choose to tax that huge amount of income at lower rates than what everyone else pays, they’re inevitably going to struggle to raise adequate revenue overall.

  • Celebrate Family Engagement All Year Round

    Our guest author is Sarah Johnson, a practicing public school educator in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She has taught in elementary classrooms, coached new teachers as a Peer Assistance and Review consulting teacher, served as an Academic Content Coach, led professional development on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and helped launch the Parent Teacher Home Visit project in Saint Paul Public Schools.

    It’s October. For some that means apple orchards, leaf viewing, and pumpkin spice. For educators, it also brings Parent Teacher conferences . . and a dread of all the candy and unbridled enthusiasm for that last day of the month, but that’s a different blog.  Over the years I’ve seen educators approach conferences with a variety of perspectives and approaches: some excited to update families on the new learning, some worried about how families might respond to a concern, and some exhausted from the preparation and longs days.   Thankfully, it’s quite rare that some take Ted Lasso’s view, shared when he met Rebecca’s mom, “Boy, I love meeting people’s moms.  It’s like reading an instruction manual as to why they’re nuts.”

    During my 29 years as an educator in various roles in Saint Paul Public Schools, the approach I have learned is that meaningful family partnerships* are integral to student success.  Cory Jones, one of the founding teachers of Parent Teacher Home Visits explains it like this, “With a great curriculum, with a great teacher, if you leave out the home the results for that individual student will be lower.”  He’s right, families and schools need to be on the same team. This October, I’d like to encourage educators to take this parent-teacher season and challenge themselves to create opportunities for meaningful family engagement year-round. If you’re an educator leading a system instead of leading a classroom, then I challenge you to find ways of supporting and structuring these opportunities year-round as well.

  • Literacy Legislation in Education: Align Policy with Practice

    Our guest author is Jeanne Jeup, co-founder and CEO of the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education and a former first-grade teacher.

    Change starts at the top with legislation, a constant force shaping how teachers teach and students learn. Navigating the intricate path from the inception of legislation to its effective implementation within classrooms is a multifaceted and demanding endeavor. By nurturing collaboration among educators, administrators, and policymakers, a trickle-down effect is created that can successfully bridge the immense gap between policy and practice. The majority of states that enacted reading legislation in the past four years recognize the role of science and evidence in reading reform.

    The legislative landscape in reading education is complex and multifaceted. Due to the combined efforts of educators, parents, and state leaders, there has been a movement toward science-based reading instruction. This push brought about an onslaught of legislation to address the persistent reading deficits of all American students, namely those living in poverty and those from black, brown, and indigenous communities who are disproportionately affected.

    The journey of reading education legislation begins with policymakers and educational experts collaborating to draft bills and set expectations. Well-intentioned from the start, the challenge lies in ensuring that these laws, once passed, are effectively communicated and implemented throughout the education system at large. As these policies filter down through the layers of the education system, from the state level to the district level and finally to the classroom, interpretation and implementation can vary significantly. Without an educator on the local classroom level who can communicate and take ownership of the changes, legislation becomes just words on a page without being put into practice. This leads to a disconnect between the intent of the legislation and its real-world application through clear and actionable implementation solutions.

  • Civic Education: From the Classroom to the Polling Place

    On National Voter Registration Day, our special guest author is Rhode Island Secretary of State Gregg M. Amore.

    Preparing our next generation of civic leaders, engaged voters, and informed citizens starts in the classroom. In Rhode Island, young people are eligible to pre-register to vote as early as age sixteen. We know that when voters are engaged early, they’re more likely to vote consistently throughout their life. As a former educator, I feel it is essential that we lay the foundation to support students and young people, encouraging them to become civically engaged – as voters, advocates, community members, and even elected officials themselves. As we recognize National Voter Registration Month, we must think about how we set our next generation of voters up for success, including inspiring and encouraging them to register to vote.  

    I was sworn in on January 3, 2023 as Rhode Island’s thirtieth Secretary of State, but my election as Secretary of State wasn’t my first step into politics. I first ran for elected office in 2012, serving the residents of my hometown of East Providence, Rhode Island as a State Representative for a decade. My role as a part-time legislator, coupled with my career as a civics and history teacher, afforded me the opportunity to advocate for my students both inside and outside of the school environment. 

    Perhaps one of my proudest moments as a Representative was the passage of the Civic Literacy Act, a bill I sponsored that emphasizes “action civics,” requiring students to demonstrate proficiency in civics education through a project-based, immersive curriculum before high school graduation. Another bill I was proud to sponsor that recently became law in Rhode Island allows 17-year-olds who will turn eighteen by a general election to vote in the primary that determines the general election’s candidates. Better civic education as well as increased access to the ballot box are key to encouraging young people to become lifelong voters. 

    My classroom and legislative experiences made clear to me what was needed in order to ensure that students have the tools they need to succeed as citizens and participants in civic life. There’s no doubt that the policy-making and legislative process can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never been invited to be part of the process before. As a teacher, I encouraged my students to take the concepts and lessons we learned in the classroom and apply them to the real world. In one of my last years in the House of Representatives, my East Providence High School students researched, discussed, and debated an issue of importance to them, compensation for individuals who had been wrongfully convicted, eventually helping to inform a bill that I was able to co-sponsor. That bill was signed into law by the governor – a great outcome. But another positive outcome was that my students got to see that the State House wasn’t only for legislators, and they could truly make a difference by being civically engaged. 

  • Reading Reform on the Ground: How SoR Policy is Showing Up in Schools

    On International Literacy Day, we publish a guest post by educator, researcher, and author Callie Lowenstein who shares her incredible perspective of the in-depth thinking teachers offer to their practice and how sincerely teachers want to meet the needs of students.

     

    One thing about teachers: we want to get our instruction right. 

    After decades of mixed messages and misinformation in our professional development (PD), teacher training programs, and curricular materials, many classroom educators are eager to get on top of the science, to ensure that our efforts and hours, our lesson planning and detailed feedback and materials prep and book purchases and deep care for our students, are not being wasted. 

    Indeed, after a major balanced-literacy leader published an unapologetic deflection of the science of reading movement last year, a group of teachers from across the country wrote our own open letter, collecting over 650 teacher signatures in a matter of days, attesting to the ways we, teachers, wished we had done better by our students.

    As authors Susan B. Neuman, Esther Quintero, and Kayla Reist so expertly and carefully highlighted in the Shanker Institute’s Reading Reform Across America report, it’s not just us. 

  • Decades of Dedication to the Science of Reading

     

    MARY CATHRYN
    As director of the Albert Shanker Institute, the think tank endowed by the American Federation of Teachers, I had the privilege of leading the development and release of the ASI’s new report released in late July, Reading Reform Across America. It’s a survey of reading legislation adopted over the course of four years by states across the country, with good and bad news. The report was met with immediate interest, and attention.

    To the good, states are finally noting that the research underlying strong reading instruction is not typically matched by the curriculum and instruction in most schools, and they are taking legislative action. Also, despite fears that much of the legislation might only call narrowly for phonics, most states called for the full range of instruction noted as essential in the renowned 2000 National Reading Panel report.

    On the downside, the legislation is generally too narrow. In almost every state, there is scant attention to the importance of background knowledge, oral language, and even writing, now understood to be vital to strong reading comprehension and overall literacy.

  • Why Does Knowledge Matter?

    We recently released a report examining reading laws enacted by states in the past four years. One finding that has generated interest is the fact that these laws pay almost no attention to the role of background/content knowledge in reading. Specifically, 6 out of 46 states that passed reading legislation between 2019 and 2022 mention background/content knowledge in their laws; of these, only 4—Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—include a more substantive (if brief) mention.

    Florida’s law, for example, requires the state’s department of education to “develop and provide access to sequenced, content-rich curriculum programming, instructional practices, and resources that help elementary schools use state-adopted instructional materials to increase students' background knowledge and literacy skills.” But language like this is almost non-existent in the corpus of over 220 reading bills we examined. Why does this omission matter?

    There's widespread agreement within the reading community regarding the association between knowledge and reading comprehension: the more you know, the more you understand when you read, and the more you gain from reading. Furthermore, there's a growing body of evidence (also here and here) suggesting that this association is causal. Thus, building knowledge, particularly through a content-rich curriculum, is expected to enhance general reading comprehension. While this is a encouraging finding, shouldn't we value knowledge for its own inherent worth? Beyond its essential role in comprehension, why else might knowledge matter?

  • Demystifying the Science of Reading

    Over the past year, the Albert Shanker Institute has been examining four years worth of literacy legislation — stay tuned for our report, which will be released soon. In discussing our findings with colleagues and friends, we often find ourselves starting from scratch, filling gaps, and debunking misconceptions. This post aims to address one question we frequently encounter.

    What is the science of reading?

    While organizations such as the Reading League have put out useful materials about what the science of reading is, we aim to keep it simple here. Essentially, the science of reading is synonymous with academic research on reading. It refers to the vast body of knowledge that scholars have accumulated over decades about how people learn to read. Thus, the phrase is a shorthand for work of hundreds of scholars in countless studies. This body of knowledge includes things that are known with certainty, those that we are just beginning to understand, and everything in between. Like any scientific field, reading science is dynamic and evolving. It is not settled.

  • Experiential Civic Learning for Democracy

    Our guest author is Wilfred Chirinos, an associate on the Policy and Advocacy Team at Generation Citizen.

    In the recent past, commentators such as David Leonhardt in his New York Times article ‘A Crisis Coming’: The Twin Threats to American Democracy," have spoken to some of the greatest threats against our democracy at this moment, including the heightened sense of partisanship with calls for a “national divorce”1; the ilk of authoritarianism on the edges of the ideological spectrum, and amplified through the coverage of our political discourse; and the rapid development of social media and AI technology in what some have labeled a “post-truth” era.2 These concerns are rightfully identified as looming threats to democracy. Taken together, they suggest that we stand at a pivotal moment in American history. While some contend that these issues are intractable, reports collected by the Center for American Progress and my experience within civics education suggest that revitalizing our democracy can begin with civic learning in our classrooms.

    As said by AFT President Randi Weingarten, “Experiential learning engages students through problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, and learning by doing. We need to help kids engage with the world, with ideas, and with each other….”3 Through experiential learning, we can encourage students to engage creatively in their education to develop life-long skills. Experiential learning catalyzes their journey of becoming engaged citizens with the tools to interact meaningfully with the world around them.

    At Generation Citizen, students are provided with an experiential learning opportunity through our action civics programs. Students are taught to engage with their community by identifying relevant problems,  researching issues that they select, and presenting evidence-based policy solutions to stakeholders and decision-makers. The goal of this process is to instill a spirit of civic duty and engagement while enhancing their practical civic knowledge. Students learn about the history and structure of their local governments while connecting with these institutions, which often feel far removed. As they engage these institutions, they themselves are changed in the process and can influence the public policy process in significant ways, that reverberate far beyond the classroom.