K-12 Education

  • Academic Freedom in an Age of Political Polarization

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    Academic freedom is best understood, John Dewey once wrote, as freedom of education: the freedom of students to learn the knowledge and skills of citizenship in a democratic society and the freedom of teachers to teach in ways that cultivate these skills and knowledge. As such, academic freedom is not only indispensable for the educational mission of the university, but vital to the safeguarding of freedom in the larger society. Dewey’s vision of academic freedom as a public good, essential for democracy itself to flourish, has come under attack in recent years. In a hyper-partisan moment, when issues as different as climate change and gun violence have been crudely polarized and politicized, academic freedom too has been targeted by those who believe that the university should not be teaching critical and independent thinking, but propagating a particular political ideology. Provocateurs now use public events to spark disruption, initiate violence and attack intellectual diversity on campus, rather than engaging in productive dialogue and mutual learning. From a variety of different perspectives, our panel addressed the issues raised by the need to defend academic freedom in an age of political polarization. Watch the video.
  • Is the Promise of ESSA Being Actualized?

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    Now that the states have completed and submitted their first ESSA plans, it is an appropriate time to ask if the promise of ESSA is being realized. Which states and districts have used this new freedom to draw back from testing overreach, establishing more balanced approaches to student promotion, teacher evaluation and school accountability? Are states and districts using ESSA to provide the needed resources and supports to struggling schools, almost all of which serve students with the greatest needs? If ESSA’s promise is not being realized, why not? What, if any, role has a Trump/DeVos Department of Education played in the first fruits of ESSA? Our panelists addressed these questions among others. Watch the video.

  • Teaching Democratic Citizenship When Democracy is at Risk

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    Today, the U.S. finds itself in a crisis of democracy, in which the future of our liberties and our republican form of government hang in the balance. Almost daily, we see attacks against the rights of citizenship, especially on the right to vote, and against the rule of law, an independent judiciary and a free press. Demagogic attacks are regularly launched against “other” Americans—immigrants and refugees, people of color, Muslims and Jews, and LGBTQ people. What role should American education play in responding to this crisis of democracy? How should we teach democratic citizenship in our schools and universities to ensure that the “whole mass of the people” can see that it is their interest to preserve the republican government established by the founders to sustain liberty and democracy? How can America’s educators ensure that their classrooms and lecture halls are places where students learn to recognize demagoguery, oppose bigotry and resist tyranny? Two of our nation’s leading public intellectuals, Harvard professor Danielle Allen and Yale professor Timothy Snyder, joined AFT President Randi Weingarten to discuss these questions. . Watch the video.
  • Vouchers and Education: What Do History and the Research Tell Us?

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    As Congress considers the Trump-DeVos proposals for a national voucher program, what can we learn from the history of vouchers and from the research on the performance of voucher systems? From a variety of perspectives, our panel addressed this question. Panelists: Martin Carnoy, Vida Jacks Professor of Education, Stanford Graduate School of Education; Leo Casey, Executive Director, Albert Shanker Institute; John Jackson, President and CEO, Schott Foundation for Public Education; and Ning Rui, Senior Study Director, Westat. (Full bios.). Watch the video.
  • The Role of School Organization, Social Capital and Collaboration in the Improvement of Teachers and Teaching. From Research Findings to Policy Proposals

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    Current education policies haven’t sufficiently leveraged the organizational and interpersonal aspects of schools which can benefit educators and students collectively. Instead, the focus has been primarily on technical and individual-level approaches. However, a focus on individuals seems insufficient and limited; a simultaneous and equally strong focus on strengthening the organizations where teachers work appears sorely needed.

  • School Integration By Race & Class: A Movement Reborn?

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    In recent years there have been signs of a resurgent grassroots movement to integrate schools. From a variety of perspectives, our panelists examined the state of segregation by race and class in America’s schools, and the promising initiatives and practices that are emerging in the renewed movement to integrate America’s schools. Watch the video.

  • The State of Teacher Diversity in American Education

    At the same time that the minority student population in the U.S. has increased dramatically, the percentage of nonwhite teachers nationwide only increased from 12 to 17 percent between 1987 and 2012. This report analyzes the national trends and takes a closer look at what has been happening in nine major U.S. cities, finding that substantial representation gaps between minority teachers and minority students persist.

  • Video: Let's Talk

    This 5-minute video, a part of the Institute’s Let’s Talk initiative, explains how children’s knowledge and language develop in tandem, forming the foundation for all subsequent learning, and what parents and caregivers can do to help.

  • Let’s Talk Foundations: Oral Language Development I

    Oral language—listening and talking—is the primary means by which young children learn about and interact with the world. This training module for early childhood educators offers simple but powerful ideas to support young children build the skills, knowledge, vocabulary, and attitudes that can help prepare them for future academic learning across the content areas. Here, we offer excerpted materials for a workshop on supporting English language learners.

  • Let's Talk PD: Early Literacy Development

    This module for early childhood educators presents an overview of research on the foundations for literacy and how they may be enhanced in early childhood, including applied information to help guide instructional improvement. The materials are designed to be presented as an intensive one-day seminar or can be broken into separate workshops covering the areas of print and book awareness, phonological awareness, letter knowledge and early word recognition, and written expression and curriculum integration. This excerpt includes materials for a professional development workshop on phonological awareness.

  • Let’s Talk PD: Early Mathematics Development

    This training module for early childhood educators provides an overview of the research and standards on age-appropriate mathematics development, including practical takeaway materials to help assist in instructional. The most important early childhood mathematical foundations are addressed, including numerical sense and problem solving, building math vocabulary, using math manipulatives, and curriculum integration. The materials may be presented as a very intensive one-day session or broken into separate workshops. This excerpt contains materials for a workshop on curriculum integration.

  • Let’s Talk PD: Early Science Development

    This module for early childhood educators provides research-based information on early science development in the three key areas of physical science, life science, and earth science, along with applied information for improving instruction in each area. These materials can be implemented as an intensive, day-long professional development seminar or broken up into a series of workshops. This excerpt contains materials for a workshop on life science.

  • We Choose To Reimagine Education: Centering On Love And Emotionally Responsive Teaching And Learning

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest authors today are Tia C. Madkins, assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin, and Alexis Patterson Williams, assistant professor in science education at the University of California Davis. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    Receiving new and conflicting information about COVID-19 is sending familieseducators, and communities into a tailspin. Schools remain closed, students and their families are frustrated with remote schooling (RS), and school reopening plans are being revealed slowly—if at all. Many conversations about the upcoming school year have been rooted in fear of what could go wrong. We argue that it is critical to start our conversation from a place of hope and reimagine what could go well in PK-12 education. This requires reimagining PK-12 education through the lens of love. If we don’t use this moment to reimagine education, we are missing an incredible opportunity, which will leave our children wondering why we didn’t work harder to leverage the moment to make their lives and schools better.

  • State Budget Cuts And School Districts With Pre-Existing Conditions

    The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has published projections of state budget shortfalls due to the pandemic. The total estimated shortfall for fiscal years 2020-2022 is $555 billion. This includes $290 billion in FY2021 alone, a deficit over 25 percent larger than that in the worst year of the Great Recession (2009). 

    Compared with the sickness and death caused by Covid-19, state budget shortfalls are just collateral damage (though remember that states spend a lot on healthcare). But it could be a lot of damage. Unlike the federal government, virtually all states are required to balance their budgets every year. They cannot spend more than they raise in revenue, which means any deficits must be balanced out by cuts. Suppose we take these CBPP projections at face value, and subtract from them existing federal aid forthcoming and total state budget reserves. That, according to CBPP, still leaves states about $400 billion short for this past fiscal year and the next two (and there could easily be shortfalls in subsequent years).

    Virtually all public school districts will feel this pain, but it will not be felt equally. Higher poverty districts are more dependent on state revenue, since more affluent districts generate more revenue from local sources (mostly property taxes). But the situation is even worse: higher poverty districts are already spending far less than they need to be. In a sense, the pandemic is going to be particularly harsh on districts with pre-existing conditions.

  • Remote Learning: What Helped A Network Of Progressive Schools

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Ann Cook, executive director and co-founder of the New York Performance Standards Consortium and formerly the co-founder and co-director of the Urban Academy Laboratory High School, a New York City public school. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    On Sunday, March 15, 2020, New York State and City officials announced the closure of all schools. By the end of that week, most NYC city public schools had moved to educate their students remotely. By the end of May, in city council hearings called to assess the effect of remote learning on the 1.1 million New York City school children, Education chair, Mark Treyger, was expressing concern.  

    Across the nation there were dire reports of the impact of ‘missed time,’ of a widening achievement gap, the inequities of the digital divide, concerns about privacy and the emotional fallout of screen time. Students weighed in. In a letter to the Times, one NYC student commented:

  • For Students, The "Good Ole Days" Are Not Good Enough

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Dr. John H. Jackson, President and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    Across the country, everyone is asking one question, “When will we get back to normal?” A cry similar to that of previous generations who often beckon back to the “good ole’ days.” If we are honest, the desire to get back to a place called “normal” is not because the past was better, but simply because it was familiar. The very fact that our past “normal” included a system where, in most school districts, you could identify by race and ethnicity which students were more likely to be suspended, expelled, or less likely to graduate says it all. Our past “normal” was actually abnormal (unless, for some reason which defies all science, you believe that intellect is distributed by race and ethnicity). 

    In America, the “good ole’ days,” meant prevalent systemic racism, a widening achievement gap, and scarce resources for our students and teachers. Rather than longing for “back to normal,” our public school system has the opportunity to once again move us forward towards creating a more equitable and just “new normal” for students, parents, and families. There are three common sense places where, post-COVID, we can give birth to a transformative “new normal”:

  • Post Pandemic Ethics

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Peter Consenstein, a French professor in the department of Modern Languages at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and in the Ph.D. Program in French at CUNY Graduate Center. He is a translator and publishes critiques of contemporary and experimental French literature and poetry. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    Although intellectuals, educators, teachers and professors may be viewed as essential and/or frontline responders to the ongoing pandemic, we must admit that we intellectuals are not on the real front lines, ours are virtual. The difference between real and virtual spaces distinguishes life from death and sickness from health, a social situation at the heart of what it means to teach and learn through a pandemic. The students I taught were often real first responders. On real front lines, they faced sickness and death. They worked in grocery stores, they delivered food and medicine, they cleaned surfaces, they continued to take public transportation. They delivered services directly and indirectly to people like me. They kept me safe and fed. 

    On March 19, 2020, all of the campuses of the City University of New York (CUNY) closed and we moved to online or remote learning. Normal life routines ceased for 275,000 students on twenty-five campuses spread far and wide throughout the five boroughs of New York City, for 12,000 adjuncts and more than 7,500 full time faculty members, for the HEO’s (Higher Education Officers), the Professional Staff Congress (our faculty and staff union, representing 30,000 people), for most members of buildings and grounds crews, for all food service workers and for most members of the campuses’ security staff.' This was of course true for almost the entire City of New York and unless you were here, you cannot understand the isolation, desolation and strangeness we felt to see our entire city turn into a ghost town.

  • Marie Kondo The Curriculum

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guests today are Jal Mehta and Shanna Peeples. Mehta is Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the author, most recently, with Sarah Fine, of In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. Peeples is the 2015 National Teacher of the Year and the author of Think Like Socrates: Using Questions to Invite Wonder & Empathy Into the Classroom. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    As we turn our eye towards next year, there is increasing concern about “catching students up,” particularly those students who are presumed to have done the least learning during quarantine. This might mean summer school, double blocks of reading and math, and high doses of remediation.

    We have a different suggestion. Marie Kondo the curriculum.

    As everyone now knows, Marie Kondo is the Japanese cleaning expert who showed you how to declutter your home by keeping only the items that bring joy.

    The curriculum is as overstuffed as most American houses. Curriculums are often decided by committees, who have different views of what is important, and they compromise by giving every faction some of what they want. The result is a curriculum with too many topics and too little depth. When Jal and Sarah Fine wrote their book on deeper learning, teachers said that district pacing guides are one of the top three factors that limited their ability to engage in deep learning (teacher evaluations and state tests are the others). Conversely, students said that almost every memorable or powerful learning experience came when they had the time and space to go deeper. Thus there are sound educational reasons to thin the curriculum, and some leading jurisdictions around the world, like British Columbia, are already moving in that direction.

  • School Organizational Practices And The Challenges Of Remote Teaching During A Pandemic

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guests today are Matthew A. Kraft, Associate Professor of Education and Economics at Brown University and Research Director at Upbeat, and Nicole S. Simon, director in the Office of K-16 Initiatives at the City University of New York. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered schools across the United States, upending traditional approaches to education. The health threats posed by the Coronavirus, a sudden shift to remote teaching, and added caretaking responsibilities at home have created a uniquely stressful and demanding context for teachers’ work. Major concerns exist about teachers’ wellbeing during the pandemic and their ability to successfully deliver instruction remotely. Teachers have also expressed apprehension about their willingness to return to the classroom when schools are able to reopen. Even more troubling are projections of substantial student learning loss and the likelihood that differential access to technology and learning supports at home are exacerbating longstanding achievement gaps along racial and socio-economic lines. 

    We developed the “Teaching From Home Survey” for Upbeat to support districts in better understanding and responding to teachers’ experience in working remotely. Between April 27 and May 26, 2020, a diverse sample of 7,195 teachers working across nine southern, midwestern and eastern states answered the survey. 78% of teachers responded to the survey, including teachers working across 8 districts and 3 charter school networks in rural, suburban, and urban areas. Our analyses complement and extend recent findings by smaller, nationally representative surveys by USA Today, Educators for Excellence, Ed Week, and RAND. The large and diverse sample of respondents allow us to explore how teachers’ experiences working remotely differ across both individual and school characteristics.

  • All You Need Is Love (In The Time Of COVID-19)

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Susan B. Neuman, Professor of Early Childhood & Literacy Education, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, & Human Development at New York University. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    I know this is a strange title at a time of crisis. But as the Beatles would say, “There’s nothing you can do that can't be done,” and with that spirit in mind, sometimes a crisis, or in this case, crises can give us a fresh perspective, a new way of thinking about an old topic.

    The topic I refer to is reading, which is the subject of an excellent series of articles in the American Educator, the AFT’s magazine. In this series there are articles about the importance of educator knowledge, choosing the right texts for children to read, building background knowledge, bilingualism, and the research base of reading. All important topics. And all related to what is now described as the “science of reading.” The notion is that if we teach the right skills, at the right time, and give children the right books in the right language, then children will read and achieve, right?

    I wish it were so. But after years of pendulum-shifting this way and that way, from skills-based, whole language, scientifically-based, balanced, and now the science of reading, we have made strikingly little progress in closing the reading gap, particularly for those come from economically distressed communities. Today, our children are in more danger of learning loss than ever before, and with the understanding that “nothing you can make that can’t be made,” it’s time to consider a fresh perspective about reading.

  • The Pandemic And Cultural Scripts Of School-Family Relationships

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Sherman Dorn, director of the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College of Arizona State University. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    In the last recession, the federal government used the desperation of states as a lever (or maybe a fiscal piston) to push changes in state-level policy. Money and flexibility on NCLBs mandates came with requirements. That last wave of school reform brought the Common Core State Standards, attacks on teachers and their unions, two giant state testing consortiums, and attempts to tie teacher careers to student test scores. 

    That prior reform wave did not help schools prepare for a pandemic or its aftermath.

    And yet it looks like we have yet another cycle of schools-must-change rhetoric. There is now a little industry devoted to hot-takes about how this is the end of X as we know it,” and there are plenty of entries in education, such as those from Conor WilliamsDavid Mansouri, and Diane Ravitch -- as well as political calls for an education rethink” from federal Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

    From politicians especially, this rhetoric leaves me with the impression that they are trying to cover wishful thinking of different sorts with the facade of deep thought.

  • The Pandemic And Federal Education Policy: From The Race To The Top To The Plunge To The Bottom

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Stan Karp, a Rethinking Schools editor who also taught English and Journalism to high school students in Paterson, New Jersey for 30 years, and is currently Director of the Secondary Reform Project for New Jersey's Education Law Center. This an edited version of a piece posted by Rethinking Schools. The full version is here. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    In 2009, federal intervention during the last financial crisis gave rise to the Obama administration’s signature education initiative: the Race to the Top (RTTT). Created with $4.3 billion from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, RTTT weaponized its forerunner, the No Child Left Behind Act, and led to new levels of assault on unions, the teaching profession, and public schools, and to a decade of damaging privatization. 

    It took years of resistance, pushback, and policy failures to turn the tide. NCLB and RTTT were ultimately unsustainable and failed to deliver on their promises. As the 2018 Red for Ed teacher strike wave and the early stages of the 2020 presidential campaign showed, resistance and activism helped shift the focus of national education politics from charters and tests to school funding and teacher salaries. Mobilized, militant teachers became the voices of communities digging out from decades of austerity, and support for public education was again on the rise.

    But now the Trump pandemic and the lethal fiasco of the response by U.S. economic and political institutions have remade the education landscape again. We are back in shock doctrine, disaster capitalism territory and public schools are again in the crosshairs.