K-12 Education

  • 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.

  • The Albert Shanker Institute Research Grant Program

    The Shanker Institute awards small seed grants to emerging scholars doing promising work in our focus areas of education, labor and international democracy.

  • How Relationships Matter In Educational Improvement

    This short video explains some shortcomings of mainstream education reform and offers an alternative framework to advance educational progress. Educational improvement is as much about the capacities of individuals as it is about their relationships and the broader social context.

  • Resources on Testing and School Accountability

    Standardized tests play a dominant role in school accountability systems in the U.S. These resources focus on how testing data can be used and interpreted in an accountability context.

  • The Freedom Schools of 1964

    In 2014, to honor the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the Shanker Institute began developing resources for teachers in today’s classrooms. These include lesson plans on the Freedom Schools (which will be posted on these pages in the spring of 2015), historical materials, and interviews with some of the teachers who made history.

  • Literacy Ladders

    This curated collection of essays for early childhood educators and others examines the research on increasing young children's language, knowledge, and reading comprehension.

  • March on Washington Lesson Plans

    2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The Institute worked to make a special contribution to this commemoration by publishing lesson plans and materials that K-12 teachers across the country can use in their classrooms.

  • Spending by Major Charter Management Organizations in Three States

    A detailed analysis of spending by the major Charter Management Organizations in three states.

  • Creating a Comprehensive System for Evaluating and Supporting Effective Teaching

    This publication by Linda Darling Hammond was written at the request of and with the input of participants in the Shanker Institute's Good Schools seminars. It discusses the evaluation models that make the most sense and ways to improve teacher preparation, make entry into the profession an educational and developmental experience, and upgrade career and professional development.

  • The Evidence on Charter Schools and Test Scores

    Charter schools are among the most controversial issues in education today, with much of the debate focused on whether they

  • The Uncertain Short-Term Future Of School Growth Models

    Over the past 20 years, public schools in the U.S. have come to rely more and more on standardized tests, and the COVID-19 pandemic has halted the flow of these data. This is hardly among the most important disruptions that teachers, parents, and students have endured over the past year or so. But one of the corollaries of skipping a year (or more) of testing is its implications for estimating growth models, which are statistical approaches for assessing the association between students' testing progress and those students' teachers, schools, or districts. 

    This type of information, used properly, is always potentially useful, but it may be particularly timely right now, as we seek to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic affected educational outcomes, and, perhaps, how those outcomes varied by different peri-pandemic approaches to schooling. This includes the extent to which there were meaningful differences by student subgroup (e.g., low-income students who may have had more issues with virtual schooling). 

    To be clear, the question of when states should resume testing should be evaluated based on what’s best for schools and students, and in my view this decision should not include consideration of any impact on accountability systems (the latest development is that states will not be allowed to cancel testing entirely but may be allowed to curtail it). In either case, though, the fate of growth models over the next couple of years is highly uncertain. The models rely on tracking student test scores over time, and so skipping a year (and maybe even more) is obviously a potential problem. A new working paper takes a first step toward assessing the short-term feasibility of growth estimates (specifically school and district scores). But this analysis also provides a good context for a deeper discussion of how we use (and sometimes misuse) testing data in education policy.

  • In Memoriam: Elizabeth Davis

    Elizabeth (Liz) Davis, the President of the Washington Teachers Union (WTU), died suddenly and tragically in a car accident on the evening of April 4. She was my friend and a champion in the struggle for a better world; a tireless and passionate advocate for teachers and the students we nurture and educate.

    Liz was an accomplished classroom teacher of more than four decades. She was active on educational issues, even before she was elected president of the WTU. She was a reflective practitioner, and thought deeply about how to educate students—largely young people of color, and working class and poor—who attended public schools in urban districts, such as Washington, D.C. In the first video below, Liz discusses how she first came to teach, the struggles of her first years, and how she learned from her students as she became skilled in her teaching in a panel on "Teaching: Art, Craft or Science?"

  • School District Spending And Equal Educational Opportunity

    The fact that school districts vary widely in terms of funding is often lamented in our education policy debate. If you think about it, though, that’s not a bad thing by itself. In fact, in an ideal school funding system, we would expect to see differences between districts in their spending levels, even big differences, for the simple reason that the cost of educating students varies a great deal across districts (e.g., different student populations, variation in labor costs, etc.). 

    The key question is whether districts have the resources to meet their students’ needs. In other words, is school district spending adequate? In collaboration with Bruce Baker and Mark Weber from Rutgers University, we have just published a research brief and new public dataset that addresses this question for over 12,000 public school districts in the U.S.

    There is good news and bad news. The good news is that thousands of districts enjoy funding levels above and beyond our estimates of adequate levels, in some cases two or three times higher. The bad news is that these well-funded districts co-exist with thousands of other school systems, some located within driving distance or even in the next town over, where investment is so poorly aligned with need that funding levels are a fraction of estimated costs. To give a rough sense of the magnitude of the underfunding, if we add up all the negative funding gaps in these latter districts (not counting the districts with adequate funding), the total is $104 billion.

  • Evidence In Education: Is Supply Meeting Teachers' Demand

    In today’s public schools, teachers and administrators are constantly pressured to implement new reforms and initiatives, most of which claim to be research- or science-based. Schools are often viewed as the recipients of new policies and new knowledge generated by research. In So Much Reform, So Little ChangeCharles Payne states “Best Practice discourse lends itself to decontextualized thinking, reducing the problem of urban schooling to a cognitive one: if only our teachers and principals knew how to do it in the Big City...we should spend some time thinking with school people about what those reasons might be rather than just issuing more exhortations from on high” (p. 63). Including educators in the conversation is crucial for a successful rollout of any evidence-based intervention. Additionally, in order to best support our teachers, it is imperative we develop a system for them to have access to evidence-informed practices that are contextualized and can be tailored to their varying needs. 

    While there are many problems with the “research to practice” approach, one barrier is that schools are frequently not given enough training, resources, and support to make sense of educational research. Educators need evidence, innovation, and new approaches; after all, much of their job is to constantly adapt their ways of teaching to meet the unique and changing needs of their students. But right now, too many educators are doing this work without the necessary tools to be successful. In this post I would like to sketch out a tool that could improve access to and applicability of research. By access, I refer not only to the ability of finding and downloading journal articles and other sources, but also to having the knowledge to discern questionable research. According to Paula J. Stanovich and Keith E. Stanovich (2003), a failure to discern good and bad research can cause teachers to try new methods that are not strongly supported by peer-reviewed research. Applicability refers to the extent to which research has practical implications for teachers.

  • Re-Imagining School Discipline: A Plea To Education Leaders

    In many large urban school districts, there are more security employees than counselors. In the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) system, for example there is one security guard for every 147 students, while the counselor-to-student ratio is 1:217. In addition, based on 2015-16 data, Groeger et al. (2018) found that Black students in DCPS were 15 times more likely to be suspended than their white peers (nationally, Black students were four times more likely to be suspended). In short, many students are not getting the emotional and mental support they need as they go through our schools. Instead, as exemplified by these staffing ratios, too many students are affected by punitive, militaristic methods of discipline, which may not only have negative consequences for the students who are disciplined, but for their peers as well (Perry and Morris 2014).  

    A commonly used discipline approach, which used to be known as “zero tolerance,” was to discipline all students who didn’t follow the expected “rules.” Zero tolerance policies proliferated in public schools as a reform to help manage student behavior, using a “quick fix” method. Weaver and Swank (2020) define zero tolerance as “policies…[that] include exclusionary practices (i.e., office referral, suspension, expulsion) that involve the removal of the offender from the context of the incident and isolating the student from others involved and their school community.”

    Unfortunately, as Skiba et al. (2011) show, these policies have created negative experiences for students and have disproportionately affected Black and brown students. Because they are implemented for even minor infractions, such as dress code violations, these policies don’t work and can actually cause harm to our students. Zero tolerance policies were designed to create a method of tracking student behavior, but this militaristic approach did not set students up for future success. Instead, these policies increase suspensions and expulsions, and also contribute to reduced engagement, loss of instructional time, and heightened dropout rates (Jones 2018). We are not giving students the opportunities to fail in our presence.

  • One Page Summaries Of Your State's School Finance System

    For the past few years, the Shanker Institute has been collaborating with Bruce Baker and Mark Weber of Rutgers University to publish the School Finance Indicators Database (SFID), a collection of finance and resource allocation measures for policymakers, journalists, parents, and the public. 

    The State Indicators Database (SID), the primary product of the SFID, is freely available to the public, but it includes about 125 variables. So, even if you know exactly the types of measures you are looking for, compiling the data for a state or a group of states might present a challenge. While we have tried to make the data accessible for non-researchers, we realize that it can still be difficult for a lot of people. 

    We have therefore just published 51 state school finance profiles (with help from ASI fellow Lauren Schneider), which pull together a digestible amount of information into one place for each state (and D.C.). You can download the profiles individually or as a group.

  • A Tribute To Nat LaCour

    Our guest authors today are Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill. Norman Hill, staff coordinator of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is president emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Velma Hill, a former vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is also the former civil and human rights director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

    “Try to leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best.” - Robert Baden-Powell

    No words in any earthly language can adequately express our aching sorrow and heartbreak upon learning of the recent passing of our dear, dear friend and colleague, Nat LaCour. Yet, we must—as he would urge in all things—do our best, and so, in that light, we humbly offer tribute to this remarkable man and his undying legacy.

    At this time of both grief and celebration of Nat’s long and fruitful life, we add our voices to the great chorus of sympathies pouring forth to cherish his memory. We particularly extend a special embrace and comfort to Connie, Nat’s wife and true partner, and their children.

    The world, as we know and love it, will never be the same without Nat’s steady, tireless hand guiding and protecting progress for the many; all the while, illuminating the way with his reassuring smile.

  • In Memoriam: Nat LaCour

    It is with great sadness that we report the death of Nat LaCour, one of the founders of the Albert Shanker Institute. He was 82. Nat was a giant of a man, who served as a mentor and an inspiration to many of those whose lives he touched.

    The son of a shipyard worker and a school cafeteria employee, Nat attended Southern University, a historically black public university in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he began his participation in the Civil Rights Movement. He graduated in 1960 with a B.S. and Master's in Biology. He began his first day of work as a New Orleans high school biology teacher on January 3,1961—four months late because of citywide disruptions over school integration. One of his first actions was to sign up with a local union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 527, which he knew was in full support of integration. 

    In 1972, the predominantly white Orleans Educators Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, and AFT Local 527 merged to form United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), electing Nat LaCour as its first president. That year, Nat was also elected to serve as a national AFT Vice President and a member of the AFT Executive Board. 

    The merger of the two unions led to the solidarity necessary to win collective bargaining rights in 1974 for all teachers in New Orleans. UTNO became the first teachers' union in the Deep South to win a contract through collective bargaining, largely helped by Nat’s campaign to gain parent and community support. Over 20,000 signatures by citizens supported collective bargaining rights for teachers in Orleans Parish.

  • How Much Segregation Is There Within Schools?

    Our national discourse on school segregation, whether income- or race-/ethnicity-based, tends to focus on the separation of students between schools within districts. There are good reasons for this, including the fact that the majority of desegregation efforts have been within-district efforts. Sometimes lost in this focus, however, is the importance of segregation between districts.

    This distinction can be confusing, so consider a large metro area with a central city district surrounded by a group of suburban districts. There may be extensive racial/ethnic segregation of students between schools within those districts, with students of color concentrated in some schools and their White peers concentrated in others. But total segregation across the entire metro area is also a function of segregation between districts - i.e., the degree to which students of certain races or ethnicities are concentrated in some districts and not others (e.g., students of color in the city, white students in the suburbs). In a sense, if we view diversity as a resource, there are multiple "chokepoints" at which that resource is distributed down to the next level—from states to metro areas to districts to schools—and this can exacerbate segregation.

    recent working paper provides one of relatively few pieces of recent evidence suggesting that, in addition to racial and ethnic segregation between districts and between schools within districts, there may be an additional important "layer": segregation within schools.

  • Co-Teaching For Emerging Bilingual Learners: Theory And Practice

    Co-teaching is an education buzzword frequently used in the context of instruction for students with special needs or English Language Learners (ELLs). When implemented thoughtfully and intentionally, co-teaching can be highly effective at meeting the unique needs of all learners. In this post, I will focus on co-teaching for English Language Learners, to whom I will refer to as “Emerging Bilingual Learners (EBLs), a more accurate label that highlights the assets these learners bring to the classroom. 

    My argument, which is supported by research and my own professional experience, is that co-teaching is a particularly effective method for EBLs when one teacher is trained to meet the language needs of EBLs (and all learners) and the other focuses on grade level standards. Using co-teaching models, language is not the end goal, but rather a vehicle that enables EBLs to gain understanding of grade level content. The focus is not solely on the language that students are developing but rather on the academic content all students must acquire. This is important because it does not stigmatize students and it levels the playing field for each learner.

    Not only does this inclusive model of teaching focus on the assets of every child, but it provides a more diverse learning environment while building trusting relationships amongst students' peers and teachers. The co-teaching model can be instrumental to fostering a greater sense of community within the classroom. Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995) stresses the importance of instilling community pride into a classroom, where teachers and students have a reciprocal autonomous relationship. EBLs need to feel a deep sense of belonging in order to be willing to take risks and make mistakes.