K-12 Education

  • Where We Live and Where We Learn

    More than six decades after the Supreme Court declared that “separate but equal” education was a violation of the “equal protection of the law” afforded by the U.S. Constitution, American schools remain deeply segregated.

  • Teacher Tenure: An Outmoded "Job For Life" or Essential Right to Due Process?

    In this panel, we will explore divergent viewpoints by focusing on what tenure laws actually consist of, how they work in practice, how they might be improved, and, of course, their impact on important outcomes such as teacher retention and student achievement.

  • Quality Teaching: Individual and Social Approaches

    This two-panel conversation focused on the results of the annual “PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools,” and their implications for policy and practice, taking on the question of how government, schools of education, school districts and schools can promote, nurture and support quality teaching.
    Watch the video.

  • Positive Alternatives to Suspending And Expelling Misbehaving Students in Early Childhood Education

    Recent research and news reports show that even very young children--and particularly young children of color--can be subject to harsh and overly punitive school disciplinary practices. At the same time, the need for schools to be safe and orderly places to teach and to learn remains a top priority in poll after poll of parents and the public.

  • Florida Education Reform Under Jeb Bush: Miracle or Mirage?

    The panelists examined the Florida reforms and their educational impact from a variety of perspectives—from the educational frontline in classrooms and schools to the overview of system analysts.

  • Ten Years After the Deluge: The State of Public Education in New Orleans

    The first panel takes up the broader questions of the post-Katrina economic and political changes in New Orleans and how they shaped developments in its public schools. The second addresses the specific question of the current state of the city’s public schools.

  • Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education Conversation Series 2015-2016

    Sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers, this conversation series held the second Wednesay of the month during the school year, is designed to engender lively and informative discussions on important educational issues.

  • The Use of Value Added in Teacher Evaluations

    In this workshop, Matt Di Carlo discusses the strengths and weaknesses of value-added models, with a particular emphasis on their use in teacher evaluations.

  • Teaching Voting Rights

    Using the C3 framework developed for teaching social studies and civics with the Common Core, this workshop will investigate the use of inquiry lessons to teach the theme of voting rights.

  • Working Together Matters for Improvement

    Improvement is as much about the capacities of educators and school leaders (human capital) as it is about the capacities and resources that are created between them (social capital) at all levels of the school organization and broader school system.

  • Education for Democracy

    Education for Democracy, a signatory statement released by the institute in conjunction with the beginning of a new school year, the second anniversary of th

  • Educating Democracy: State Standards to Ensure a Civic Core

    This 2003 study, authored by the late historian Paul Gagnon, evaluates the extent to which state history, civics, and social studies standards across the nation serve to help teachers in their efforts to prepare an informed citizenry.

  • History Research Paper Study

    The Concord Review approached the Albert Shanker Institute for support for a study of the state of the history research paper in United States high schools. The result is this 2002 study conducted by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut.

  • Early Language and Literacy Development

    What is known about the language and literacy development of young, preschool-age children and how does this relate to their long-term success in school?

  • Bridging the Gap Between Standards and Achievement

    Harvard professor Richard Elmore reviews the research and argues that education reforms that are based on standards and accountability will fail unless policymakers also adopt a strategy to ensure that educators have the knowledge and skill they need to help students succeed.

  • Building a New Structure for School Leadership

    In this major research analysis, Richard Elmore explores the problems with the structure and leadership of public education, while explaining the dangers of public funding for private schools. He urges educators to study the schools whose leaders and best practice are succeeding in meeting high standards, including through the use of collaboration and distributed leadership. 

  • Hart Research Poll of Teachers and Principals

    These early polls show that nation's teachers and principals strongly support higher academic standards, while at the same time harboring serious questions about adequacy of implementation and an overemphasis on testing.

  • The Teaching Gap

    The Institute provided a grant to support the writing of this important book by James Stigler and James Hiebert, which explores the school system's failure to support a culture of professional development for teachers. It compares what's lacking in teacher training in this country with what's working in Japan, where teachers spend time working together to improve their skills.

  • Reading Opens The World

    Our guest author today is Evelyn DeJesus, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and a member of the board of directors of the Albert Shanker Institute.

    Today I am going to be talking about a topic that is very close to my heart, reading instruction and literacy—the bedrock, the deepest foundation for what we do as educators. And I’ll also talk a bit about the AFT’s new, multimillion dollar, multi-year literacy campaign, Reading Opens the World

    Literacy Instruction and the Science of Reading

    Because strong reading and comprehension skills underlie everything else that we do in the classroom, the AFT has been “all in” on literacy for more than two decades. As President Randi Weingarten reminded us in her opening speech at TEACH last summer, “Over 20 years ago, the AFT first identified the need for educators—whatever their subject or level—to know more about research-based literacy.

  • Russian Teachers Fight Against Putin's War And For Democracy

    The Albert Shanker Institute is honored to welcome Jeffrey C. Isaac, the James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Blooomington, to the Shanker Blog. Professor Isaac offers needed perspective on what the activism of Russian teacher Ms. Irina Milyutina should mean to American educators.

    I was struck by Ms. Milyutina’s statement, “I’m doing it because my heart tells me to. I stand for justice, for peace and good relations with other countries, for progress…“ “My heart tells me to” represents the universality of educators who have historically chosen to stand up in the center of the struggle. Yes, educators are often backed up intellectually by data, surveys, strike votes, or evidence, and hearts tell educators based on the experiences the heart has recorded in the profoundly privileged space of teaching and learning. The actions that Ms. Milyutina’s heart has produced should challenge all educators to listen to their hearts and match her strength in our own activism for her and Ukraine’s school communities. That is exactly where Professor Isaac’s piece leaves us, to connect the challenge of Ms. Milyutina’s activism with our own and do something. Beyond finding NGOs to donate to, changing social media profiles, and educating ourselves, educators are in a powerful position to educate others. Let’s show Ms Milyutina we hear her heart. This piece was originally published on March 6, 2022 on Democracy in Dark Times. - Mary Cathryn Ricker

    Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife. -John Dewey (1916)

    Education is a dangerous thing for authoritarian leaders and regimes, for it nurtures free-thinking individuals capable of asking questions and seeking their own answers. For this reason, teachers have long been on the front line of the struggle for democracy.

    In the U.S., teachers are facing a well-orchestrated political campaign by the far-right to limit the teaching of certain subjects and perspectives in public schools, all in the name of a “patriotism” that is manifestly hostile to a multi-ethnic and multi-racial democracy and a well-educated citizenry.

    Right now Russian teachers are facing an even more nefarious and powerful campaign by Vladimir Putin to restrict education and attack academic freedom in the name of his brutal war of aggression in Ukraine.

  • What We’ve Learned About Creating Safe, Equitable, And Engaging Schools

    Every year, the Learning First Alliance convenes Public Schools Week to recognize the importance of public schools. The theme of Public Schools Week 2022 is “Creating Safe, Equitable and Engaging Public Schools,” which directly aligns to the AIR-authored volume, Creating Safe, Equitable, Engaging Schools. In this series, contributors to the volume provide fresh insights on what safe, equitable, and engaging means in our current context.

    Successful teaching and learning have always been hard, but right now, for educators, students, and their families, these activities feel almost impossible. The importance of safety, engagement, and equity for all students, educators, and families has never been more palpable. Addressing the social, emotional, and academic needs of our children, educators, and communities seems almost too daunting. It is certainly too big and too important to do alone, and it is imperative that schools and families work together. But how should we begin this work? The answer to that question is grounded in fundamentals that we knew well before the pandemic and our current social and political crises.

  • A Recipe For Successful Literacy Instruction

    As a former high school English teacher of nine years, I know how daunting it can be to tackle literacy instruction. You stress over the lack of resources. You crave more professional development. You worry about your assessment choices. You question your administrator’s support. On any given day, you have a stream of worries and concerns running through your mind. While many districts rely solely on the ever-changing state and federal literacy mandates to inform their instruction, there are many adjustments and services districts can provide within their own schools and classrooms to support students and teachers.

    The infrastructure of school systems contributes heavily to literacy instruction and achievement (Gabriel & Woulfin, 2022). One effective way to support system-level literacy is through a district literacy plan. These plans serve as a way to bring together various stakeholders to form a committee intent on better supporting students and improving literacy practices. When preparing a district literacy plan, stakeholders must use a combination of ALL the following ingredients to create a recipe for successful literacy instruction that promotes student learning.

    Vision Statement: A district literacy plan should open with and be centered around a vision statement for learning. The Glossary of Education Reform defines a vision statement as “a declaration that schools or other educational organizations use to describe their high-level goals for the future and what it hopes students will learn” (The Glossary of Education Reform, 2015). Essentially, a vision statement encompasses a district’s belief system about literacy and serves as a guide for their work.

  • Inequity Is Embedded In School Finance

    Our guest author today is Fedrick Ingram, secretary-treasurer of the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers.

    Every February, it comes around: Black History Month. It may seem like a feel-good event that has nothing to do with the nitty gritty of school policy and everything to do with uplift. But in my mind, the Black excellence we celebrate and try to nurture this month is the very reason we scrutinize one of the most foundational school issues we face: School finance.

    Before I get to that, let me say the obvious: Black history should not be relegated to one month a year. And it should not be limited to predictable recitations of Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and Martin Luther King Jr. We need to go deeper.

    We need to celebrate intellectual luminaries like Mary McLeod Bethune, Ida B. Wells, Bayard Rustin and Carter G. Woodson—the man who lobbied so hard to establish Black History Month back in the 1920s. And I want to celebrate Black excellence in today’s leaders. People like Rep. Maxine Waters, who has steadily held her ground to protect democracy; Sen. Raphael Warnock, who courageously ran for office in a state unlikely to elect him—and wound up tipping the Senate toward the Democrats by winning a seat once held by a Confederate general; Jason Reynolds, who publishes true-to-life stories that resonate with and engage Black children; and Nikole Hannah-Jones, who gave us the 1619 Project and continues to lift up all the history that has been missing from our classrooms for so very long.

    But as much as we have to celebrate, there is still so much more to do. School finance illustrates the point.

  • Early Reading: Teacher Preparation

    This is an updated excerpt from a publication I developed in 2000 while working for the AFT Educational Issues Department, “Putting Reading Front and Center: A Resource Guide for Union Advocacy.” By tapping the expertise of teachers of reading among members, local unions can use their collective voice to strengthen reading instruction.

    New findings from 50 years of international research in such diverse feels as neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, and education have helped illuminate the process by which children learn to read. This research indicates that, although some children learn to read with relative ease, others will never learn unless they are taught in an organized, systematic way by a knowledgeable teacher using a well-designed instructional approach. And, although a large number of students come to school unprepared to achieve in reading, the reading difficulties of most at risk and struggling students could be prevented or ameliorated by literacy instruction that includes a range of research-based components and practices, unfortunately very few teachers of reading have been taught how to deliver such instruction.

    Where We Are

    Ask almost any elementary school teacher what he or she knew about the teaching of reading before entering the classroom, and the answer will be: “Not nearly enough.”

  • The Story On State Literacy Initiatives

    According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), 21 percent of adults in the United States (about 43 million people) are illiterate or functionally illiterate. Nearly two-thirds of fourth grade students read below grade level, and that percentage persists all the way through high school graduation (Rea, 2021).

    While these statistics are alarming, federal and state leaders have been focused on literacy rates for many years. The United States Department of Education (DOE) most recently addressed literacy through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, which “outlines a direct and sustained approach to improving literacy achievement” (Alliance for Excellence Education, 2017). Specifically, ESSA focuses on two components to support literacy: funding and professional development. For funding, Title II of ESSA includes the “Literacy Education for All, Results for a Nation” (LEARN) Act, which provides competitive grants to states to help local school districts develop comprehensive birth-through-grade-twelve literacy plans.

    Additionally, the LEARN Act states that local education agencies must use any grant funds they receive to support high-quality professional development for teachers, teacher leaders, principals, and specialized instructional support personnel. However, ESSA also gives states new flexibility in choosing which indicators they use to measure student performance on state assessments in English Language Arts and Math, as well as how much emphasis to place on each of these measures (The Education Trust, 2017). As a result, literacy policies, laws, and initiatives vary greatly from state to state, given the flexibility permitted by ESSA.

  • Constructing And Animating The Infrastructure For Reading Instruction

    The Albert Shanker Institute is talking with educators and school leaders daily. Our conversations range from attention-grabbing issues of the moment to long-range plans to strengthen and improve teaching and learning. Throughout the pandemic we have featured the voices of practitioners and earlier this fall we also renewed the Albert Shanker Institute’s commitment to strengthening reading instruction and literacy. We recognize our schools are currently being asked to accomplish the enormous task of keeping schools and communities safe and healthy from COVID—including improving air circulation and revamping physical plants without disrupting classroom instruction, fill perennial hard-to-staff positions, provide nutritional and community support to students and families, and address interrupted learning. Everything must be read in consideration of a productive path forward as we work collectively to meet the needs of students. 

    Today’s guest blog post from Sarah L. Woulfin (The University of Texas at Austin) and Rachael Gabriel (University of Connecticut) is no different. The deep ideas of structural change (and the infrastructure that must be addressed) offer a path forward that is collaborative, effective and research-based. The authors provide certainty and confidence in a time when we could use both. Rather than bounce from quick, one-time fixes, we need to pause to redesign teaching and learning going forward. Our students deserve our most thoughtful work.

    From Why Johnny Can’t Read, to the Reading Wars and Reading First, to the Science of Reading, multiple constituents—from policymakers and journalists to district leaders and parents—have spelled out problems in teachers’ reading instruction and students’ reading achievement. Concerns about reading instruction, with attempts to convert schools towards evidence-based practice, are not new. Proponents of the “Science of Reading” (SOR) now concentrate on the necessity of teachers covering particular strands of reading instruction and using particular instructional methods (e.g., phonics, explicit instruction, and systematic teaching of foundational skills) (Barnes, 2016; Brady, 2011; Hanford, 2018). They apply assumptions that specific content is not being taught in preferred ways because of deficits in teacher knowledge or the absence of appropriate instructional materials (Korbey, 2020; Lyon & Chhabra, 2004). Therefore, much of the SOR discourse hones in on individuals over systems and structures.

  • Pausing To Reflect On A Stressful School Year

    The Albert Shanker Institute has long prioritized research on improving conditions for teaching and learning. We committed to compile and share the ideas and actions of accomplished educators and education leaders while seeing the impact of the pandemic on our schools. Knowing that research also points to the importance of principal leadership in our school communities, we were troubled to read the concerning results of the survey the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) released earlier this month. We knew we needed to share the results. We are very fortunate that, amidst the whirlwind of her school and leadership duties, NASSP Principal of the Year, Beth Houf shared her reflections on her experiences, the NASSP survey results, and suggestions for a path forward with the Shanker blog. Please take some time to read and reflect on Beth’s experience and commit to advocating in 2022 for the insightful and productive ideas she offers. Thank you. - Mary Cathryn Ricker

    Winter break has officially started for our school, and I finally have time to reflect on the first half of the school year. It has truly been a whirlwind.

    Being a principal has never been an easy job. But there have been more days this year that have delivered impossible situations and that have left me overwhelmed, overstressed, and completely empty. Everything is urgent. We all know that when everything is important, nothing can be important. My school is understaffed daily. Everyone is doing their own job and then the job of others. Those who need to take a day off carry the guilt of their absence. Student behaviors are over the top. Fuses are short and tempers flare. Social media has only added fuel to the fire. All I can do is react. There’s simply no time to be the proactive leader that I strive to be. It shouldn’t be this way.