Where Al Shanker Stood: Quick Fixes In Education

Posted by on October 21, 2014

In this “Where We Stand” column, which was printed in the New York Times on March 27, 1983, Al Shanker quotes historian Paul Gagnon to argue that we need to think long-term about the purposes of public schooling and agree on a carefully chosen set of education reform priorities. Failing this, they warn, the U.S. will forever be caught in a churn of futile, quick-fix reform initiatives.

It never fails. Whenever there’s an educational problem, there’s always an attempt to solve it with a quick fix. The current problem – the shortage of science and math teachers – is no exception. A quick fix just won’t work. Of course, there are a few things that can be done to ease the problem. The most promising short-run idea is to encourage teachers already teaching in other fields but who have a good background in math and science to switch.

But we won’t solve the problem until we know why we have one. It is not just that private industry pays more. It’s that there aren’t enough students graduating from college in these fields to satisfy the needs of business and the teaching profession. Most students stay away from math and science in college because they didn’t get enough of a background in high school. Why? Because math and science course are more difficult than many electives, and most high school students, given a choice between tough courses and easy ones, choose the latter. And it doesn’t start there. It goes back to elementary school, and not just with respect to math and science but with the ability to read problems and think them through … willingness to discipline oneself, to work long and hard. Read More »

Where Al Shanker Stood: Democracy In Public Education

Posted by on July 21, 2014

There is an ongoing debate in the U.S. about the role of democracy in public education. In March 1997, in his final “Where We Stand” column in the New York Times, Al Shanker addressed this issue directly. The piece, published posthumously, was an excerpt from a larger essay entitled “40 Years in the Profession,” which was included in a collection published by the Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.

Why do I continue when so much of what I’ve worked for seems threatened? To a large extent, because 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. Read More »

Learning From The 1963 March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom

Posted by on August 28, 2013

Today marks the actual calendar day of the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In honor of that day, we republish Al Shanker’s tribute to A. Philip Randolph, the director of the March, on the occasion of Randolph’s passing in 1979. One of the themes of Shanker’s comments is the distinctive place of A. Philip Randolph in the African-American freedom struggle, distinguished from Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey, by his focus on the empowerment of African-American working people and his commitment to non-violent, mass action as the means of empowerment. One of the lesson plans the Shanker Institute has published for teaching the 1963 March focuses precisely on this distinctive contribution of Randolph. Other lesson plans look at Randolph’s close partner, Bayard Rustin, who was the organizing genius behind the March, and examine the alliance between the labor movement and civil rights movement which made the March a success. All of the Shanker Institute lesson plans can be read here.

It may be said – I think without exaggeration – that no American in this century has done more to eliminate racial discrimination in our society and to improve the condition of working people than did A. Philip Randolph, who died this week at the age of 90. 

For A. Philip Randolph, a man of quiet eloquence with dignity in every gesture, freedom and justice were never granted people. They had to be fought for in struggles that were never-ending. And progress was something that had to be measured in terms of tangible improvements in people’s lives, in the condition of society generally, and in the quality of human relationships. Read More »

New Books For The Youngest Victims Of Hurricane Sandy

Posted by on November 5, 2012

Citizens across the United States have been deeply moved by the scenes of devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. At the Albert Shanker Institute, we offer our condolences to those who have lost loved ones, and to the thousands upon thousands who have lost their homes.

Educators and those who care about our public schools can make a special contribution to the recovery efforts. One of the great losses in the flooding that came with Hurricane Sandy was books. The Albert Shanker Institute is partnering with the organization First Book in a drive to replenish school, classroom, and home libraries that were destroyed. We are asking our friends and fellow educators to join in this campaign: your help will ensure that children in need will have new books — stories at bedtime, the chance to be transported to another world, and the opportunity to return to normalcy.

As a result of contributions from the Albert Shanker Institute, the AFT, and other First Book partners, your contribution to this drive will be matched, dollar for dollar. Read More »

Jobs, Freedom And Mr. March On Washington

Posted by on August 28, 2012

Today is the 49th  anniversary of the historic 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” in a year that marks the centennial of the birth of Bayard Rustin, the march’s principal organizer and chief strategist, referred to at the time as “Mr. March on Washington.” Here, we reprint Albert Shanker’s 1987 eulogy to Rustin, who served as a mentor to both Shanker and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The death of Bayard Rustin last week is an incalculable loss to our country and the world. He was the last of the great giants – A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Roy Wilkins – who brought us a grand, humane social vision and a dream of an integrated, democratic nation. I have lost a dear personal friend and inspiration.

Bayard was a gifted leader, but he headed no mass organization. His extraordinary influence came not from numbers and money but from his intense moral, intellectual and physical courage. He was a black man, a Quaker, a one-time pacifist, a political and social dissident, a member of many and often despised minority groups, yet he always believed in the necessity of coalition politics to enable minorities to build majorities in support of lasting progress.

He was a penetrating critic who had no use for those whose criticism merely destroyed and did not present a constructive program for change. He was an intellectual who could act and a visionary for whom no organizational detail was too trivial if it moved dreams to reality. Over his lifetime, Bayard was called everything from a dangerous revolutionary to a sellout conservative. The truth is that Bayard was a true democrat in a world of pretenders. Unlike those who lived by double standards and expediency, he remained constant to the principles and goals of democracy no matter what forces or insult were hurled against him. Read More »

New Policy Brief: The Evidence On Charter Schools And Test Scores

Posted by on December 14, 2011

In case you missed it, today we released a new policy brief, which provides an accessible review of the research on charter schools’ testing effects, how their varying impacts might be explained, and what this evidence suggests about the ongoing proliferation of these schools.

The brief is an adaptation of a three-part series of posts on this blog (here is part one, part two and part three).

Download the policy brief (PDF)

The abstract is pasted directly below. Read More »

Labor In High School Textbooks: Bias, Neglect And Invisibility

Posted by on September 6, 2011

The nation has just celebrated Labor Day, yet few Americans have any idea why. As high school students, most were taught little about unions—their role, their accomplishments, and how and why they came to exist.

This is one of the conclusions of a new report, released today by the Albert Shanker Institute in cooperation with the American Labor Studies Center. The report, “American Labor in U.S. History Textbooks: How Labor’s Story Is Distorted in High School History Textbooks,” consists of a review of some of the nation’s most frequently used high school U.S. history textbooks for their treatment of unions in American history. The authors paint a disturbing picture, concluding that the history of the U.S. labor movement and its many contributions to the American way of life are “misrepresented, downplayed or ignored.” Students—and all Americans—deserve better.

Unfortunately, this is not a new problem. As the report notes, “spotty, inadequate, and slanted coverage” of the labor movement dates at least to the New Deal era. Scholars began documenting the problem as early as the 1960s. As this and previous textbook reviews have concluded, our history textbooks have essentially “taken sides” in the intense political debate around unions—the anti-union side.

The impact of these textbook distortions has been amplified by our youth’s exposure to a media that is sometimes thoughtless and sometimes hostile in its reporting and its attitudes toward labor. This is especially troubling when membership in private sector unions is shrinking rapidly and the right of public sector unions to exist is hotly contested. Read More »

What Makes A Union Successful?

Posted by on September 5, 2011

On Labor Day, we reprint the following passage from Al Shanker’s “State of the Union” speech at the August 1992 AFT convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Years ago when I was sitting around sort of having a bull session, people raised the question, “What makes a union successful?” Somebody said, “Well, I know what makes a union successful. Look at…” and he named a few unions. He said, “You know what makes a union successful? It’s a union that can really deliver lots of stuff for its members.” Then he mentioned some union that had just gotten a big salary raise and pension benefits and all sorts of other things.

Somebody else who was sitting there said, “You know, I think you’re wrong. It’s really good if the union can deliver all sorts of things, but that’s not what makes a successful union. A successful union is an organization that figures out what people’s hopes are, what their dreams are, what they want.” That’s right. A successful union is a union that gets people to believe that these need not be mere dreams. Furthermore, it shows them that the difference between dreams and reality lies in making the dreams shared, because, individually, we can’t realize them, and they remain mere dreams.

A union is an organization that takes people’s dreams and gets people to understand that, if they work together, they can achieve those dreams.

New Teaching Resource Highlights Voices Of Leading Pro-Democracy Muslims

Posted by on June 24, 2011

The Albert Shanker Institute has released “Muslim Voices on Democracy: A Reader“—a free, downloadable publication that highlights the speeches, articles, and ideals of pro-democracy Muslims. It is designed as a resource for high school teachers to use in American classrooms, as they seek to help students make sense of the complex forces at work in the Muslim world.

You can download the publication (PDF) here.

The individuals featured in this collection include intellectuals, union activists, dissidents, and journalists. Although the voices of women are featured throughout the publication, it contains a special section devoted to their unique challenges and contributions to the democratic political dialogue. The publication also features a glossary of terms and a list of resources for further study. Read More »

Fordham Responds To The Common Core “Counter-Manifesto”

Posted by on May 12, 2011

The following post was written by Chester E. Finn Jr., President, and Michael J. Petrilli, Executive Vice-President, of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C.  It was originally posted here, on the Fordham Institute’s blog. We have reprinted it with the permission of the authors.

The “counter-manifesto” released this week in opposition to national testing and a national curriculum is full of half-truths, mischaracterizations, and straw men. But it was signed by a lot of serious people and deserves a serious response.

First, let us dispatch some silliness. To the best of our knowledge, and based on all evidence that we’re aware of, neither the signers of the Shanker Institute manifesto, nor leaders in the Obama/Duncan Education Department, advocate a “nationalized curriculum” that would “undermine control of public school curriculum and instruction at the local and state level” and “transfer control to an elephantine, inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy.” Nor is anybody calling for “a one-size fits all, centrally controlled curriculum for every K-12 subject.” We certainly wouldn’t support such a policy—and can understand why the conservative luminaries who signed the counter-manifesto wouldn’t want it, either. As parents, grandparents, charter-school authorizers, and champions of school choice in almost all its forms, we believe deeply in the importance of schools having the freedom to shape their own unique educational approaches.

So let us be clear: While the assessments linked to the Common Core State Standards will be mandatory (for schools and districts in states that choose to use them), the use of any common curricular materials will be purely voluntary. We don’t see any evidence to indicate otherwise. Read More »

Where Al Shanker Stood: Common Content

Posted by on May 11, 2011

The recent, breathless opposition to the idea of common curricular content led us to reflect on just how long educators have been asking for this practical tool for better schooling – only to be rebuffed by those more interested in playing politics. It’s been generations. More than 20 years ago, Al Shanker waded into the fray. The following, entitled “An American Revolution in Education: Developing a Common Core,” was published by Al in his weekly Where We Stand column on Feb. 24, 1991.

If anyone had talked about a common curriculum for US schools a few years ago, people would have said he was crazy. Sure, that’s the way they do it in most other industrialized countries; and, sure, their students achieve at a much higher level than ours. But the education system in those countries are under the control of their central governments, and the idea of our federal government dictating what children learn in schools was out of the question. Now, we have begun to understand the price we pay for our fragmented curriculum. We’ve also begun to find ways of building a common curriculum in a typically American way — through voluntary effort rather than government intervention.

Why should we be so eager for a common curriculum? Exactly what difference does it make in an education system — and, ultimately in what children learn? Read More »

Shanker Institute Counters Efforts To Undermine Common Core State Standards; Repeats Call For Matching Curricula

Posted by on May 9, 2011

The “Closing the Door on Innovation” manifesto issued today by a group of conservatives distorts the purpose of the nonpartisan Albert Shanker Institute-sponsored Call for Common Content statement released in March. The statement was signed by a diverse group of education and other leaders from across the political spectrum – and emphasized that teachers must have access to voluntary curriculum guidelines in order to teach effectively to the new state-led common core standards. Aligning the new standards to high quality curriculum is critical to ensuring that all children in the U.S. receive a rigorous education.

“While we agree that curriculum should be designed before assessments, their claim that the ‘Call for Common Content’ is about creation of a ‘national curriculum’ and ‘national standards’ is just plain wrong,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), one of the signatories to the Shanker Institute statement.

“What we argued then, and what the AFT’s own committee on implementation of common core standards will reinforce in its upcoming recommendations, was that educators need and want a set of curricular roadmaps that are aligned to common standards and developed from various high-quality, content rich, multiple curriculum resources, with strong input from teachers themselves and other curriculum experts.”

“And,” Weingarten said, “Without these resources, especially in a time of tight education budgets, it will be up to teachers to make up all of this content aligned to standards as they go along, under the guise of local autonomy. That is a recipe for failure and unfair to both students and teachers.” Read More »

A Call For Common Content

Posted by on March 7, 2011

A diverse group of influential education and other leaders today announced support for clear curricular guidance to complement the new Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by most states. 

Today’s statement released by the nonpartisan Albert Shanker Institute and signed by dozens of educators, advocates, policymakers, researchers and scholars from across the educational and political spectrum, highlights one largely ignored factor needed to enable  American students to achieve to high levels and become internationally competitive—the creation of voluntary model curricula that can be taught in the nation’s classrooms.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, urged broad support and dissemination for the statement, “A Call for Common Content”. “We are arguing for the tools and materials that teachers need,” she said. “With rich, sequential common curricula, amplified by state and local content—and with teacher preparation, classroom materials, student assessments,  teacher development, and teacher evaluation all aimed at  the mastery of that content—we can finally build the kind of coherent system that supports the achievement of all learners; the kind of system enjoyed by the world’s highest performing nations.”

The release of “A Call for Common Content” comes at a special time. After decades of debate, the nation is finally on its way to having common, voluntary standards in mathematics and English language arts. Although this recent state-led effort is an important and positive first step, notes the statement, it is not sufficient to achieve a well-functioning education system that offers both excellence and opportunity. Read More »


Posted by on July 1, 2010

The Albert Shanker Institute is a nonprofit organization established in 1998 to honor the life and legacy of the late president of the American Federation of Teachers.

The organization’s by-laws commit it to four fundamental principles —vibrant democracy, quality public education, a voice for working people in decisions affecting their jobs and their lives, and free and open debate about all of these issues.—that is the vision, the mission, and the method of the Albert Shanker Institute.

The institute brings together influential leaders and thinkers from business, labor, government, and education from across the political spectrum. It sponsors research, promotes discussions, and seeks new and workable approaches to the issues that will shape the future of democracy, education, and unionism. Many of these conversations are off-the-record, encouraging lively, honest debate and new understandings.

These efforts are directed by and accountable to a diverse and distinguished board of directors representing the richness of Al Shanker’s commitments and concerns. The organization maintains a small permanent staff, a modest program budget, little overhead, and as much agility as possible.

Committed to basic principles, open to new ideas, and addressing the inter-related issues of work, education, and democracy.



Albert Shanker Institute
555 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Phone: 202/879-4401
Fax: 202/879-4403

E-mail: info@ashankerinst.org



Leo Casey

Executive Director

Leo Casey is the Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute, a think tank affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers which focuses of issues of public education, unionism and democracy promotion. Before he assumed his current position at the Institute, Casey served as Vice President from Academic High Schools for the United Federation of Teachers, New York City’s 200,000 person strong teacher union. He is the son of two New York City public school teachers. Casey attended Antioch College in Ohio, the University of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania and the University of Toronto in Canada, where he earned a Ph.D. in Political Philosophy.

After a stint in political organizing, Casey began his teaching career in 1984 at Clara Barton High School in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. There he taught classes in Civics, American History, African-American Studies, Ethical Issues in Medicine and Political Science for fifteen years. For ten years in a row, his classes –  entirely students of color, largely immigrant and largely female – won the New York City championship of the national We The People civics competition, winning the New York State championship four times and placing fourth in the nation twice. He was recognized in the Congressional Record for the achievements of his classes in the competition.

Casey’s union activism at Clara Barton began in 1987, when he led an effort to have the school building closed to clean up major asbestos contamination caused by the Department of Education’s renovations. He served as UFT Chapter Leader at Clara Barton for ten years. He has a long history of union involvement, including work as a United Farm Worker’s organizer and participation in the first unionization drive of graduate teaching assistants in Canada.

In 1999, Casey became a full-time UFT Special Representative for High Schools. He was elected Vice President from Academic High Schools in October 2007. As Vice President he taught a class in Global Studies every day at Bard High School Early College in Manhattan.

Casey has served as Vice President of the Graduate Student Union at the University of Toronto and on the executive of the Ontario Federation of Students. He was editor in chief of the Antioch Record, and National Field Director of Democratic Socialists of America. He was a fellow of the Teachers’ Network Leadership Institute. He served as the New York State Teacher Reviewer for the National Standards for Civics and Government Project.

Casey has won several awards for his teaching, and was named national Social Studies Teacher of the Year for the American Teacher Awards in 1992. Casey led the design team for the UFT’s Secondary Charter School, and led the UFT’s work with charter schools, including charter organizing, while he served as UFT Vice President. He has worked with teacher unions and teachers in Russia, Tanzania and China on the development of civics education. Casey has written extensively on civics, education, unionism and politics, and is a frequent contributor to the UFT blog, Edwize.

Burnie Bond

Director of Programs

Edith Burnett (Burnie) Bond is director of programs at the nonpartisan, nonprofit Albert Shanker Institute, where she works on a range of projects related to the institute’s key issue areas of educational excellence and equity, unions as advocates for quality, and the support of democracy and democratic institutions, both at home and abroad. Previously, she served as assistant director of the American Federation of Teachers’ Educational Issues Department. In that capacity, she monitored educational research on programs and teaching strategies to raise student achievement—especially for “at-risk” students in low-performing schools. She also worked on several related issues, including improving beginning reading instruction, research on and implementation of school turnaround strategies, standards-based reform, Title I, multicultural education, and efforts to improve the reliability and utility of educational research. She is a former staff assistant in the Office of AFT President Albert Shanker, where she served as coordinator of the AFT’s Education for Democracy Project, a program to promote a rigorous history and civics curriculum, and was formerly the director of research and publications for the International Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO, where she worked on international trade and labor rights issues. She also served on the 1992 Clinton Transition Team at the United States Information Agency.

Randall Garton

Director of Research and Operations

Randall Garton is Director of Research and Operations for the Albert Shanker Institute. Prior to coming to the Institute in 2001, he was Deputy for Program Operations at the Solidarity Center, the international program arm of the AFL-CIO, where he was responsible for operational aspects of programs on nearly every continent. During the course of a 24-year career at the AFL-CIO, Mr. Garton also directly monitored, administered and implemented programs in East and Southeast Asia and south central and south eastern Europe, and participated in regional and global conferences of the International Labor Organization and global union federations. He began his career as a newspaper reporter and holds a B.A. from Michigan State University, a J.D. from the Catholic University of America, and is a member of the District of Columbia Bar.

Matthew Di Carlo

Senior Fellow    

Matthew Di Carlo is a senior research fellow at the non-profit Albert Shanker Institute in Washington, D.C. His current research focuses mostly on education policy, including value-added, charter schools, and teacher compensation. He has also published work on labor markets, social stratification/inequality, work and occupations, and political attitudes/behavior. Matt has a B.A. from Fordham University (1998), and a Ph.D. in sociology from Cornell University (2008).

Esther Quintero

Senior Research Fellow

Esther Quintero is a research associate at the Albert Shanker Institute. She focuses on higher education, women in STEM, and early childhood. Esther has worked on and is interested in discrimination in employment, gender stereotypes, social inequality, and the application of social science research methods to security and intelligence. She has a B.A. in History from the University of Seville (1997), and earned her Ph.D. in sociology from Cornell University in 2008.


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