Looking Backwards Into The Future

Posted by on October 15, 2012

This is an adaptation of a recent message to AFT staff and leadership from Eugenia Kemble, on the occasion of her departure as the Albert Shanker Institute’s founding executive director, a position she held from March 1998 through September 2012.

I hope you will accept a few reflections from an old-timer as I leave the Albert Shanker Institute, which was launched with the support of the American Federation of Teachers in 1998, a year after Al’s death.

I started in 1967 as a cub reporter for New York’s Local 2 and have worked for the AFT, the AFL-CIO, and the Albert Shanker Institute since 1975, so I have been on duty for awhile. I was particularly grateful for the decision to create the Shanker Institute.  It has become a very special kind of forum – directed by an autonomous board of directors to ensure its independence – where, together with a broad spectrum of colleagues from both inside and outside the union, core ideas, positions, and practices could be discussed, examined, modeled, and debated.  Its inquisitive nature and program attempt to capture a key feature of Al Shanker’s contribution to union leadership.  As a result, the Institute’s work has helped many, including me, to reach a clearer understanding of the essential character of the AFT, unionism, public education, and of democracy itself, as well as what about them we hope will endure. Read More »


Happy Holidays From The Shanker Institute

Posted by on December 16, 2011

We are taking a break for the holidays.

Posts will resume after the new year.

On behalf of the Shanker Institute, I wish you and your families a happy holiday season.

- Eugenia Kemble


Atlanta: Bellwether Or Whistleblower For Test-Driven Reform?

Posted by on July 22, 2011

Early in the life of No Child Left Behind, one amateur but insightful futurist on the Shanker Institute Board remarked to me: “Well, if you tie teacher pay, labeling failing schools, and evaluations of teachers and principals all to student test results—guess what?—you’ll get student test results. But some 20, years down the road when these kids get out of high school, we may discover they don’t know anything.”

The quip did not necessarily suggest that we were headed for massive cheating scandals. Nor did it mean that students should never be assessed to find out how well they were learning what had been taught. It was just a warning that the incentives to produce score results would produce them —one way or another—and whether or not they stood for any true reflection on learning. Meaning, in this case, that a system that defines success narrowly in terms of test score gains will, at minimum, invite exaggerated claims and, at worst, encourage corruption.

An important report was released this spring that should bring some U. S. education “reformers” up short as they pursue policies based on test-based incentives. Instead, Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education, by the National Research Council (NRC), was received as a blip on their screens. A serious research review, the report looked at “15 test-based incentive programs, including large scale policies of NCLB, its predecessors, and state high school exit exams as well as a number of experiments and programs carried out in the United States and other countries.” Its conclusion: “Despite using them [test-based incentives] for several decades, policymakers and educators do not yet know how to consistently generate positive effects on achievement and to improve education.”

In other words, given the methods we are now using to grant performance pay, design evaluation plans, or fix low performing schools, these incentives don’t work. Moreover, looking at recent education history, they haven’t worked for quite a long time. Read More »


Straight Up, Between The Lines

Posted by on April 12, 2011

Read carefully between the lines in Rick Hess’ recent blog post, “Can the Common Core Coalition Keeps [sic] Its Finlandophiles in Check?”

Predicting a “fifty-fifty chance that the Common Core effort will dissolve into an ideological clash,” Hess writes that in “one short document, the Shankerites managed to do much to undermine the loose confederation that had supported the Common Core.” He also lumps a broad spectrum of signatories into one supposedly errant educational faction. People such as former U.S. Surgeon General M. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, Reagan appointee Checker Finn, George H.W. Bush appointee Charlie Kolb, George W. Bush appointee Susan B. Neuman, former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, and the National Council on Teacher Quality’s Kate Walsh — all are labeled as being “a slew of left-leaning academics and consultants, dotted with my pal Checker Finn and a few long-retired Republican governors”—and the whole crew is charged with being “Finlandophiles.” God forbid.

What’s going on here? What have we wrought with the Albert Shanker Institute’s “A Call for Common Content?

I think Hess is doing more than cooking up a soup of crocodile tears and polemics. He’s clearly uncomfortable with the direction that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will take education in this country, but he’s not willing to take a clear position either way. Given his dilemma, attacking a sound strategy for implementing the standards seems like little more than undermining them without the political risk of having to register a truly “straight up” objection. And this is not the first time he has attempted to evoke tensions among potential supporters of the Common Core standards. I cannot help but suspect that he has made up his mind, but can’t quite bring himself to say so. Read More »


Why Does Joel Klein Keep Misrepresenting Al Shanker?

Posted by on December 8, 2010

Outgoing New York City Chancellor Klein loves to try to wrap himself in the mantle of Al Shanker. He is especially fond of pulling clipped Shanker quotes out of his hat—and out of context—when speaking about his favorite education “reforms.” At first this may seem puzzling, because the ex-Chancellor is disinclined to give either the United Federation of Teachers or its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, credit for much of anything except intransigence. It must be an inconvenient truth for Klein that Shanker devoted his life to making both organizations into the strong and aggressive advocates for teachers and teaching that they continue to be.

In “What I Learned at the Barricades,” a December 6 Wall Street Journal column, Klein leads up to his latest Shanker references with a characteristic litany of inaccurate claims – ones that Al would be quick to correct:

First, it is wrong to assert that students’ poverty and family circumstances severely limit their educational potential.” And “Second, traditional proposals for improving education—more money, better curriculum, smaller classes, etc —aren’t going to get the job done.

Really? It’s hard to imagine which barricades Klein learned at. There is plenty of evidence to support the impact of all of these.

But, for those of us who knew and worked closely with Al (I did from 1967-1984 and from 1989 until his death in 1997), what’s truly galling is Klein’s distorted use of Al’s thinking to shore up a simplistic, narrowly punitive agenda that Shanker would have discredited. Read More »


It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! No, It’s The Superman Movement!

Posted by on October 8, 2010

Yes, it’s the Superman Movement. Most filmmakers must secretly dream of a sequel that is bigger, better, and more important than the original. The makers of Waiting for Superman are apparently no different. “For us, the theatrical release is just the start of social action,” says Jim Berk, CEO of the aptly named Participant Media, the studio behind the movie (see here). “When I started the company, it was to motivate the grass roots and really get people to embrace an issue, and the idea was that the politics would follow,” confirms Jeff Skoll, Participant’s founder and chairman.

In 2009, these leaders decided Participant needed its own organizing arm, so they invented TakePart.com, a website tied to an extensive network of social action websites. TakePart, which constructs a special operation for every film, also offers advice to potential activists on their chosen issues – what to do and how to do it.

Charter school funders gloated and applauded when an early preview clip of Superman was shown at a Grantmakers for Education (GFE) conference in Baltimore last fall. GFE is made up of a wide array of education funders, ranging from powerhouses like Gates, Broad, and Walton, to community and family foundations of every stripe. (Full disclosure: The Albert Shanker Institute is an active member.) Participant was already drawing the foundation world into Superman’s policy and action orbit, hoping its dollars would follow the movie’s message. Read More »


Research Wars

Posted by on September 20, 2010

Weeks before the fact, a Sept. 29 forum sponsored by the Economic Policy Institute and the National Education Policy Center has sparked some interesting debate over at the National Journal. The event, centered around the recent book, Think Tank Research Quality: Lessons for Policy Makers, the Media and the Public, is an effort to separate “the junk research from the science.”

The crux of the debate is whether the recent explosion of self-published reports by various educational think tanks has helped or hindered the effort to improve the quality of educational research. (Full disclosure: The Albert Shanker Institute is often called a “think tank” and we frequently self-publish.) The push and pull of dueling experts and conflicting reports, say some, has turned education research into a political football—moved down the field by one faction, only to be punted all the way to the other end by a rival faction—each citing “research” as their guide.

“My research says this works and that doesn’t,” can always be countered by, “Oh yeah, well my research says that works and this doesn’t.” There are even arguments about what “what works” means because, except for performance on standardized tests, our goals remain diverse, decentralized and subject to local control. As a result, public education is plagued by trial and error policies that rise and fall, district by district and state by state, like some sort of crazed popularity contest. Read More »


Accountability For Us, No Way; We’re The Washington Post

Posted by on August 25, 2010

In his August 4th testimony before the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Government Accountability Office (GAO) official Gregory D. Kutz offered an earful of scandalous stories about how for-profit, post-secondary institutions use misrepresentation, fraud, and generally unethical practices to tap the federal loan and grant-making trough. One of these companies, so says the Washington Post itself, is Kaplan Inc, a profit-making college that contributes a whopping amount to the paper’s bottom line (67 percent of the Washington Post Company’s $92 million in second quarter earnings, according to the Washington Examiner; 62 percent according to the Post’s Ombudsman Andrew Alexander).

One might assume that the Post’s deep financial involvement in Kaplan Inc. would prompt its editorial board to recuse itself from comment on new proposed federal regulations designed to correct the problems. Instead of offering “point-counterpoint” op-eds on this issue, this bastion of journalistic integrity has launched a veritable campaign in support of its corporate education interests, and offered up its op-ed page to education business allies. It is a sad and disappointing chapter in the history of this once-great institution. Read More »


Extra Curricula

Posted by on August 9, 2010

In a recent post on Jay P. Greene’s blog, Greg Forster admonishes the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for running my piece on the importance of common curriculum in Gadfly, its weekly education publication (here). My ideas were never addressed. He simply uses the piece (and the fact of my position with the Albert Shanker Institute) to inform Checker Finn, Fordham’s president, of his and Greene’s continuing worry “that the national standards machine Fordham has helped to create will be hijacked by the teacher unions.” Forster goes on to issue a diatribe about the dangers of “national standards,” “national curriculum,” and “federal control of schools.” He warns of this conspiracy leading to “a benevolent dictator who will make sure that everyone will do everything in the one best way.” He also implies that the advocates of standards/curriculum-based education reform (an impressive bipartisan list), are really collaborators in a misguided plot to federalize education.

Mr. Forster could not have read what I wrote very carefully to come up with such a distorted account. Read More »


Curriculum: The Missing Link

Posted by on July 27, 2010

In a July 21 New York Times cover story, reporter Tamar Lewin rightfully noted “the surprise of many in education circles…” that 27 states had already committed to adopting the new Common Core academic standards developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Lewin goes on to attribute this surprise to “states’ long tradition of insisting on retaining local control over curriculum” (emphasis added). With this simple statement – the equating of standards with curriculum – the author perpetuates an egregious error in the understanding of education policy. Though the politics of local control touches both standards and curriculum, educators and the public will never get policy right as long as too many conflate the two. Read More »


Getting Serious About Education Advice For Workers

Posted by on July 14, 2010

Have we come to the “end of history” on the decades-long debate over whether skills training and further education beyond high school are the best ticket to a good job and a middle class life? And, if they are, do those who choose to navigate their educational way to a satisfying and well-paying job know what kind of ticket they need? Attention to both issues is escalating, and not only inside the Washington beltway.

On June 14, the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University released a block-buster. Its Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018, argued that by 2018 our economy will fall short of needed workforce qualifications “by at least 3 million postsecondary degrees, Associates or better,” and in addition, “will need at least 4.7 million new workers with postsecondary certificates.” This is the situation without the compounding issue of a 10% “official” unemployment rate in an apparently unending recession. Tony Carnevale, a principal author of the study, in reflecting on its implications for workforce training, noted “Our problem is, our country lacks a guidance system.” Read More »


WELCOME TO SHANKER BLOG

Posted by on July 14, 2010

The purpose of this blog is to provide commentary on the issues that we deal with at the Shanker Institute: education, labor, and international democracy.

This is a content-focused blog. You will not find pictures, sound bytes, videos, or superfluous rhetoric. You will find research, discussions of complex topics, and a balanced presentation of ideas. We will try our best to be thorough and thoughtful, but accessible, as was modeled by Al Shanker.

Although most posts will be written by Shanker Institute staff, we will be providing regular posts from our board members and other experts that we know. Reader comments are welcome and encouraged.

We hope you find our first posts (below) useful, and that you check back often for more. Please also take a moment to visit the Shanker Institute website, where you can learn more about our other activities and research.

Eugenia Kemble, Executive Director


Disclaimer

This web site and the information contained herein are provided as a service to those who are interested in the work of the Albert Shanker Institute (ASI). ASI makes no warranties, either express or implied, concerning the information contained on or linked from shankerblog.org. The visitor uses the information provided herein at his/her own risk. ASI, its officers, board members, agents, and employees specifically disclaim any and all liability from damages which may result from the utilization of the information provided herein. The content in the shankerblog.org may not necessarily reflect the views or official policy positions of ASI or any related entity or organization.

Banner image adapted from 1975 photograph by Jennie Shanker, daughter of Albert Shanker.