Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy

Columbia University Press

In Woody Allen's 1973 film, Sleeper, a character wakes up in the future to learn that civilization was destroyed when "a man by the name of Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear warhead." Shanker was condemned by many when he shut down the New York City school system in the bitter strikes of 1967 and 1968, and he was denounced for stirring up animosity between black parents and Jewish teachers. Later, however, he built alliances with blacks, and at the time of his death in 1997, such figures as Bill Clinton celebrated Shanker for being an educational reformer, a champion of equality, and a promoter of democracy abroad.

Shanker lived the lives of several men bound into one. In his early years, he was the "George Washington of the teaching profession," helping to found modern teacher unionism. During the 1980s, as head of the American Federation of Teachers, he became the nation's leading education reformer. Shanker supported initiatives for high education standards and accountability, teacher-led charter schools, and a system of "peer review" to weed out inadequate teachers. Throughout his life, Shanker also fought for "tough liberalism," an ideology favoring public education and trade unions but also colorblind policies and a robust anticommunism all of which, Shanker believed, were vital to a commitment to democracy.

Although he had a coherent worldview, Shanker was a complex individual. He began his career as a pacifist but evolved into a leading defense and foreign policy hawk. He was an intellectual and a populist; a gifted speaker who failed at small talk; a liberal whose biggest enemies were often on the left; a talented writer who had to pay to have his ideas published; and a gruff unionist who enjoyed shopping and detested sports. Richard D. Kahlenberg's biography is the first to offer a complete narrative of one of the most important voices in public education and American politics in the last half century. At a time when liberals are accused of not knowing what they stand for, Tough Liberal illuminates an engaging figure who suggested an alternative liberal path.

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About the author

Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation and the author of All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice; The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action; and Broken Contract: A Memoir of Harvard Law School.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Columbia University Press
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Published on
Aug 30, 2007
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Pages
552
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ISBN
9780231509091
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs
Biography & Autobiography / Political
Education / History
History / United States / 20th Century
History / United States / State & Local / Middle Atlantic (DC, DE, MD, NJ, NY, PA)
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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“A remarkable new book.... Wise and energetic advocates such as Kahlenberg and Potter can take the charter movement in new and useful directions.”
—The Washington Post

Moving beyond the debate over whether or not charter schools should exist, A Smarter Charter wrestles with the question of what kind of charter schools we should encourage. The authors begin by tracing the evolution of charter schools from teacher union leader Albert Shanker’s original vision of giving teachers room to innovate while educating a diverse population of students, to today’s charter schools where the majority of teachers are not unionized and student segregation levels are even higher than in traditional public schools. In the second half of the book, the authors examine two key reforms currently seen in a small but growing number of charter schools—teacher voice and socioeconomic integration—that have the potential to improve performance and reshape the stereotypical image of what it means to be a charter school.

Important reading for policymakers, educators, researchers, and all citizens interested in the future of America’s public schools, A Smarter Charter features:

Profiles of charter schools that are bucking the prevailing trends, including their performance data and the challenges they face. Best practices from successful charter schools, such as methods for attracting a diverse student body and examples of innovative teacher contracts. Reform strategies that can improve student outcomes in a variety of public schools, not just charters.

“Kahlenberg and Potter have delivered a thought-provoking, serious contribution. Agree or not with their views on the purpose and performance of charter schools, they have important things to say on where charters have been, where they need to go, and how they can get there. Friends and foes of charter schooling, alike, would do well to read this book.”
—Frederick M. Hess, resident scholar and director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute

“Read this book and draw inspiration and ideas from charter schools and educators bucking the trend and reclaiming that original, collaborative, and powerful promise and spirit. I hope parents, educators in all sectors, concerned citizens, policymakers, philanthropists—and charter sector leaders—will take its compelling message to heart and act on it.”
—Dennis Van Roekel, former president, National Education Association

“A tour-de-force, laying out in singular fashion what has gone wrong with the charter school movement, and what must be done to get it back on track.... A Smarter Charter is a must-read for those concerned with the future of charter schools and public education.”
—Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers

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