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Albert Shanker's National Fight for Teachers

In American politics, beating up on teachers unions is a lot like kissing babies. It may not get you more votes, but it can't hurt. This presidential election season is no different. Republican candidates, in particular, blame teachers unions for standing in the way of meaningful changes.

Union leaders have usually dismissed this criticism as "pure politics." But the late Albert Shanker, who was president both of the United Federation of Teachers and later the American Federation of Teachers, argued vigorously that unions needed to counter and prove their critics wrong.

A new book examines how Shanker tried to do that and why his ideas have had such a lasting impact on schools, unions and politics.

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Former elementary and middle school teacher Claudio Sanchez is the education correspondent for NPR. He focuses on the "three p's" of education reform: politics, policy and pedagogy. Sanchez's reports air regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Sanchez joined NPR in 1989, after serving for a year as executive producer for the El Paso, Texas, based Latin American News Service, a daily national radio news service covering Latin America and the U.S.- Mexico border.