07/10/2010

AFT Innovation Fund Announces New Investments

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The AFT has announced a new round of grant-making by the AFT Innovation Fund, which uses a "venture philanthropy" model to seed and cultivate promising union-led ideas to improve public education.

The eight projects chosen to receive AFT Innovation Fund grants—announced during the AFT convention July 9—underscore the determination among union members and leaders to help lead change. One AFT affiliate will seek to become an authorizer of charter schools, for example, while another will design a performance-pay program for teams of math teachers working in high-needs schools. Still another will help prepare young children for school by ensuring newly unionized family child care providers have a real knowledge base of literacy skills.

The AFT Innovation Fund, which made its first round of grants in October 2009, seeks proposals from the union ranks that include strong partnerships with communities and school districts.

"The AFT Innovation Fund has given members the opportunity and the means to think creatively and develop new ways to solve some of the greatest challenges facing schools today," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "We're focused on getting sustained results and sharing them with other educators across the country."

Support for the AFT Innovation Fund comes from Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, as well as from the AFT.

The 2010 grants, totaling $1.21 million, were awarded to the following local affiliates, in alphabetical order:

  • Anchorage Council of Education (Alaska), to help at-risk students earn diplomas by training "graduation coaches" in high schools.
  • Boston Teachers Union (Massachusetts), to increase students' engagement in lessons by creating prototypes of high-quality instructional units that can be distributed online.
  • Education Austin (Texas), to strengthen schools' ties to their communities by working in partnership with Austin Interfaith to convert several schools to "in-district charters."
  • Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association (Tampa, Fla.), to use social networking to connect teachers and support them through the changes in pay, evaluation and career possibilities under way in the district.
  • Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (Minnesota), to tap into teachers' desire to create high-performing schools by seeking to become an authorizer of charter schools under Minnesota law.
  • Toledo Federation of Teachers (Ohio), to create a group performance-pay program for teams of math teachers in grades 4-8 in four high-needs schools.
  • United Federation of Teachers (New York City), to help thousands of family child care providers understand and teach early literacy development using a curriculum that includes an adaptation of the PBS television show "Between the Lions."
  • Volusia Teachers Organization (Daytona Beach, Fla.), to develop a model for using evidence of student learning in a teacher development and evaluation system.

"Effective teachers are the single greatest school-based factor in raising student achievement," said Vicki L. Phillips, Director of Education, College-Ready at the Gates Foundation Gates Foundation. "Through the AFT Innovation Fund, we hope to draw on the expertise and creativity of master teachers nationwide to develop new teacher and student supports, and improve teaching and learning in every classroom."

AFT Innovation Fund advisory board chair Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who serves as the chief academic and accountability auditor for the Detroit Public Schools, said: "The work being done by the frontline educators who received the first set of Innovation Fund grants and their partners is nothing short of phenomenal. They have blazed a trail for educators across the country, showing that with creative thinking—and especially with collaboration—great things are possible."

The AFT Innovation Fund's seven 2009 grantees are tackling important work across the nation: designing new systems for teacher development and evaluation; forging strong links with their communities through the creation of schools with wraparound services for students; negotiating model contract language for charter school teachers; extending collaborative labor-management relationships to high-needs schools; and designing licensure programs to train laid-off teachers to work in special education. [AFT press release]

July 10, 2010