The AFT on July 23 announced a fifth round of investments by the AFT Innovation Fund, which solicits and supports ideas from on-the-ground educators to help improve public education.
The applications for 2013 reflected affiliates' continued strong interest in the Common Core State Standards and ensuring that teachers are prepared to teach them. In addition, the Innovation Fund will support teachers in Baltimore in designing project-based learning experiences for their students, demonstrating the deeper learning experiences envisioned by the standards.
"This year, we are investing in educator-inspired ideas to deepen the critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork skills kids need to succeed in career and life," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "All too often in this era of austerity, teachers don't have the tools and resources to bring their ideas to life. And in too many districts, teachers are not being given the supports to translate the Common Core standards into the classroom. These grants will allow classroom educators to fill this breach."
Since its launch in 2009 by Weingarten, the AFT Innovation Fund has made a total of 30 investments across the nation. With this support, state and local affiliates have redesigned teacher evaluation systems; created a nonprofit organization to authorize charter schools in Minnesota; opened "in-district" charter schools in Texas; and written lessons and units aligned to the Common Core, vetted by national experts.
The Innovation Fund runs a competitive annual grant program. Investments are for one year, and are renewable for two to three years based on grantees' demonstrated progress. The 2013 grants, totaling $600,000, were awarded to the following local AFT affiliates:
Baltimore Teachers Union: "Project-Based Learning with a STEM Focus"
Teachers know that students learn best when they can see connections between their academic subjects and the "real world" of employment. The Baltimore Teachers Union will bring deep expertise in project-based learning to two Baltimore elementary/middle schools in partnership with the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future. The schools will create "Learning Studios" that marry the expertise of classroom teachers with that of outside content experts, such as scientists and engineers, to focus on designing project-based learning experiences for students.
Cincinnati Federation of Teachers: "Connecting the Dots of Common Core and Evaluation"
One of the biggest issues facing educators today is how to integrate the Common Core State Standards with teacher evaluation. The CFT is going to tackle this question by using Student Achievement Partners' new Instructional Practice Guides in a select group of schools. The guides are intended to be used by coaches, mentors and peer observers to help teachers plan and deliver instruction aligned with the Common Core. An advisory group will receive regular information on what these schools are learning from the guides. Over time, the project will provide insight into how to align evaluations with the instructional demands of the Common Core, so that teachers are receiving consistent feedback on their practice.
Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers: "Online Common Core Professional Development"
This project will build on the success of the Montana Digital Academy, a publicly funded online academy taught by public school teachers that now reaches students in every district. The state affiliate of the AFT will work with a variety of partners to use the same online platform to deliver professional development content and in-depth courses on the Common Core State Standards to teachers, making sure educators in rural communities have the same access to information as those in cities. Partners include the state Office of Public Instruction, regional education service agencies, and state education groups.
Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Public School Teachers' Association: "The Common Core and ELL Students"
Providing lessons and strategies on the Common Core to teachers who work with students who are learning English is a priority for the AFT. In Poughkeepsie, a community with a growing ELL enrollment, teachers will team up with a national expert to write and videotape model lessons for this key population. Their work will be featured on the website Colorín Colorado, a bilingual site for families and educators of English language learners that is a project of public television station WETA and the AFT. (A previous grant to the Albuquerque Teachers Federation from the Innovation Fund produced materials for younger students that are now on the site.)
Support for the AFT Innovation Fund comes from the American Federation of Teachers itself and from private philanthropies, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and Pew Charitable Trusts also have supported the fund.
[AFT press release]
July 23, 2013