AFT Innovation Fund is solution-driven unionism

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The AFT Innovation Fund, since being launched in 2009 by AFT president Randi Weingarten, has invested in 20 groundbreaking projects. Grant-winning state and local affiliates have engaged in solution-driven unionism by redesigning teacher evaluation systems in New York and Rhode Island, creating a nonprofit organization to authorize charter schools in Minnesota, opening in-district charter schools in Texas, and much more.

Francine LawrenceAFT executive vice president Francine Lawrence announces the new Innovation Fund grantees.

At the AFT convention, five new grants were announced, bringing the total to 25. These new awards focus on two pressing problems: extending learning time and implementing the Common Core State Standards. Announcing these new investments, Francine Lawrence, AFT executive vice president, said these grantees “show that unions are problem-solvers that bring fresh approaches and new partnerships to improve education.”

This is the first time the AFT Innovation Fund has supported local unions in redesigning the school day to expand learning time—for students and for teachers. With this extra time, students will have access to a well-rounded education, including extracurricular activities, and teachers will have opportunities to work together on improving student achievement. Using extra time efficiently and effectively is challenging, so the Innovation Fund is pleased to have three local affiliates rethinking the way time is used in schools.

To support high-quality implementation of the Common Core State Standards, the Innovation Fund is investing in teacher-designed, collaborative projects. This year, one grantee will focus on conducting a communitywide campaign to explain the new standards and enlist support for helping students to reach them. Another will work closely with a local university to make sure that those who are preparing to become teachers will be ready to teach the new standards.

The 2012 grants, totaling $750,000, were awarded to the following local AFT affiliates:

  • Meriden Federation of Teachers (Connecticut), to work in partnership with the school district to expand and enrich learning time for students at a high-needs elementary school in the areas of reading; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); and healthy living. Teachers at the school, and from other schools in the district, will collaborate to develop a staggered teacher schedule and spread the model throughout the district. The schedule will allow for flexibility so that teachers can work collaboratively throughout the school day to improve instruction and student learning.
  • Providence Teachers Union (Rhode Island), to support United Providence!, an innovative “education management organization” established by the union and the district, in turning around three high-needs schools in Providence. The schools will receive significant assistance to expand learning time so that teachers can have time to collaborate during the school day and so that students can get extra support and enrichment. This grant will also provide United Providence! with national expertise on conducting “time audits” and recommendations on how best to expand teacher and student learning time.
  • Cleveland Teachers Union (Ohio), to“harvest” high-quality curricular units written by Cleveland teachers that are aligned to Common Core State Standards. These teachers will work with one another and with a Common Core expert to improve and expand upon the units. When polished, the units will be uploaded into the district’s data warehouse—called School Net—where all teachers will have access to them.
  • Quincy Federation of Teachers (Illinois), todevelop a communications campaign for parents, businesses and local institutions about the Common Core State Standards and what they mean for teaching and learning. The campaign will focus on explaining the key shifts in the Common Core and how community members can best support students to reach the new standards. Teachers will lead the campaign, which is to include polls, community forums and public service announcements.
  • Jefferson County AFT (Alabama), towork with the University of Alabama at Birmingham to align English language arts curricula in middle and high schools with the Common Core State Standards. Two schools in the Jefferson County district will serve as intensive sites for student teachers to collaborate with cooperating teachers to write and teach new lessons. Both student and classroom teachers will gain experience in using aligned curricula to enhance their teaching and student learning.

Support for the AFT Innovation Fund comes from the American Federation of Teachers itself and from private philanthropies, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation. The Carnegie Corporation of New York, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts also have supported the Innovation Fund. [Lisa Hansel, AFT press release/photo by Russ Curtis]

For more information, visit www.aft.org/innovate.

July 28, 2012