Press Release

First Set of AFT Innovation Fund Grants Awarded Projects Are Bold, Collaborative Education Efforts To Improve Teaching, Learning

For Release: 

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Janet Bass


WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Teachers announced today the first recipients of the AFT Innovation Fund grants for education initiatives in which teacher unions and their partners will push the envelope to improve schools, teaching and learning in exciting, new ways.

The AFT Innovation Fund is the first union-led, private foundation-supported effort that provides grants to AFT affiliates nationwide to develop bold education innovations in public schools. The initial $3.3 million secured for the fund comes from the AFT and five prominent private philanthropic foundations.

“Many out there will be surprised to learn these proposals come from teacher unions, which are not afraid to take risks and share the responsibility for student success,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “These projects are designed by teachers and their unions, and include school and community partners—a vital combination that gives these new ventures the potential to be sustainable and improve student outcomes. That’s the real promise of these exciting initiatives.”

She added: “We’re public school entrepreneurs who want to push the envelope to improve student learning.”

The AFT Innovation Fund recipients’ projects vary—including fresh ways to evaluate, pay and recruit teachers—but the thread running through all of them is collaboration. “This is bottom-up reform at its best,” Weingarten said.

The recipients of the first set of AFT Innovation Fund grants, in alphabetical order:

ABC Federation of Teachers (south Los Angeles County). This proposal builds on the union’s successful partnership with the district, moving decision-making for 10 high-needs schools from the central office to the school level to meet each school’s particular needs. The union also will use Innovation Fund support to develop and launch a “Teacher Center West,” which will provide technical assistance for unions and districts in the Western states that are working to turn around low-performing schools.

Broward Teachers Union (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). This proposal creates a compensation plan designed with teachers that will use student achievement measures—including standardized test scores—as one of several factors in determining teacher pay.

Illinois Federation of Teachers. This proposal will design a new contract-negotiating model for teachers at Chicago’s just-launched Union Park High School that will support a teaching and learning environment based on collaboration and community partnerships. The process and contract could be adapted by unionized charter schools—and other public schools—throughout the nation.

New York State United Teachers and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals. These two state AFT affiliates—with several New York and Rhode Island local unions—will share a grant to establish a multi-district approach to more rigorous and meaningful teacher evaluation. The proposals reflect the understanding that an effective evaluation system includes multiple indicators. They will use, among other plans, a peer assistance and review component.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. This collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania expands dramatically a successful community schools program, taking the existing model from an isolated success to a K-12 network of schools in a feeder pattern in West Philadelphia. It will transform a neighborhood of 60,000 residents and approximately 4,000 students.

Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (Minnesota). This proposal creates CareerTeacher, a grow-your-own approach to teacher recruitment and preparation. This program will combine aggressive, Fortune 500-style recruiting of college students and midcareer professionals, as well as outreach to high school students; rigorous, standards-based teacher preparation and apprentice programs; multiple pathways to become a full-fledged teacher; and new professional roles for experienced teachers.

San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel. This initiative plans to increase the number of in-district charter schools using models such as community schools or two-way bilingual schools to offer parents and students more high-quality educational choices in San Antonio. It will engage school staff, parents, and business and community groups in improving student learning and increasing student enrollment.

The initial funding for the AFT Innovation Fund comes from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, 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 AFT is taking significant strides to improve educational outcomes for our students by investing in strengthened accountability, including using student achievement measures as part of both teacher evaluation and differentiated professional development, and creating innovative model contracts that could be expanded across the country,” said Talia Milgrom-Elcott, program officer in urban education at Carnegie Corporation of New York.

“Teachers play an enormously powerful role in the push for education reform—they are closest to the challenges and to the solutions in our schools,” said Fred Frelow, program officer for education and scholarship at the Ford Foundation. “We hope that these awards will encourage teachers and their partners to take bold, new approaches to teaching and learning. Their ideas and innovations will help us all think creatively about how to improve the quality of education for all our students.”

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, chair of the AFT Innovation Fund advisory board and chief academic and accountability auditor for the Detroit Public Schools, said: “These projects show teacher unions’ willingness to think creatively and collaboratively about improving student and teacher performance. They hold great promise for education reform in their school districts and around the country.”

For more information, including full descriptions of each grantee's project, visit the AFT Innovation Fund Web site,

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.