AFT grants will give teachers a voice on Common Core

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The AFT has awarded AFT Innovation Fund grants for teachers in New York and Connecticut to offer solutions to problems with their state's rollout of the Common Core State Standards. The New York State United Teachers and AFT Connecticut were awarded the grants in a competition that was announced in July at the AFT convention.

"These grants are about giving educators some seed money to take their ideas about educational standards and convert them into practice," says AFT President Randi Weingarten. "Many educators support higher standards but are concerned about particular aspects, especially the Common Core standards' poor implementation and their developmental appropriateness, particularly in the early grades. We wanted to give the people closest to children a chance to do something different, as long as we were all focused on how to help students secure the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that the Common Core standards are supposed to be about."

Along with the AFT, the judges were Bianca Tanis, an elementary school special education teacher in New York state and a co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education; Jeanne Oakes, a presidential professor emeritus of education equity, University of California Los Angeles; and Kevin Welner, a professor in the school of education at the University of Colorado Boulder.

"The grant applicants had wide latitude, including critiquing the Common Core standards or writing new ones. It's significant that the judges thought the best ideas primarily involved finding better ways to make the standards work for teachers and students," Weingarten says.

NYSUT will use its six-month, $30,000 grant to make recommendations to address the state's botched implementation of both the Common Core State Standards and assessments. A union task force will review and critique the state's math and English language arts curriculum materials, developed by outside vendors, which have received a torrent of critical comments from teachers. These materials are seen as developmentally inappropriate, too prescriptive, and frequently riddled with errors and inconsistencies.

The task force also will scrutinize the state's process for developing standardized tests; probe whether practitioners were involved in the local implementation of the New York State Common Core Learning Standards and development of curriculum; and consider whether the state's professional development afforded teachers enough support.

"Given the profound problems with the state's materials used for the initial Common Core rollout—units that weren't developed with educators—we're anxious to roll up our sleeves and get to work on a critique aimed at improving the materials and making sure they are developmentally appropriate for students," says NYSUT President Karen E. Magee, who is an AFT vice president.

The task force's critique will be shared with state policymakers; the state legislature; parent organizations; student advocates; and education professionals.

With its six-month, $26,000 grant, AFT Connecticut will address the unmet need for developmentally appropriate instructional strategies for students in the primary grades. The union's working group will also make recommendations for teachers on how to help students with special needs and students with disabilities reach the standards.

"Teachers have not had enough time to fully understand the standards and develop curriculum, and it's been especially difficult for teachers with special education students and English language learners," says AFT Connecticut President Melodie Peters.

The resulting report will be shared with state policymakers and teachers who are anxious to receive Common Core guidance.

Both of the grants announced on Nov. 10 also support the AFT's July 2014 resolution on the Common Core State Standards, "The Role of Standards in Public Education." Among its recommendations is a call for state-level boards made up of a majority of teachers to monitor standards and to use feedback from parents, educators and students to evaluate and continuously improve the system.

[AFT press release]