The Intersection

The AFT Innovation Fund and Common Core State Standards

September 20, 2012


The American Federation of Teachers, as a union of professionals, has played a leading role in the debate over how to improve schools for decades. In 2009, AFT took this thought leadership to a new level by creating the AFT Innovation Fund to cultivate and invest in bold, teacher-driven ideas for school improvement. These grants, made on a competitive basis, align closely with the AFT’s Quality Agenda, the union’s blueprint for ensuring strong, equitable public schools.

The AFT believes that the promise of these college-and career-ready standards will only be realized if educators have the tools they need to make them a reality in every classroom. Unfortunately, in the recent past, efforts to set academic standards fell short because they swiftly moved into assessments, bypassing teachers and students. (Read the AFT’s 2011 resolution in support of the Common Core here.)

For this reason, the Innovation Fund is making a major investment in the Common Core State Standards. We’ve created a network of enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers who are creating model materials that can be used nationwide. Their work will be posted on, the AFT’s new online community of resources for teachers. This platform has a section dedicated to the Common Core that we will be continually updating and enriching.

Our portfolio of Common Core grants includes six projects that are unfolding across the nation. Each involves collaboration with key partners such as school districts, national experts, and local communities.

The Cleveland school district and the Cleveland Teachers Union have been leaders in implementing the Common Core State Standards, which are in place for teachers in grades K-2 and rolling into grades 3-5 this school year. This project will build on their teacher-driven model by creating a process for identifying and refining the best lessons that Cleveland teachers have developed and taught in their classrooms. These will then be posted on the district’s data warehouse so that other Cleveland teachers can use them, and shared on national platforms like

The Chicago Teachers Union created a process for writing instructional units aligned with the Common Core State Standards and put together teams of top-notch teachers to produce them (with about 120 lessons). This fall, the union will train principals and then field test the units in select schools. The teacher teams will revise the units, based on the field test results, and the ongoing feedback received from the project’s advisory board of experts.

A broad sector of the local community in Quincy, Illinois–including parents, businesses, and daycare providers—will be hearing about the Common Core State Standards thanks to the Quincy Federation of Teachers, which is working with partners to conduct a communications campaign. The goal is to explain the Common Core State Standards and build public understanding and support for them. This will be accomplished through public service announcements, polls in the local newspaper, published materials and educator-led forums that will demonstrate the deeper learning called for by the standards.

The Jefferson County-AFT in Birmingham, Ala., is focused on ensuring that teacher education programs prepare their students with a deep understanding of the Common Core. Their efforts bring together pre-service teachers and faculty members from the University of Alabama-Birmingham with practitioners in the Jefferson County, Ala., public schools to write Common Core-aligned lessons in English language arts and teach them together. Over time, the work will expand to include literacy work in science and social studies.

The Albuquerque Teachers Federation is working with public television station WETA and a national expert on English-language learners to develop materials for the Colorín Colorado Web site on the Common Core. Albuquerque teachers have written lessons for English language learners and WETA is videotaping their instructional practices. These materials, as well as teachers’ journal entries about how to make the instructional shifts required by the Common Core with this population of students, will be posted on the Web site, which serves a national audience of parents and educators.

Master classroom teachers at a noted middle school in Boston are working together to create PowerPoint-based lessons in key subject areas and post them on the BetterLesson website and on The Boston Teachers Union’s first batch of lessons, in middle grades mathematics, earned rave reviews from users and were downloaded across the nation. The teachers are now tackling social studies and English language arts.

This work demonstrates that teachers are eager to work with their colleagues and to play a role in the implementation of the Common Core. That’s the only way, we believe, to make the promise of the Common Core standards a reality for every child.

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