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Union, DOE to promote sharing of best practices, innovations

Several organizations, large and small, working at the level of the district, classroom, or school, are promoting horizontal sharing of successful strategies in education.

Last week, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) launched a new grantmaking initiative, the AFT Innovation Fund, with the goal of incubating best practices developed by teachers. The AFT will contribute $1 million and is seeking additional funding from philanthropic organizations.

According to the AFT website, Innovation Fund grants will go towards both proven reforms and new ventures. Examples of the former include peer review programs such as the Toledo Plan, where experienced teachers mentor and evaluate new teachers, and teacher centers like those in New York and Chicago; new ventures might include community schools of the sort AFT president Randi Weingarten has been calling for, union-partnered charter schools like the high school Green Dot Public Schools opened this fall in the Bronx, and experiments with differentiated pay and school-based contracts.

The AFT expects applications for Innovation Fund grants to be available in early 2009.

The AFT is not alone in attempting to find and disseminate innovative practices. At the classroom level, New York’s Teachers Network has long offered grants for classroom projects. In addition to funding new projects, Teachers Network offers Adaptor Grants to help teachers adapt and implement previous grantees’ projects in their own classrooms. Teachers Network makes available examples of previous years’ new and adapted units, along with links to grant-writing tips and additional funding opportunities. Sandy Scragg, Teachers Network technology consultant, says that information about this year’s grant applications will be available in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, the Post reported last week that the Department of Education is creating an on-line platform for schools to share best practices, headed by a “director of knowledge management.” Also, to help schools learn from each other, the DOE will partner schools facing particular types of challenges with similar schools that have successfully addressed those challenges.

More details to come about programs and practices selected by each of these organizations for replication in other settings.

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