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Foundation-, union-led "innovation fund" is seeking grantees

Four major foundations that have for years poured resources into growing charter schools this week announced that they are also giving money to the American Federation of Teachers, the national teachers union. Their donations are paying for an “Innovation Fund” that would let teachers pilot reforms in their own schools.

Along with representatives of the Gates, Broad, Ford, and Mott foundations, Randi Weingarten announced the fund’s creation at an event in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. (Weingarten is the head of the AFT as well as New York City’s local union.) An informative video the AFT produced from the event is below the jump.

Contrary to what some critics have charged, unions are a natural engine for innovation because they can insulate their members from retribution if their risks don’t pan out, Weingarten said on Tuesday. “Collective bargaining allows teachers to take well-considered risks,” she said. “If teachers are afraid to do something outside the norm because their evaluations or their jobs are on the line, they may be less inclined to give change a chance.”

Now, the AFT is asking local affiliates to suggest projects for the first round of Innovation Fund grants. Priority will go to projects that aim to develop new compensation and evaluation systems for teachers, or projects that extend learning time for students.

If I know nothing else, I know that GothamSchools readers are full of ideas about how to improve schools. What do you think the Innovation Fund should support? Leave a comment with your suggestions.

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