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AFT Partners With Private Firm to Provide Common Standards Resources

The American Federation of Teachers and British publishing firm TSL Education have invested $10 million together in an online repository of lesson plans, tools, and supports aligned to the Common Core State Standards. The union hopes it will become the premier destination for teachers seeking to align their instruction with the new student expectations.

Called "Share My Lesson," the site will be free for any K-12 teacher in the United States. Teachers will be able to download, rate, share, and upload tools ranging from lesson plans to videos to assessments, all organized by grade level, content area, and particular skills.

"People on both sides of the pond have been working 24/7 to make this site uniquely American and make sure it's ready for September, when teachers are coming back to their classrooms and will be expected to start teaching to the common core," said Randi Weingarten, the president of the AFT.

The product of this unusual partnership arrives right as the field of digital repositories of tools for educators has begun to expand rapidly. Depending on the source, such content can be free or require a paid subscription, be state-designed or business-designed.

TSL publishes the Times Education Supplement, the U.K.'s primary and secondary education trade magazine—essentially, its version of Education Week. Four years ago, it also launched an online platform for teachers to share resources, called TES. TES is now the largest such network in the world. (TSL reported operating profits of £8.4 million in 2011.)

Share My Lesson's infrastructure is largely drawn from that of TES. About 100,000 U.S. teachers already belonged to the TES, and those teachers will be transitioned to the Share My Lesson platform.

Teacher volunteers from more than 70 AFT districts helped to comb through TES resources, translate them into American English where necessary, and align them to common-core skills. They also played a role in designing the new system's features.

New Features?

Louise Rogers, the chief executive officer of TSL, outlined elements of the site that she says sets it apart from other teacher-resource networks. For one, all the resources, ratings, and reviews will be driven by teachers. The site's look, design, and interface were also designed by teachers, and its resources are categorized and organized to reflect American teachers' thinking. Finally, the resources will be free and open to K-12 teachers, and their personal data will never be sold, Rogers said.

One interesting feature identifies the user who contributed each resource, allowing teachers who have created the most popular and highest-rated lessons to receive recognition for their efforts.

"It makes superstars of particular teachers," Rogers noted. "The teachers that create and share the best resources become celebrities because of the quality of their work."

The partners hope to make Share My Lesson the No. 1 destination for teachers seeking resources for the common core, though that remains an open question in light of the increasing number of similarly themed sites.

For example, the Council of Chief State School Officers last year announced plans for an open-source platform to aid states and districts in the development and dissemination of resources aligned to the common core. This effort, now known as the Shared Learning Collaborative, is currently being piloted in six districts and five states (with four more scheduled to come on board); like Share My Lesson, it has a "crowdsourcing" feature for rating resources.

Some states, such as California and Kentucky, have also begun to devise networks for teachers to share common-standards resources on their own. And finally, the two assessment consortia that are designing tests aligned to the common core are planning to put out model curricula and tools.

These efforts come in addition to other common-core courses and curricula that major for-profit companies like Pearson, as well as smaller nonprofits, are devising.

It's not clear how far the partners' initial $10 million investment will go to maintain the site: A long-term cost strategy hasn't yet been decided on, they said. Charging for some degree of premium content is one potential option. Another possibility is Web advertising, of which the TES has a minimal amount, but "you can't put [a lot of] it on a teacher site and keep it credible," Rogers acknowledged.

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