Guest post by Catherine Gewertz
The two national teachers' unions have won $11 million to build an online warehouse of instructional tools for the Common Core State Standards. Student Achievement Partners, whose founders led the writing of the standards, is also a grantee. It will work with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association and their teachers to build the tools and post them on Student Achievement Partners' website.
Announced today, the three-year project joins many similar efforts focused on the common standards, which are being implemented now in 46 states and the District of Columbia. One of the recent higher-profile cases in point is ShareMyLesson.com, an online instructional-tools portal being built by the AFT.
The grant came from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, which is supported by New York City hotel magnate Leona Helmsley. The 13-year-old philanthropy is seeking to expand its work in education, noting on its website that its education program area "is in transition and is now funding programs of national significance in K-12 and higher education." A search of its education grants since 2000 shows only a few over $1 million, so the $11 million award to SAP, NEA and AFT represents a major investment in that area for the trust.
Rich McKeon, Helmsley's education program director, said in a press release that the philanthropy "applauds the critical role of teachers and their unions in the development and adoption of Common Core State Standards in dozens of states across the nation," and is "delighted" to support the unions and Student Achievement Partners as they develop and deliver the "highest quality" tools to help teachers meet the new standards.
Susan Pimentel, who co-led the writing of the common standards in English/language arts and is leading the ELA work at Student Achievement Partners, told EdWeek that the New York City-based nonprofit would be "the engine room" for the new project, but teachers would be the fuel behind it. It will cover both ELA and math.
SAP will meet regularly with teachers to find out what they need most in the classroom, and come back to them with early versions that can then be reviewed and revised, Pimentel said. Teachers from the two unions will also play a key role by piloting the tools in their classrooms next year, she said. The tools will be available on SAP's website, Achieve The Core, and NEA and AFT websites, she said.
The grantees do not envision designing entire curricula, Pimentel said, but discrete pieces that could be helpful to teachers. Once meetings with AFT and NEA teachers begin, more specific plans can take shape, she said.
But SAP has some early ideas that were sparked by discussions with teachers in the field.
Many teachers have asked for help, Pimentel said, in designing "coherent text sets" to help them get at the standards' expectations for cross-disciplinary learning and cross-text synthesis. Building suggested text sets would involve taking a broad topic, like the human body, and using teachers' input to create lists of texts that could be used together, over several grade levels, to build knowledge about the body while teaching the skills outlined in the standards, she said.
Teachers have also told SAP that they need support with the standards' expectation of building students' academic vocabulary. Building a computer-based way to help teachers identify the academic vocabulary words students need most could be a good target for the grant work, Pimentel said.