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Nearly 700 Teams Submit School-Design Overhauls

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WASHINGTON--Nearly 700 teams from around the country have submitted their best ideas for how to teach children and run schools to the New American Schools Development Corporation, in hopes of receiving millions of dollars in funding.

"We've had a response that frankly I did not dream of or envision,'' said Thomas H. Kean, the chairman of the corporation, in announcing the number of proposals at a press conference here last week.

"The preliminary designs we've received go way beyond tinkering with the present education system,'' he added. "They seek a dramatic overhaul of the way we now teach children.''

NASDC is a private, nonprofit corporation formed by American business leaders last July, at the request of President Bush, to underwrite the design and implementation of a new generation of "break the mold'' schools.

It has pledged to raise $200 million for the effort over the next five years.

A total of 686 design teams submitted proposals by the corporation's Feb. 14 deadline.

By the end of May, NASDC will select as many as 30 of them to receive one-year contracts of up to $3 million each. Winners will use the money to flesh out their plans.

Following that, about half of the teams will be chosen for two-year contracts to test their ideas in real school settings. In the final phase of the project, a smaller number will be chosen to assist communities that want to adapt the designs and put them in place in their own schools.

The proposals came from every state except South Dakota, and included one from American Samoa and two from Canada.

For example, there were 15 from Arizona, 27 from Colorado, 13 from Wisconsin, 48 from New York, 30 from Texas, 22 from Florida, 33 from New Jersey, and 93 from California.

'Unprecedented' Collaboration

Design teams also reflected the collaborative efforts of hundreds of individuals from business and industry, K-12 education, higher education, state and local government, high-technology firms, think tanks, foundations, and community groups.

Nationwide, there are 240 school systems and school boards involved in the design teams, Mr. Kean said. There are 226 business partners--representing major corporations and regional and local firms--140 colleges and universities, and 136 think tanks, associations, and foundations.

"These people have never even talked before, in many cases, and that's what's so exciting to us,'' Mr. Kean said. "We have sparked an unprecedented collaborative process, all across the nation, on the part of American education's brightest people.''

Range of Ideas

The corporation has promised not to identify any bidders or to discuss the specifics of their proposals.

But Mr. Kean, who is the president of Drew University and a former Governor of New Jersey, provided a glimpse into the kinds of ideas that were submitted, based on a preliminary reading of about 40 percent of the applications.

According to Mr. Kean, the proposals stress cooperative learning among students; teachers who function as coaches rather than lecturers; greater parent involvement; more fluid boundaries between schools, communities, and the workplace; year-round education; school administrators who function in the same way as the chief executives of major corporations; the use of advanced technologies for both learning and teaching; and students prepared in the core academic subjects as well as for citizenship.

C. Reid Rundell, the acting president of the new-schools corporation, said about one-third of the design teams focused on urban schools, one-quarter on suburban schools, one-quarter on rural schools, and the rest on some combination of the three.

The proposals emphasized working with multiple schools, rather than a single school, by a 2-to-1 ratio, he added.

Most designs also encompassed all of education, K-12, instead of focusing on one age group.

In addition, about one-third of the design teams directed their efforts at at-risk students in particular; another third proposed to make "significant'' use of advanced technologies.

One Overriding Goal

The corporation has selected about 250 readers with expertise in education, management, community relations, technology, and business to help evaluate the proposals.

All bids are currently being screened and assigned a code that identifies them by geographic location, school type, age group, target population, and primary focus. Those that do not meet the corporation's criteria will be eliminated immediately.

Toward the end of this month, panels of readers will meet in Denver, Houston, and Leesburg, Va., to select the proposals that best meet one overriding goal: "The likelihood that the design will enable all students to reach the national education goals and attain world-class standards.''

Their nominations will be forwarded to the corporation's staff, members of its education-advisory panel, and officials from the RAND Corporation for a second level of review that applies all four criteria described in the request for proposals.

In addition to the standard relating to the national goals, these include the quality of plans to assess the performance of the design; the plans and potential for widespread application; and the appropriateness and realism of the proposed costs.

According to a statement, the final slate of candidates will "take into account the educational needs of the nation as well as the quality of the proposals.''

The corporation's board will select up to 30 winners by May 31 with whom it will negotiate contracts.

Mr. Rundell said the contracts "will be far more than perfunctory.'' They could be used to significantly tighten and improve the designs.

Raising Funds

One of the biggest questions is whether NASDC will be able to raise the $200 million it has promised.

To date, the corporation has amassed only $42 million, primarily from the chief executives who sit on its board. The corporation is just now launching a capital campaign, and it has hired Ketchum Inc., a Pittsburgh consultant, to step up its fund-raising.

Mr. Kean said some prospective donors have expressed an interest in funding specific designs, once the teams are selected.

But even if the group meets its target, he noted, "there's no way, obviously, that we will be able to fund and invest in all of these teams.''

The corporation hopes to help those that are not funded identify other sources of support.

There is also concern about how the corporation will help disseminate and replicate the winning designs, in the absence of the $535 million in federal aid that the President had proposed to create 535 "new American schools.''

It now appears certain that the Congress will not pass that proposal this year. Although it was never required that the 535 sites adapt the work of the design teams, it had been assumed that the two initiatives would complement each other.

"It would be helpful, obviously, to have that Congressional support,'' Undersecretary of Education David T. Kearns said last week. But he stressed that the fate of such support in no way influenced the work of the new-schools corporation.

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