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Annenberg Mulls Large-Scale Gift To Support School Reform

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While declining to commit to specifics, the philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg acknowledged last week that he is seriously considering a large-scale financial commitment to a broad program of school reform.

Mr. Annenberg said he was consulting with several prominent educators and reform advocates on the form such an initiative might take. He said he envisions a "united effort'' on precollegiate reform that might include some involvement by the Clinton Administration.

Speaking in a telephone interview, Mr. Annenberg would not confirm--but did not deny--details of an article in the Nov. 1 U.S. News & World Report, which said he "expects to give'' some $50 million to the New American Schools Development Corporation and "also may fund a major expansion'' of other reform projects, such as Stanford University's Accelerated Schools Project. The article suggested the initiative would total "at least $500 million.''

When pressed last week about the possible donation to NASDC, Mr. Annenberg said he may even give "far more than'' $50 million to the private, nonprofit corporation, which has projected that it needs to raise some $150 million for its effort to foster "break the mold'' schools.

Mr. Annenberg, a member of NASDC's board of directors, has already given $10 million to the group, which has been troubled by financial problems since its inception in 1991. (See Education Week, Sept. 8, 1993.)

"I happen to believe the most important need in our country is precollegiate education,'' which faces a "serious problem,'' Mr. Annenberg said in the brief phone interview.

"I'm prepared to walk the last mile ... financially because nothing is of greater importance for me than this,'' he said.

A former U.S. ambassador to Britain who made his fortune in publishing, Mr. Annenberg, 85, is the chairman and president of the $1.6 billion Annenberg Foundation.

'A Gift to the Nation'

Last June, he announced a $100 million gift to the Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J., which is being used, among other purposes, to support curriculum reform. (See Private Schools, page 9.)

Since then, Mr. Annenberg has asked the president of Brown University, Vartan Gregorian, "to study the emerging school-reform movement in our country and to make recommendations to [Mr. Annenberg] about the most effective way to achieve significant, long-term improvements in our schools,'' according to a statement issued by Mr. Gregorian last week.

The school reformer Theodore R. Sizer, an education professor at Brown, said he is helping Mr. Gregorian in those recommendations.

Mr. Gregorian, who has been a friend of Mr. Annenberg's for more than 20 years, added that he has not yet made his final recommendations, "nor has there been a decision about the actual size of a possible gift to the nation'' to underwrite reforms.

But David T. Kearns, the chairman of NASDC, who has also been counseling Mr. Annenberg, said last week that "we're very close'' to a final plan involving Mr. Annenberg.

Camille Johnston, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Education Department, refused last week to comment specifically on a possible Annenberg initiative. However, she said, "we welcome [Mr. Annenberg's] participation in the process of reforming the education system.''

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