$50 Million Shot In the Arm Gives NASDC New Life
After a period of faltering fund-raising and turnover in leadership, things are looking up for the New American Schools Development Corporation.
The philanthropist Walter J. Annenberg announced last month that, as part of his plan to donate $500 million to public education, he would give $50 million to the private, business-backed organization dedicated to aiding innovative schools. (See Education Week, Jan. 12, 1994.)
The grant was another sign of the revival of an organization that last year was being assessed by a newsletter on corporate philanthropy as "dead.''
Mr. Annenberg's gift, together with a show of support from President Clinton, has also brought new hope to the nine NASDC-funded design teams that are struggling to implement "break the mold'' schools.
In the wake of the Annenberg grant, observers such as Mary Goodell, the managing editor of Corporate Philanthropy Report, offered a new assessment last week on the prospects for NASDC.
"The Annenberg gift has clearly breathed new life into it,'' she said, "and we're watching it closely.''
NASDC was launched in 1991 by business leaders responding to President Bush's call for innovative schools.
Early on, NASDC leaders talked of raising $200 million to underwrite 20 to 30 proposals.
But the reality fell short of those hopes. Before the recent Annenberg grant, NASDC had only raised $53 million--including a previous gift of $10 million from Mr. Annenberg. It also picked just 11 design teams for the initial phase, two of which did not receive funding for the second, two-year phase of testing and implementation.
With the departure of Mr. Bush from the White House last January, some thought NASDC's demise was imminent in light of its close ties to his Administration.
Foundation officers began to receive inquiries from design-team members who were concerned that the anticipated NASDC support might not materialize.
Meanwhile, NASDC was experiencing changes in leadership.
NASDC's first president and chief executive officer, Frank Blount, held the position for only a year, while its second, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Ann D. McLaughlin, resigned seven months after taking the post.
The corporation was then temporarily led by a four-person executive management council headed by David T. Kearns, then vice chairman. Last June, Mr. Kearns became the Arlington, Va.-based organization's chairman and chief executive officer.
The future began to look brighter for NASDC last May, when Mr. Clinton endorsed the corporation.
In a recent interview, Mr. Kearns acknowledged the endorsement's significance, calling it "a very important plank for us to get in place.''
"After we got the endorsement last spring, we kind of got restarted up again,'' he said. Now, he continued, the new Annenberg funds will "allow us to concentrate on scale-up and on funding for phase three.''
In part three of NASDC's long-term plan, successful ideas from the design teams will be disseminated to schools across the nation.
Although Mr. Annenberg did not require that the corporation raise matching funds, NASDC officials said this month that they planned to raise an additional $50 million, in keeping with the spirit of the philanthropist's gift.
"We consider it to be a moral responsibility,'' said Michael R. Sandler, who oversees fund-raising for NASDC.
With $103 million raised to date, NASDC is already two-thirds of the way toward meeting its $150 million target, he added.
"It was a challenge for America, so the hope and expectation is there that others will accept that challenge,'' said John L. Anderson, NASDC's new president and chief operating officer.
"Hopefully, this will yield a momentum that will actually enable true change to occur,'' he said.
'The Work Itself'
The chief impact of the Annenberg grant for NASDC, according to Robert B. Schwartz, the director of the Pew Charitable Trusts' education program, will be to enable the nine design teams "to really concentrate on the work itself.''
"I think basically, if you were working in one of those design teams over the last year,'' he said, "it would have been hard to fully concentrate your attention on the work without wondering if there is going to be a next installment.''
Christopher Cross, the director of education programs at the Business Roundtable, said NASDC now "has an enormous potential to make a significant difference.''
As long as NASDC was "stalled at the $50 million level, its impact was questionable,'' he said. "But this really gives it the critical mass to be really influential.''
Mr. Sandler, however, contested the notion that fund-raising had stalled. He noted that NASDC had raised $6 million in the five months preceding the Annenberg grant.
Meanwhile, design-team representatives praised Mr. Annenberg's generosity and expressed optimism about NASDC's future.
"It keeps the whole thing alive and going,'' said Wayne Jennings, the director of the Community Learning Centers team in St. Paul.
"We're obviously excited about the possibilities,'' said John McDonald, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Educational Partnership. The new funds will give NASDC "breathing space'' and "the time to think strategically about meeting its forward goals and disseminating its designs.''
Previously, L.A.E.P.'s Los Angeles Learning Centers had to pare $600,000 from their original budget, resulting in the elimination of some technology purchases and cuts in the use of outside consultants and professional-development activities for teachers.
NASDC's funding problems had also led the Minnesota group to reduce the number of project sites from 10 to five.
"We wanted to maintain the quality,'' Mr. Jennings said. "Rather than to try to spread [the resources] out too thin, we decided to go for a smaller number.''
Restored to a 'Central Place'
Other observers suggested that the new infusion of funds will help affirm the corporation's nonpolitical independence.
"It restores NASDC to a central place in the national effort to have aggressive reform of public schools,'' said Peter H. Gerber, the director of the education program at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
"It was not very helpful to NASDC to be closely associated with the Bush Administration,'' Mr. Gerber asserted. "And its success should and could not rest with any association it might have with the Clinton Administration. It's stronger if it's independent of the national administration ... and of any particular orthodoxy regarding how to reform schools.''
Mr. Schwartz said he still sees "a lot of questions about the overall NASDC strategy.''
"I was one of the people who was initially somewhat skeptical about the whole concept behind NASDC,'' he said. "It was a model for school change that was simply not well thought through.''
"The irony,'' he continued, "is that, within the context of the Clinton Administration reform strategy, I think the NASDC initiative has a much better chance of taking hold and having some kind of ripple effect.''
Eugene Wilson, the president of the ARCO Foundation in Los Angeles, said that, if Mr. Annenberg's gift enables NASDC to "leverage and accelerate local systems change, then it can have the kind of outcomes that he hopes for.''
"But,'' he cautioned, "if it just tests more models to prove things
that have been proven before and puts a lot more money into testing and
research, and not into systems change or advocacy for systems change,
then it might not reach its ultimate potential.''