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Annenberg Grant Recipients Debate How To Focus Funds

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While others hope for a share of Walter H. Annenberg's $500 million gift to public education, the beneficiaries of his first round of grants have spent the past six months debating how to spend the investment wisely.

Mr. Annenberg pledged $120 million last December for four projects: $50 million to the New American Schools Development Corporation to underwrite the design of break-the-mold schools; $50 million to endow the Annenberg National Institute for School Reform at Brown University; $15 million to the Education Commission of the States to disseminate proven designs from NASDC and others; and $5 million to launch a telecommunications network linking public schools.

For the nine design teams funded by NASDC, a key issue is how to expand their efforts to reach a critical mass of schools. The teams are scheduled to hold one of their periodic meetings this week, at the headquarters of the International Business Machines Corporation in Armonk, N.Y.

A draft proposal suggests that NASDC concentrate on a handful of states or districts in which all of the teams could work simultaneously. The goal would be to have at least 30 percent of the schools in those areas replicate a NASDC design.

Sites would be selected in part on their willingness to provide a supportive policy climate. The nine design teams could also work with schools in other locations.

In December, Mr. Annenberg specified that governance of his gift to education would be through the boards of NASDC and the Annenberg Institute, both of which would report to the Annenberg Foundation. David T. Kearns, the chairman of NASDC's board, has periodically offered advice on the process.

Engaging the Public

A planning group--including representatives from NASDC, the institute, and the E.C.S.--has been meeting to discuss how to disseminate effective reforms. The E.C.S. will receive its grant in 1995, when the replication phase of NASDC's work begins.

"If the NASDC designs and their pilots come to fruition in a world that's hostile to new school-based efforts, then they're all going to be truncated,'' warned Frank Newman, the president of the E.C.S. "So part of what we're trying to do is create a policy framework state by state that is not only compatible with these ideas but encouraging of them.''

Representatives of the Clinton Administration and the National Governors' Association have also attended the meetings.

The organizations are also struggling with how to engage the public in school reform. Dennis Littky, the controversial former principal of Thayer (N.H.) High School, will join the institute full time to focus on the issue.

Mr. Littky also is addressing the telecommunications piece of the Annenberg Challenge. In part, he may expand "Here, Thayer, and Everywhere,'' an interactive professional-development program.

Deborah Meier, the founder of the Central Park East Secondary School in New York City, has also joined the institute. One of her duties will be to coordinate any work undertaken by the institute and the New York schools chancellor.

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