The final report evaluating New York City’s involvement in the nationwide Annenberg Challenge paints a mixed picture of its impact on student achievement, but concludes that the high-profile initiative “well served” the 50,000 students who directly benefited from it.
As a group, the report says, the roughly 140 small schools that were created or restructured under the auspices of the 6 1/2-year Annenberg initiative in New York City managed “to achieve strong academic performance for a student population very similar to the city system as a whole.”
That performance, however, did not always translate into standardized-test scores that were superior to those of the entire 1.1 million-student district.
Conducted by the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University, the evaluation reports that the Annenberg schools typically had lower dropout rates, better student and teacher attendance, and less student mobility than schools citywide. The schools also were “characterized by innovative, respectful, and collaborative learning environments,” according to the report, which is scheduled for release later this month.
“They have better holding power, and I think that’s related to the nature of the climate that they’ve created,” said Norm Fruchter, the director of the institute at NYU and a principal investigator in the evaluation.
The report is one of the first in a succession of similar evaluations expected to be issued in the coming months, as researchers weigh the legacy of the unprecedented $500 million challenge grant to public education from the former publisher and philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg.
Announced in late 1993, the funding was distributed in the form of large awards that supported 18 separate school improvement initiatives around the country, including projects in Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay area.
In New York, a consortium of four organizations that supported the formation of small schools, which stress individual attention and high academic expectations, was awarded $25 million in Annenberg money in late 1994. The consortium, known as New York Networks for School Renewal, had to raise matching funds totaling $50 million—half from the city’s public school system and half from other sources.
The grant was originally intended to run until late 1999, but was extended until last June.
Teacher Inexperience Cited
In examining the 140 elementary, middle, and high schools under the New York networks’ umbrella, the NYU researchers were surprised by the relative inexperience of the schools’ teachers, especially at the high school level, Mr. Fruchter said.
Many more teachers in the networks’ schools lacked certification and advanced degrees when compared with their colleagues in schools districtwide, and a greater proportion had less than five years’ experience, the researchers found. In the 1999-2000 school year, for instance, just 61 percent of teachers in the networks’ high schools were certified, compared with 82 percent in the city’s high schools as a whole.
Yet teachers in the consortium’s schools also were absent less often than those districtwide. The report says that pattern may reflect “the commitment of these novice teachers, the supportive culture NYNSR schools create, or both.”
On citywide tests, reading scores in the networks’ elementary and middle schools ended up exceeding the citywide averages, even though they had started out well below them five years earlier. While those schools also showed gains in mathematics, they wound up with scores that were slightly below the district averages.
The researchers found that the networks’ schools served higher percentages of black and Hispanic students than did district schools overall, while the proportion of students from low-income families hovered close to the citywide norm. The schools also typically enrolled smaller percentages of students requiring special education or still learning English than in the district overall.
Gail C. Levin, the executive director of the Annenberg Foundation in St. David’s, Pa., said the full fruits of the New York initiative may not become apparent for several more years, but that the report still holds important lessons for policymakers around the country.
“We want to disseminate this as widely as possible so that others who may want to follow in our path will be able to look at what we did, what we tried to do, and what we did not do,” she said.
A research report analyzing data from all the Annenberg Challenge sites is being compiled by the Annenberg Institute, a think tank at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and is scheduled for release later this year, Ms. Levin said.
A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 2002 edition of Education Week as N.Y.C. Students at Annenberg Sites Were ‘Well Served,’ Report Finds