April 26, 2000 2 min read

Annenberg Challenged: Walter H. Annenberg’s $500 million gift to public education has failed to produce large-scale results, a report from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation contends, because it is difficult “to achieve systemic reform from within using money from without.”

The 60-page report, released this month by the Washington-based research and advocacy organization, examines three of the 18 projects—in Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia—financed by the Annenberg Challenge. The large-scale grants are aimed at turning around education in disadvantaged urban and rural communities with help from businesses, foundations, and colleges.

While some schools participating in the challenge did see gains, the initiative announced by the retired publisher and diplomat in 1993 has failed to implement change in the school systems as a whole—particularly urban systems.

“Maybe there’s a place in America where Annenberg’s gift made a big difference,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Fordham Foundation, “but in the giant urban school systems where most of the money went, the system swallowed, said ‘Thank you,’ and went on pretty much as before.”

The $300 million allocated to the projects in the three cities studied in the report meant little in school districts with billion-dollar budgets, the report asserts. The Fordham report highlights disappointments in each city in a journalistic-style case study. Academic achievement did not improve at all schools in New York and Philadelphia between 1994 and 1999, the report says, while no information on achievement was available for Chicago.

Critics of the report said it promotes the Fordham Foundation’s agenda of support for vouchers and other forms of school choice.

Administrators at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, located at Brown University in Providence, R.I., dispute the report, said Soterios C. Zoulas, a spokesman for the institute. Since the study examined only three of the 18 projects financed, it cannot not provide a comprehensive look overview of the Annenberg Challenge’s success, he said.

The projects in Chicago and New York have another year before their funding ends, he added, and results won’t be known till fall 2001. Funding for the Philadelphia project ends this June.

“Can Philanthropy Fix Our Schools?: Appraising Walter Annenberg’s $500 Million Gift to Public Education” is available on the foundation’s Web site at

—Julie Blair

A version of this article appeared in the April 26, 2000 edition of Education Week