Annenberg Gift Prompts Praise And Questions

$500 Million Donation Dedicated to Education

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Education reformers have greeted Walter H. Annenberg's pledge to donate $500 million to public education with praise for the largest private gift ever to American public schools--and uncertainty over where the bulk of the money will go and what it will do.

At a White House ceremony last month, the 85-year-old philanthropist said concern over rising violence among America's young people had prompted him to give much of his vast publishing fortune to education.

Flanked by President Clinton and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, Mr. Annenberg said he was "deeply troubled'' by the rise in violent incidents in the nation's schools.

"We have got to reverse what is going on in this country,'' said Mr. Annenberg, a former U.S. Ambassador to Britain. "We must ask ourselves whether improving education will halt the violence.''

Challenging the Nation

Mr. Annenberg described his pledge as a "challenge to the nation'' and called on government leaders, corporations, foundations, and individuals to join him in supporting the public schools.

"This is a joyous day and a joyous occasion for those of us who have a love affair with learning, and who believe that quality education is the great hope of our future,'' Secretary Riley remarked.

Mr. Annenberg said his family foundation will award the first $100 million of his pledge this year to two groups:

  • $50 million will be used to endow the Annenberg National Institute for School Reform at Brown University. The institute is directed by Theodore R. Sizer, a Brown University education professor and the founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, a reform network.

The Providence, R.I., institute, founded last fall with $5 million in anonymous gifts and now renamed in honor of Mr. Annenberg, hopes to unite the activities of the broad range of groups working to improve public schools across the nation.

  • $50 million will go to the Alexandria, Va.-based New American Schools Development Corporation, a private, nonprofit organization launched in 1991 by business leaders at the behest of President Bush to create innovative schools.

Mr. Annenberg, who serves on the board of NASDC, had previously given the organization $10 million. His new gift, which nearly doubles the amount of money NASDC has raised since its inception, will be used to support the work of its nine school-design teams.

In addition, the Annenberg Foundation plans in 1995 to give the Education Commission of the States $15 million to disseminate the work of NASDC's design teams and other successful school-reform models at the state level.

Also next year, the foundation expects to award $5 million to the Annenberg Institute to launch a national telecommunications network that would link public schools electronically, enabling them to get access to information rapidly.

"All of the people in this room who have devoted their lives to education are constantly plagued by the fact that nearly every problem has been solved by somebody and somewhere, and yet we can't seem to replicate it everywhere else,'' the President said at the White House announcement.

"Anybody who has spent a serious amount of time thinking and working about this knows that that is the central challenge of this age in education,'' Mr. Clinton added.

Over the next four months, Vartan Gregorian, the president of Brown University, will work with the Annenberg Institute's board of overseers to formulate a proposal for how to distribute the remaining $380 million of Mr. Annenberg's pledge. The proposed grants will then be submitted for approval by the Annenberg Foundation.

Mr. Gregorian, a longtime friend and adviser to Mr. Annenberg, said he hopes to submit a plan to the foundation by May or June.

At a briefing following Mr. Annenberg's announcement, both Mr. Sizer and David T. Kearns, NASDC's chairman and chief executive officer, declined to comment specifically on how the remaining funds might be distributed.

However, a Brown University press release distributed at the briefing provides an overview of the context in which the remaining "Annenberg Challenge'' funds will be spent.

According to the release, the institute will work with other national school-reform groups to identify and support successful public elementary and secondary schools. At least 30 percent of the schools receiving funds must be located in the nation's nine largest school districts: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Dallas, and Dade and Broward counties, Fla.

The schools, which would be designated "National Schools,'' would receive funds to support their work and finance staff development. Private schools "clearly serving the public interest'' might also be included in this part of the initiative.

As a second component of the initiative, outstanding teachers, primarily from the National Schools, will be named to a new "National School-Reform Faculty.'' This corps of experienced educators will continue teaching but will also receive release time to assist other schools in their reform efforts.

Finally, other grants could go to match funding of state-level reform efforts, to projects focusing on urban schooling and the needs of low-income families, and to encourage school-university collaboration.

Leverage for Giving

Some or all of the grants made with the remaining funds may require matching grants from other sources.

Participants stressed their hope that the donation would be a catalyst for other gifts to education.

"While Mr. Annenberg's gift is enormous for an individual, it is very small against the need,'' Mr. Sizer observed in an interview.

"Mr. Annenberg's intention in calling it a challenge is very creative as leverage for further philanthropic and public monies,'' Mr. Sizer continued. "Because of the scale of the problem, [the need] to make alliances is paramount.''

Indeed, some individuals may already be responding to Mr. Annenberg's call for additional gifts.

Mr. Kearns said he was contacted by the foundation of "one of the nation's wealthiest families'' shortly after the White House announcement. Representatives of the family wanted to express interest in being "among the first to respond to the Annenberg Challenge,'' Mr. Kearns said.

'Much Harder To Fix'

Meanwhile, other members of the education and philanthropic communities have been busy speculating about how the remaining funds might be used.

"It will take a gift of that magnitude to make real change in K-12 education,'' said Maureen Martin, the executive associate for development at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

"It is turning out that the dilemmas and challenges in education are much harder to fix than anyone thought 10 years ago,'' Ms. Martin added. "This may be the piece that can make it fit.''

Sophie Sa, the executive director of the Panasonic Foundation, said she hopes funds will be allocated for sharing ideas about what already works in education.

"I think money for dissemination is really useful, because I think basically there are models out there,'' she said.

Pablo Eisenberg, the executive director of the Center for Community Change, a Washington-based antipoverty group, said Mr. Annenberg's pledge sends "a useful message'' to other wealthy individuals and grantmaking organizations.

"I think the one area in which Annenberg has been a leader is the fact that he is giving a huge amount of money during his lifetime,'' Mr. Eisenberg observed.

Vol. 13, Issue 16, Pages 1, 12

Published in Print: January 12, 1994, as Annenberg Gift Prompts Praise And Questions
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