Annenberg Gift May Focus on 4 Urban Areas

Plan for Initial Grants Is Expected This Month

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

When the Annenberg Foundation announces the next phase of its $500 million bequest to the nation's schools this month, it is likely to target four major urban centers and their surrounding suburbs: Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York City.

That and other new information about the largest private gift ever made to American public schools was obtained through dozens of interviews with individuals close to the proceedings, most of whom spoke only on background. A representative of the foundation did not return phone calls and key advisers involved in shaping the project declined to comment last week.

In December, the philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg pledged at a White House ceremony to donate half a billion dollars to public education over the next five years. So far, $120 million has been promised for specific projects. (See story, page 14.)

At that time, Mr. Annenberg said he would focus a significant portion of the remaining $380 million on schools located in the nation's nine largest urban school districts: Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and Dade and Broward counties, Fla. (See Education Week, Jan. 12, 1994.)

It now appears that Mr. Annenberg's advisers will recommend concentrating the initial round of grants on New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and possibly Detroit.

In the past month, two of Mr. Annenberg's key advisers--Vartan Gregorian, the president of Brown University, and Theodore R. Sizer, the director of the Annenberg National Institute for School Reform at Brown--have met with K-12 and university educators, foundation officers, business and community leaders, and public officials in the four regions to explore the climate for reform.

Coalitions in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles are preparing brief papers to submit this month that describe how they would use the Annenberg funds to dramatically expand the number of restructured schools in their communities.

Talks in Philadelphia are on hold pending the selection of a new superintendent. Consideration is also being given to funding an area in New England that could include such cities as New Haven, Conn., and Providence, R.I.

School-Based Change

In announcing the gift last December, Mr. Annenberg and his advisers emphasized that the "Annenberg Challenge" funds would be used to promote school-based change within a supportive public-policy context. Mr. Annenberg's advisers seem to be focusing on sites with a high need and a concentration of reform groups that could move boldly and on a large scale.

Groups of reformers had been meeting for months in Chicago and New York before being approached by representatives of Mr. Annenberg.

"We've been trying to put together a proposal," said G. Alfred Hess Jr., the executive director of the Chicago Panel on School Policy. "It's been important enough for most of the major reform actors to want to be involved."

In New York, up to five organizations are spearheading the design work: the Center for Collaborative Education, the New York affiliate of the Coalition of Essential Schools; the Fund for New York City Public Education; the Center for Educational Innovation at the Manhattan Institute; ACORN, a citizens'-advocacy group; and the East Brooklyn Congregations, another citizens' group that has started two new public schools in the past year.

The consortium would focus on creating small new schools and breaking up large existing ones into smaller schools. Funds would flow through the nonprofit agencies to networks of like-minded schools. The schools could form a "learning zone" that, in return for greater accountability, would be exempt from many regulations.

In Los Angeles County, the education school deans at the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles are coordinating a draft plan that would bring together a wide array of groups, including the Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now.

'Turning a Kaleidoscope'

But while the groups are working at a breakneck pace, none has been promised any funds. All decisions about spending the money rest with Mr. Annenberg and his family, who sit on the foundation's board of directors.

Mr. Annenberg, known both for his generosity and his unorthodox approach to giving, is expected to keep a tight rein on the process.

Mr. Gregorian, a longtime friend of the media tycoon, has been advising him on how best to leverage his investment. Mr. Sizer, a Brown University professor who founded the Coalition of Essential Schools, has been working closely with Mr. Gregorian.

By the end of this month, both men are expected to present the 86-year-old philanthropist with broad recommendations for how to proceed, based on meetings with hundreds of people around the country over the past six months.

Observers describe a fluid process, the outlines of which change almost daily.

"It's like turning a kaleidoscope," one participant said. "All the little chips are in there, but it depends on who turned it last.''

According to guidelines for drafting the metropolitan plans obtained by Education Week, Mr. Annenberg still intends to give early, though not exclusive, priority to the nine largest urban regions.

But the foundation will also consider three "focus groups'': rural schools, public charter schools, and schools that emphasize the arts. In addition, a pool of resources may be available to support projects that are consistent with the Annenberg Challenge's goals but that fall outside of the metropolitan areas.

National Faculty

Mr. Annenberg's advisers have also been exploring ideas that could buttress the work of individuals engaged in reform and create a critical mass of restructured schools.

One of the most prominent of these is the creation of a "national faculty," a corps of experienced educators from innovative schools who could serve as consultants to other schools while continuing to work in their own sites.

In April, individuals from leading reform networks--including the Coalition of Essential Schools, the School Development Program at Yale University, Foxfire Fund Inc., and the Success for All Program at Johns Hopkins University--met to discuss whether such a faculty is needed and how they might collaborate.

Mr. Gregorian and Mr. Sizer have also been considering a policy network to help states and districts support changes at the school site. Members of the network would be drawn, at a minimum, from the participating metropolitan regions. A group of educators and researchers planned to meet last week to discuss the concept.

Funds may also be granted for an independent evaluation of the Annenberg Challenge at three years and five years.

Common Threads

Although each metropolitan region is expected to develop its own plan, the draft guidelines highlight some common threads.

Each region will include a city and its suburbs. In each region, the partners are to include universities, community organizations, businesses, and local and state leaders, as well as people at the school site. The guidelines stress building on the work of existing reforms.

The emphasis is on school-based change, with most of the resources directed at schools or clusters of schools. The funds are not expected to flow through traditional bureaucratic mechanisms. Each community is also expected to use the monies to leverage additional public and private support.

Estimates of the amount each metropolitan region may receive vary widely, from $15 million to $50 million over five years.

Some of the other guiding principles articulated in the document reflect the work of the Coalition of Essential Schools, such as the ability to know each student well and to hold all students to high academic standards.

Unresolved Tensions

But there are a number of tensions about how the foundation should focus its resources that have yet to be resolved.

One is the extent to which the monies should encourage "systemic change" versus change using the one-school-at-a-time model.

A second is the extent to which cities such as Chicago, which have been deeply engaged in their own reform agenda, should be expected to reach out to surrounding communities. Thirdly, there are differences over the extent to which individual reform networks will be able to collaborate without losing their unique attributes.

The intensive conversations taking place around the country in recent weeks, combined with the unprecedented amount of money at stake, have created a delicate political climate.

Several people praised Mr. Sizer and Mr. Gregorian for their attempts to reach out to educators and others. But few seemed to know how the strategy is unfolding. And most described the Annenberg Foundation as playing its cards close to the chest.

"It's all fairly hush-hush," one observer said. "Things really are operating at the rumor stage here."

At the same time, Annenberg's advisers are being bombarded with requests for money. More than 1,000 pieces of mail and countless phone calls have been logged.

One observer described the situation as "a large body of money surrounded by people who want some."

"Everybody everywhere is talking about it," another said. "It's not a particularly noble motivation, but money does create all sorts of lines of communication that don't exist when money is absent."

Vol. 13, Issue 37, Page 1, 14

Published in Print: June 8, 1994, as Annenberg Gift May Focus on 4 Urban Areas
Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories