Annenberg Considers Expanding Reform Grants to Smaller Cities

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Small and midsize cities may become the next beneficiaries of school-reform support from philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg.

A new report suggests that the retired publisher may expand his original $500 million pledge to America's public schools beyond mostly large urban school systems.

When Mr. Annenberg first announced the "Annenberg Challenge" nearly two years ago, he said he would focus on the nine largest urban school systems. So far, he has given about $200 million to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

But the strong local response to a smaller, $2.5 million gift to Chattanooga, Tenn., for a plan to build a new system that merges the city's schools with the Hamilton County system apparently has the foundation looking beyond big urban areas. (See Education Week, Aug. 2, 1995.)

Within a week after the gift was announced, local foundation and business leaders had committed $3 million of the $5 million in needed matching funds. They now expect to exceed the requirement by more than $2 million.

"The outpouring of civic interest and support in Chattanooga has provoked the Annenberg Foundation to consider Á an initiative targeted at midsize or smaller cities," says the report, a document prepared for funders and educators involved in the Annenberg Challenge. Sources close to the foundation said they were unsure how much money Mr. Annenberg might allocate for such a project.

Broader Interests

In addition to eyeing aid for smaller cities, Mr. Annenberg apparently has developed an interest in boosting arts education. For the past year, a group of New York City leaders has been preparing a proposal for a $25 million arts-education initiative.

Next month, the foundation is expected to unveil a $10 million "Arts, Culture, and Technology" initiative that would be coordinated by the Galef Institute in Los Angeles.

Approximately $130 million remains to be distributed of Mr. Annenberg's original pledge. Most is expected to be committed to projects already under way, such as the New York arts initiative, and proposals from Detroit, Houston, Boston, and an alliance of three Florida counties are still under review.

The report also says a few university-public school partnerships--similar to the alliance between Boston University and the Chelsea, Mass., schools--and urban-renewal ventures centered on schools--such as an effort by community activists and the Enterprise Foundation to rebuild Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood--are being considered. (See Education Week, June 16, 1993.)


Most of the urban sites and a separate $50 million rural project have appointed boards of directors, hired executive directors, and are soliciting matching grants from the public and private sectors. Many also have invited schools to apply for funding.

For example, the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative in San Francisco received 300 letters of intent, representing one-quarter of the area's schools. From this pool, it will begin selecting "leadership" schools, which will receive an additional $100 to $200 per student over a three- to four-year period.

Some education-policy experts say they are skeptical about Mr. Annenberg's emphasis on large urban areas.

"I guess I'm underwhelmed by the impact, to tell you the truth," said Denis P. Doyle, an education analyst and consultant. "I think [Mr. Annenberg] missed the mark in going to big organizations like the Education Commission of the States and big districts like New York. They are too unwieldy to be innovative."

Others noted that in some cases, Mr. Annenberg's gifts appear to have exacerbated cities' tensions over race and power.

"As it often happens with these kind of initiatives, the reformers are all white and the schools that are reforming are all minority, and there is not an aggressive enough effort to include voices that are different," one policymaker said.

And Christopher T. Cross, the president of the Washington-based Council for Basic Education, said the apparent absence of a strategy to unite the entire Annenberg effort has left him and others puzzled about the challenge's ultimate goals.

"What they are trying to accomplish has been to generally support public schools," he said, "but I haven't seen it put in terms of things like, is this to raise standards? Or is it to focus on improving educational achievement among the most disadvantaged?"

But others praised the approach, noting that Mr. Annenberg has largely succeeded in his effort to avoid creating bureaucracies and has selected good people to do ground-level reform who are getting the bulk of the money directly to schools.

Vol. 15, Issue 07, Page 9

Published in Print: October 18, 1995, as Annenberg Considers Expanding Reform Grants to Smaller Cities
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