Annenberg Task Force Will Take A Fresh Look at Districts

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Most districts can point to individual schools that are high-achieving, including those with a large proportion of poor and minority students. But few systems can say that about all their schools.

Now, a national task force is tackling the question of how to redesign districts so that large numbers of high-performing schools can flourish.

The Annenberg District Task Force, created by the Providence, R.I.-based Annenberg Institute for School Reform, will meet for the first time this week in New York City. The 16-member panel of educators, business leaders, researchers, local and state policymakers, and community-based organizations plans to rethink the functions and structure of school districts—particularly those in large urban areas. And it envisions working with a handful of districts to put those ideas into practice.

"It seemed to the funders and organizers of this that school districts are central to the problem and solution of school reform, and they've been largely ignored," said Marla Ucelli, the director of the five-year initiative for the Annenberg Institute and a member of the panel. "To a lot of folks, they're the bureaucracy that people love to hate, but potentially they're the most powerful actors in creating and sustaining large numbers of successful schools."

The new initiative reflects the institute's broader decision to refocus its work on urban schools and on improving education for disadvantaged children and communities.

The project is being supported initially through the institute's endowment, as well as a two-year, $600,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

"We're going to move from a phase in which we use design teams to develop the work to a phase in which we're going to work with some target school districts," said Thomas G. Labrecque, the chairman of the task force and a former chairman of the New York-based Chase Manhattan Corp. "So the outcome of this is results, not a report."

Design Teams

The panel is expected to meet several times a year to set the agenda for the initiative, decide priorities for action, and communicate the project's findings. But much of the actual work will be done by design teams of researchers and practitioners, who will focus on three areas: ensuring well-qualified leadership and staffing; organizing, managing, and governing schools; and providing family and community supports for learning.

"My idea is that, in the end, we will not have a one-size-fits-all solution," Mr. Labrecque said. Instead, the task force will focus on what works under certain circumstances.

The task force hopes to focus on the key kinds of supports and services that districts provide to schools and how those need to be rethought in light of standards-based reform.

"We don't assume that the district needs to be the primary provider for all the functions we might consider," said Warren S. Simmons, the executive director of the institute and an ex-officio member of the task force.

The other members of the task force are:

Geoffrey Canada, director, Rheedlen Center for Children and Families, New York City; Thomas B. Corcoran, co-director, Consortium for Policy Research in Education; Roger Erskine, executive director, Seattle Education Association; Norm Fruchter, director, Institute for Education & Social Policy, New York University; Eugene Garcia, dean of the school of education at the University of California, Berkeley; Ellen Guiney, director, Boston Plan for Excellence; Paul T. Hill, director, Center for Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington; Diana Lam, superintendent, Providence public schools; Milbrey W. McLaughlin, professor of education, Stanford University; Richard P. Mills, commissioner of education, New York state; Roderick Paige, superintendent, Houston Independent School District; Hugh B. Price, president, National Urban League; and Vartan Gregorian (ex-officio), president, Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Vol. 19, Issue 25, Page 5

Published in Print: March 1, 2000, as Annenberg Task Force Will Take A Fresh Look at Districts
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