|Annenberg Challenge Announces Results Of Historic 8-year School Reform Effort; Cites Gains In Teaching And Urban, Rural, And Arts Education
$1.1-billion Challenge was largest public-private partnership to improve public schools in U. S. history
WASHINGTON, DC (June 12, 2003) - Citing improvements in some of the nation's most troubled schools, the Annenberg Challenge today released the final report on its historic effort to improve public education in America. The $1.1-billion public-private partnership strengthened urban, rural, and arts education and raised the quality of teaching.
"The Challenge did not flinch from tackling some of the toughest problems in education," said Warren Simmons, executive director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. "It worked in inner cities and isolated rural areas to improve education for children who were most often poor or minorities. The Challenge did not work miracles, but it frequently beat the odds and helped public schools do better. The Challenge proved that public education can work. It was time and money well spent."
The Challenge reached 1.5 million children and 80,000 teachers in 2,400 schools in 35 states. It was launched in December 1993 when Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg, founder/donor of the Annenberg Foundation, announced a $500-million gift to public education at a White House event and called for a "crusade for the betterment of our country." The gift was the largest ever made to public education at that time.
Ambassador Annenberg challenged others to match his gift and over 1,600 businesses, foundations, colleges and universities, and individuals responded, contributing an additional $600 million, creating the largest public-private partnership to improve public education in U. S. history. Eighteen school improvement projects were created across the country; 14 have been completed, and four others will complete their work by February 2003.
Simmons said, "We began over eight years ago, and today we answer the question, 'How'd we do?'" The report is entitled, The Annenberg Challenge: Lessons and Reflections on Public School Reform. It reports that the Challenge:
- Expanded professional development opportunities for tens of thousands of teachers. Improving teaching was the largest and most productive Challenge activity.
- Helped improve academic achievement in many places. In Chicago, elementary school students in Annenberg schools went from a half-grade behind the city average to a quarter-grade ahead. In Chattanooga, TN, students bused from a housing project gained six months to four years in reading with the help of a language immersion program.
- Revitalized arts education, leading New York City to add $75 million to its school budget and hire more than 1,500 music, art, and dance teachers.
- Strengthened the visibility, credibility, and confidence of rural schools.
- Helped make big schools smaller. In New York City, 50,000 students now attend smaller schools.
Created academies to train new school leaders in almost half the Challenge sites.
- Helped schools to form networks for mutual support in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and throughout rural America.
- Created intermediary organizations that worked with the schools, but at arm's length from school bureaucracies and politics. This was a signature feature of the Challenge.
- Launched new partnerships of community groups, college administrators, business leaders, newspaper publishers, foundation executives, and citizens from every walk of life. The Challenge helped put the public back into public education.
- Created successor organizations to carry on the Challenge's work.
Lessons and Reflections also describes some of the Challenge's disappointments. "We learned the hard way that if you seek to change the public schools, you must be prepared to deal with repeated setbacks, rapid turnover in leadership and sudden changes in direction," the report says. "We encountered problems and policy reversals in some places that took everyone by surprise. Many Challenge projects made midcourse corrections."
The report also notes that while the Challenge made large grants, nearly every site reached out to hundreds of schools, and the sums that ultimately went to individual schools were modest. Some Challenge sites spread themselves too thin by trying to do too much in too many schools, and that hampered the work. "Even large gifts like ours are no substitute for adequate, equitable, and reliable funding" of public schools, the report says.
Grants ranging from $10 million to $53 million were awarded to sites in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area, South Florida (encompassing Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties), and the Rural Challenge, which worked in hundreds of communities.
Smaller "opportunity grants" of $1 to $4 million were awarded to sites in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chattanooga, Chelsea (MA), and Salt Lake City.
Three additional Challenge sites focused on enhancing arts education: The Center for Arts Education in New York City, the Arts for Academic Achievement in Minneapolis, and the national Transforming Education through the Arts Challenge, comprised of six regional consortia members in California, Florida, Ohio, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Texas.
The Challenge also awarded grants of $56.7 million to New American Schools, $50 million to the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, and $6.5 million to the Education Commission of the States. To coordinate and support the reform projects, the Annenberg Foundation provided supplemental funding to staff a small national Challenge office at the Annenberg Institute.
The 18 sites embraced many different approaches to creating good schools, based on local needs and priorities. An independent, non-profit entity ran each project, which was designed by a local planning group comprised of educators, foundation officers, and community and business leaders.
The Challenge was never intended to produce systemic reform, and as the report points out, it was "never just about money? It sought to change the minds of teachers who had come to accept mediocrity and failure, and to change public attitudes about what is possible in public schools."
The report acknowledges that "public schools in most major cities are still not doing the job they must," but schools "are better today than they were a decade ago and teachers are better equipped to help children overcome obstacles and achieve higher standards."
Gail Levin, executive director of the Annenberg Foundation, said, "The Challenge is a great tribute to Ambassador Annenberg, who recognized that improving public education is the surest way to preserve our democratic values and ensure the future of our country."