|Back to March Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 182||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||MARCH 2001|
|The Annenberg Challenge|
Philanthropist and former U.S. Ambassador Walter Annenberg, whose financial endowments established schools for communications at the University of Pennsylvania in 1958 and the University of Southern California at Los Angeles in 1971, donated $500 million to public education in 1993. This endowment supports an elementary and secondary school reform project called the Annenberg Challenge, which operates from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.
In announcing the gift at a 1993 White House ceremony, President Clinton said: "What is so important about the Annenberg Challenge is its very direct and supportive link to our Goals 2000 Educate America Act. . . ."
The Challenge calls itself "the largest private effort to reform public schools in our nation's history." The amount of private and public funds supporting it has grown to $1 billion, with 18 projects operating in 35 states.
The Challenge focuses on schools in disadvantaged urban areas, but also includes a number of projects in poorer rural areas. Fourteen Vermont schools, including Holland Elementary in Orleans County, comprise a "cluster" called "the Northeast Kingdom," which is part of the Annenburg Rural Challenge.
The Challenge website uses familiar education reform terms, including "comprehensive school reform," "high standards," "assessments," and "accountability," but offers few specifics about curricula.
In Vermont, gains in second-grade reading test scores were recorded last year, but some parents attributed them to teachers "teaching to the test" and compared the instructional techniques used to those disseminated by psychologist B. F. Skinner.
Parent Jerry Snay, whose children have been in and out of private schools to escape the public school curriculum despite the financial burden, says the Annenberg Challenge "is supposed to involve the community and parents, but no one except the principal and the district superintendent seemed to know about it. These initiatives claim to include parents and the community, but in reality they never do."