Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Annenberg Grant Could Fuel Education Innovation

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Annenberg Grant Could Fuel Education Innovation

Article excerpt

A PRIVATE philanthropist's half-billion-dollar donation is pocket change in the $220 billion United States public-schools industry. However, education observers agree that the way he's investing it could be the fuel needed to drive innovative programs through the school system.

"The individual actors {receiving the money} are all, in their own way, antiestablishment. This offers a real set of opportunities," says Denis Doyle, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington. "If the money was going to the same old actors, I wouldn't be as optimistic."

Alarmed at violence and the growing destabilization of schools, Walter Annenberg, former US ambassador to Britain, last week gave the largest private donation ever to public education.

The half-billion dollars over the next five years will help expand innovative teaching programs and give some schools the technology to establish nationwide curriculum-sharing through electronic libraries.

"We can't afford to stay with the status quo," says Secretary of Education Richard Riley, emphasizing the need to "end the conspiracy of low expectations and recognize that equity and excellence are not incompatible."

Mr. Annenberg said that education is the surest way to curb violence. Mr. Riley added that 82 percent of prisoners are high school dropouts.

The donation will support specific efforts to improve curriculum, including a national computer network for reform-minded teachers and students. As the nation's second-biggest industry, education remains "largely untouched" by innovations in the field of telecommunications, says David Kearns, the director of the New American Schools Development Corporation (NASDC).

"Grocery stores are much better equipped than our schools," says Brown University President Vartan Gregorian, who will be supervising the newly renamed Annenberg National Institute for School Reform at the university. …

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