Annenberg’s $500 Million: No Competition, No Gain

Published October 1, 1998

As philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg’s five-year, $500 million effort to reform the nation’s public schools comes to an end this December, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the plan has failed to prompt any significant school reform, according to an evaluation of the Annenberg Challenge by Patrick J. Reilly of the Washington, DC-based Capital Research Center.

Although the Annenberg Institute for School Reform claims several positive trends as a result of its efforts–including increased local involvement in schools by parents, citizens, educators, and local business and civic leaders–Reilly notes “there is no substantive sign of improvement in the area that should matter most: students’ academic achievement.”

Moreover, observers cite significant problems in several Challenge programs, including those in Philadelphia and New York. The programs are plagued by mismanagement, ineffective leadership, uncommitted teachers, staffing difficulties, poor facilities, and inflexible curricula–“all of which are endemic to the public school system,” notes Reilly.

Neither the Annenberg Institute nor the Annenberg Foundation has published the annual and comprehensive evaluations of the Challenge’s progress that were promised at the program’s 1993 inception. The Foundation has promised an evaluation by the end of the year.

“As Mr. Annenberg must now realize, providing large sums of money to a bureaucratic, inefficient education system is not going to improve student learning,” observes Reilly. “Only reforms that apply external pressure on public schools, such as unfettered competition from private schools, are likely to make a difference.”