Overview of the Annenberg Challenge
Challenging the nation to renew its faith in public education by redesigning and reforming its schools by the year 2000
I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves, and if we think them unenlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them; but to inform their discretion.
-- Thomas Jefferson
For more than 200 years, Americans have turned to their schools to serve as the balance wheels of our self-governing democracy and as a means of citizenship. If the public schools are weak, democracy is weak. American democracy cannot endure if its educational mediocrity persists.
By almost any measure, American schools today fall short. It has been three decades since the publication of Why Johnny Can't Read, 10 years since the release of A Nation at Risk, a federal commission's report warning that schools are failing our children. Yet after more than a decade of effort and experiment, research and study, the performance of our schools remains mediocre.
There is a national consensus on the need to redirect our schools. We urgently now require the political will to embark upon serious long-term reform.
There are no quick fixes, no easy answers. We are dealing with institutional habits of long standing, some of which, however well-intentioned, make little sense anymore. There must be a sustained and concerted effort to start anew, to build our schools on our best understanding of human learning and on the needs of the 21st century. The effort must be national in scope, collaborative and non-partisan in nature and must focus on strategies allying the public and private sectors.
A $500,000,000 commitment from Walter Annenberg is a national challenge to federal, state and local authorities and to the private sector, to corporate, foundation and individual philanthropists. It is a challenge to these groups to refocus their priorities and concentrate necessary resources to enable our nation to redesign and reform our schools and systems of which they are a part. The five-year Challenge expects sustained governmental commitment and concerted private, public, national, non-partisan cooperation toward rescuing our public schools.
The Annenberg Challenge is to reinvigorate a national educational reform movement dedicated to the redesign of our schools in a way that captures the imagination and support of the public at large in all the states and territories, giving citizens fresh confidence and pride to support, nurture and protect their schools.
The Annenberg strategy assumes that schools cannot reform themselves in a vacuum, that they require a context of wise public policy and the coordinated protection, financial assistance and professional support of institutions that surround them, such as government, their neighborhoods, families, higher education, the media and technology.
The Annenberg Challenge aims at action at the neighborhood level, where children and their teachers and parents live and work. If there is no change here, there will be no change in the system.
The Annenberg Challenge is to provoke into existence a broad range of public schools across the country from which students will graduate with real competence and high achievement.
In sum, the Annenberg Challenge will provoke and support on a national scale a systemic and organized effort to reform the nation's schools.
The Nature of the Annenberg Challenge
The Challenge assumes that:
- Reform must focus on the basic institution of formal education, the individual school; it flows from what is right for children learning in those schools.
- Schools are not islands; and while the overarching "system" must relate to them with a minimum of bureaucratic and managerial interference, its structures and administrative processes are of great importance.
- Reforming schools will require extraordinary leaders, persons recruited and trained in fresh and powerful ways; and schools should provide them with working conditions that allow them to reach their potential.
- Independent alliances across the country on behalf of children and educational excellence must also be formed to pursue this goal.
The Challenge is:
- Financial. It should leverage substantial additional funds from public and private sources for school reform.
- Political. It should promote widespread public support for resolute and sustained investment in the lives and learning of America's children. There must be a fresh unity in American politics on the need to protect and nurture all our children. They are our future and deserve our care and investment in them.
- Moral. It should provoke the American conscience to attend to its youngest and most fragile citizens. A decent and generous democracy is obligated both to educate students well and to depend on the educated citizenry.