Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

Distributed December 17, 1993
Contact: Mark Nickel

Overview of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University will provoke and nurture the redesign of American schools, and it will document, analyze and publicize the nature and progress of that redesigning.

The Institute's staff will be drawn from professionals who have served in both the worlds of school practice and of research relating to that practice. They will work along the often controversial and troubled "fault line" between those two worlds, drawing the best from each and crafting this into new designs for schools.

Building on the decade of experience of the Coalition of Essential Schools and extending its work, the Institute will be part of a broad national alliance with school people and kindred reform organizations committed to improving the opportunities to learn, which are the right of all American young people.

The Institute will provide a neutral gathering place for all those concerned about schooling, a site for debate and investigation. It will issue periodic reports to the nation, and it will draw on the emerging sophisticated telecommunications systems to engage a wide national and international public in the consideration of those reports. The Institute will be non-partisan, an independent voice speaking about and for American schools.

Guiding Principles

While the Annenberg Institute's discussions and inquiries will draw carefully from across the full spectrum of American reform efforts, its deeply focused work with colleague schools will reflect four fundamental convictions:

All children must learn and learn well. This dictum cannot be a mere slogan. It is the duty of schools to make good learning happen for all children, without exception. Schools are for educating, not sorting out the presumed haves from the apparently have nots. If resources beyond the schools are necessary to assist the pupil and his or her family or to prepare the little child to enter school, they must be marshaled.

Each child in school must be well known and taught in ways appropriate to his or her development. No two children are ever quite the same, and schools must be resourceful and flexible in adapting to each of those students rather than expecting the students to conform to some standardized routine. Taking students one-by-one is not just an act of humane respect: It also is an act of common sense and educational efficiency.

Rigorous intellectual performance is expected of every student and is exhibited by means of public demonstrations of the student's real work through exhibitions, portfolios and projects, these not only displayed but actively explained and defended as well. Intellectual habits are the ultimate goal--young people who live their lives in thoughtful, actively informed ways. Schools will work at promoting these habits, however long it may take for any particular student; and the schools will help this process by conducting themselves as models of a thoughtful life.

Schools should reinforce democracy at the community level, balancing opportunities inherent in the diversity of American cultures with the need for a universally thoughtful and intellectually flexible citizenry. The voices of parents and the students' immediate communities must be heard and must carry authority. Without a legitimate sense of control over its collective life, the local community will slough off responsibility; and it is from the immediate community that children learn their obligations. Further, the proud teachers that our children deserve will enter and remain in the schools only if they have legitimate authority over the substance and standards of their trade.


Lead schools. The Institute will encourage the expansion of networks of like-minded schools, most particularly the Coalition of Essential Schools; develop ways and means of tying them together with seminars, telecommunication and publications; help to bring to them academic resources through a national electronic library; track their progress carefully; and evolve critiques, designs and examples which can illumine and accelerate their work. From this rapidly growing network, the Institute will join with a small but significant number of schools which seem most promising in their redesign and give them special attention, resources and protection. Institute staff will document their progress carefully and feed back into the networks their institutional stories. The Institute will also join schools in explaining their evolving work to administrative and political authorities and to the public at large.

A national school reform faculty. The Institute will draw from its colleague schools key teachers, administrators, school board members and parents and assist them in preparing to serve not only as effective leaders in their own schools but, individually and in groups, as consultants to other schools wishing their services. The Institute will tie these reform-minded educators together with telecommunications and through regular opportunities for advanced professional development. Several of its members each year will be in residence in Providence.

A national conversation about schooling. The Institute will host public discussions and debates on issues related to learning and teaching. The Institute, drawing on the wide range of existing research and evaluation reports about the state of school reform and, as necessary, sponsoring its own research, will conduct a series of intensive "seminars" focused on basic issues of schooling and drawing for their consideration experienced people from both sides of the "fault line." The Institute will publish annually, in a form useful to the broad public, an accounting of how reform is faring. Throughout there will be a careful effort to address the widest possible audience, to speak carefully and in an informed manner and to remain non-partisan.


Given the difficulty of carrying forward serious reform, honest and sensitive unity among those engaged in it is not only desirable but essential. Unity does not mean group-think: Reasonable people can constructively disagree about important matters, even as they agree on fundamental directions in which to proceed. The Institute will be clear about its own basic principles and aggressive in making alliances, bringing together those who share many key convictions and from whom all can learn.

The Coalition of Essential Schools has benefited from extended alliances, first and foremost with nearly 700 schools; with the Education Commission of the States in the Re:Learning initiative; with colleagues at Yale, Harvard and the Education Development Center in the New American Schools Development Corporation's ATLAS Communities project; with the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching (NCREST) at Teachers College, Columbia University; and with a growing number of Coalition-related regional organizations such as those in California, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York and Maine. These alliances both inform and enrich; they allow the conversation to extend beyond the school level into related matters, such as public policy, school finance, governance and teacher education.


The Institute is based at Brown University in Providence, R.I. Administratively it is a semi-autonomous unit within the University, with its own Board of Overseers. Thus, it is at Brown and not of Brown, a unit serving exclusively a focused national purpose over a sustained period of time. It was launched by a $5-million gift from anonymous donors. Its first director is Theodore R. Sizer, who continues his present obligations as the Walter H. Annenberg Professor at Brown and chairman of the Coalition of Essential Schools.