Obama, Ayers, and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge

There has been a hush among the MSM about Obama’s relationship with Weather Underground member William Ayers.  The most that’s ever mentioned (if at all) is that “he served on a board with him,” as if they bumped into each other once at a PTA meeting.  That is not the case.  We now know that they both served on the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an education reform experiment that Ayers helped start in Chicago in 1995.  Ayers co-authored the unpublished paper distributed at the press conference, entitled The Annenberg Challenge: Good Schools for a Great City.  

According to the paper:

In 1995, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge launched a six-year, large-scale initiative to improve Chicago’s public schools.  It set out a broad vision for change, calling for the “enhancement of learning for all students through dramatically improved classroom practice and strengthened community relationships.”  The Challenge funded networks of schools and External Partners to plan, develop, and implement activities to improve local schools and student learning.  At its peak, it supported improvement activities in about 210 schools in the Chicago public school system.  These focused on many different areas of school organization and practice, including curriculum and instruction, student learning climate and social services, teacher and leadership development, and the involvement of parents and the community in schools and student learning.

The goals of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge were to improve:

  • quality of classroom instruction
  • student learning climate
  • school leadership
  • teacher professional community
  • parent and community support
  • relational trust
  • instructional program coherence

The main goal of the Challenge was:

to increase student learning and achievement in Chicago schools.  The Challenge will be the catalyst for a dramatic increase in [the] renewal of active and effective instruction, classroom change, and school reorganization at a significant number of schools.

The principles of the Annenberg Challenge:

An abiding tenet of the Annenberg Challenge since its inception, one that distinguishes it from other major school reform initiatives, is its embrace of pluralism.  Believing that there is no magic bullet, no single panacea, for fixing what ails our nation’s most troubled schools, the Challenge has eschewed privileging one reform strategy over another.  Rather, like all pluralist efforts, the Challenge accommodates an array of theories, in this case about how change occurs in schools and in the systems of which they are a part.  And like all pluralist efforts, its constituent elements are characterized by both similarities and differences.

Sounds rather lofty.  Over the course of eight years, the Challenge received a staggering $49.2 million from the Annenberg Institute.  At the end of the eight-year period, a paper entitled The Chicago Annenberg Challenge: Successes, Failures, and Lessons for the Future was published to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.  Part Two is a review of the findings, and the results were rather surprising.  According to the paper:

  • Student achievement improved overall across Annenberg schools.  This was similar to improvement across the system.
  • Rates of gain in student achievement among Annenberg schools did not improve markedly.
  • There were no statistically significant differences in student achievement between Annenberg schools and demographically-similar non-Annenberg schools.  This indicates that there was no Annenberg effect on achievement.
  • Initially, student academic engagement improved among Annenberg schools but then fell to a point where it was only slightly higher in 2001 than in 1994.
  • Students’ sense of self-efficacy first weakened and then strengthened, but remained weaker in 2001 than in 1997.
  • Both classroom behavior and social competence among students in Annenberg schools declined slightly between 1994 and 2001.
  • Like student academic achievement, there were no statistically significant differences in these student outcomes between Annenberg and demographically-similar non-Annenberg schools, which indicates there was no Annenberg effect on these outcomes.
  • In general then, the findings indicate that the Challenge made little difference in the long-term school improvement of the large number of schools it supported.

This raises some obvious questions.  With an average of $234,000 going to each school, how could the Challenge fail?  The goals seem rather achievable with that amount of money involved.  Which leads me to my next question: Was there any hanky-panky with some of that money?  Were schools not getting the sum they deserved?  Perhaps this is why the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois is blocking access to a large chunk of papers from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.  

With such failure at managing nearly $50 million and a local school board, how could we trust a President Obama to manage our taxpayer money and our country?


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