University News

Supporting Schools
From the President, March/April 2019

By Christina Paxson / March/April 2019
March 28th, 2019

When Ambassador Walter Annenberg’s $500 million challenge to improve public education in America was announced by President Bill Clinton in 1993, prospects changed dramatically for what was then Brown’s fledgling National Institute for School Reform, now the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.     

The scope of its charge to “provoke and nurture the redesign of American schools” expanded by an order of magnitude. Since then it has evolved, responding to shifts in the operating environment, the advancement of knowledge, and new opportunities to effect change.

It established a foundation of expertise and experience—the pioneering work by Theodore Sizer with the Coalition of Essential Schools to widen the opportunity landscape for K-12 students, and the signature focus Warren Simmons brought to urban school districts.

Throughout, its true north has endured: helping create equity and improvement across K-12 public education.

Annenberg’s new director, Professor Susanna Loeb, moved from Stanford to Brown to lead the next era of the Institute’s evolution. She brings a deep public policy perspective to the work, an approach premised on the tested notion that robust research, combined with close ties to decision-makers at all levels, is the best way to inform sound public policy and practice.

The Institute continues to build capacity—modernizing office space, adding researchers—and align with Building on Distinction. Loeb sees a strong, collaborative community of Brown faculty and students, committed to producing knowledge that empowers educators and models how higher education can strengthen K-12 education. Already, Annenberg is producing applicable new knowledge, such as one paper identifying the characteristics of programs that help STEM teachers improve their effectiveness, and a second demonstrating the important role of teachers in reducing absenteeism and increasing graduation rates of the most at-risk students.

As in the past, partnerships are a priority at Annenberg, bringing policymakers, researchers, and educators together in an ecosystem of learning and knowledge application. The partnerships Annenberg is forging with educational institutions—such as the Rhode Island Department of Education and school districts around the country—enable scholars to pose the right research questions and learn about educational challenges directly from classrooms.

A second key priority for Annenberg is creating public goods for education. It will run working groups on educational topics ranging from student engagement to improving knowledge of effective teacher preparation, to consider what we know, what we should know, and what is needed to close the gap.

With a view to pushing the field intellectually, Annenberg is developing repositories of research studies and instruments used to measure outcomes for students. By enhancing access to information, Annenberg will encourage a greater focus on education, targeting the knowledge we need to build strong educational opportunities. The hope is that, given the Institute’s long-standing leadership in education reform, the repositories will become the destination for policymakers, journalists, and experts in the field to find the most current, rigorous, and informed education tools and research.

Loeb cites all of this activity as evidence of growing alignment between Annenberg’s work and other education and research taking place across Brown’s campus, guided by a common set of beliefs: that high-quality research can move the needle on the societal challenges of the day, and that improvements in education will be driven by a pipeline of socially conscious leaders who are trained as practitioners, researchers, and advocates.

Theodore Sizer, on the same day the Annenberg Challenge was announced, noted that: “Democracy depends upon devoted and informed citizens; and the secure future of a decent America depends upon schools which prepare such citizens.”

The ongoing evolution of the Annenberg Institute, propelled by vigorous, innovative, real-world scholarship aimed at ensuring that all K-12 students in America have the opportunity to achieve their full potential and become devoted and informed citizens, further positions Brown to deliver on this vision.

Christina Paxson


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March/April 2019