Annenberg comes back with $60 million

Target: math, science education, grades K-12

By Steve Behrens

Walter H. Annenberg has returned to CPB with $60 million—and a revised educational purpose — a year and a half after pulling the same amount out of the Annenberg/CPB Project.

CPB announced June 19 [1991] that the Annenberg Foundation, chaired by the billionaire retired publisher and philanthropist, has joined CPB in a project to help elementary- and secondary-level students learn math and science.

May go nonbroadcast

The project is likely to put more of its money into nonbroadcast technologies than the older college-level venture has. “If you take a careful look at that press release, he is not giving his money to public broadcasting,” says an adviser to the Annenberg Foundation. “It is not a broadcasting program from here on. In [Annenberg's] opinion, that is not the ideal means of reaching elementary and secondary students.”

Nonbroadcast technologies “may be the most appropriate” ways to reach elementary and secondary students and teachers, comments Mara Mayor, who will direct the new project at CPB and who also headed the old one. “Once we know the specifics of what we’re going to develop we will determine what distribution mechanism makes the most sense.” The project will use various technologies, including computers, two-way video, videodiscs and electronic networks, according to CPB.

The Annenberg Foundation/CPB Project for Mathematics and Science will receive up to $5 million a year for 12 years, CPB said.

Mayor expects a new project council will meet this summer to set goals and launch initiatives. The council will include two members appointed by the foundation, two by CPB and a fifth person acceptable to both organizations, she says.

Change of mind

The fact that Annenberg came back to CPB indicates he was “happy with us as a partner,” despite his withdrawal from the earlier project, says Mayor.

Annenberg founded the higher-education project in 1981 by pledging to CPB $150 million over a 15-year period, and spent $90 million on it before withdrawing. CPB was notified in January 1990 that the checks would stop coming. (Even so, the project has works in the pipeline that will continue to be released into 1994, says Mayor.)

Mayor says Annenberg withdrew from the college-level project because his philanthropy was then being transferred from an educational nonprofit, the Annenberg School of Communications, to the new foundation. “They took a breather—they took time to consider what they wanted to do.”

Will the Annenberg interests be able to withdraw again if they choose to? “It has to be for nonperformance,” says CPB President Donald Ledwig.

Since Annenberg withdrew his pledge CPB and the foundation separately decided that they wanted to focus their efforts on math and science education of younger students, according to Mayor. “And so we are back.”

After Annenberg discontinued payments for the higher-education project, says Ledwig, “my approach was to talk with them about whether there was something else they were interested in.” There was. “It was resolved by us making a proposal in an area of national need.”

An adviser close to Annenberg says back in 1981 he had wanted to help disadvantaged people who could not get an education. “He was proud of what he did but by concentrating on college courses, he came to realize he was missing the bottom of the pyramid—people who needed help the most and who were most numerous.”

The adviser says that Annenberg wanted to give people “a second chance” to get an education, but he decided that chance could be given at a younger age, instead of waiting until college age, when it may be too late to help many young people academically.

Mary Ann Meyers, president of the foundation, said in a release that the project aims to improve math and science education for three principal reasons:

  • to help citizens become more scientifically literate so they can evaluate technological issues in their personal lives and politics,
  • to meet the needs of employers for technically trained or trainable workers, and
  • to assure an adequate number of science teachers and scientists.

LATER STORY

Annenberg expands funding of teacher education project, 1999.

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