Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1997-1998 index

Distributed March 19, 1998
News Bureau Contact: Tracie Sweeney
Washington: Tracy Zimmerman (202) 518-8047

New trend is changing the way education works in America

Annenberg Institute releases first report on public engagement in education

Reasons for Hope, Voices for Change, a new report describing an 18-month study of public engagement in America's public schools, was released today in Washington by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University today released the findings of an 18-month study of what some in the education community are calling a "quiet revolution" in public education - public engagement. The report, Reasons for Hope, Voices for Change, probes this new trend and finds it is having significant impact on public schools.

Annenberg's comprehensive inquiry found that the public is beginning to exercise new responsibility over education. Impatient with the pace of reform and concerned with the future of their children, citizens, communities and educators are shaping a grassroots movement that is changing the relationship between the public and its schools and building a powerful constituency for school change.

Institute researchers, working with research partner Millennium Communications Group, examined 175 public engagement projects around the nation, probing their origins, leadership, focus, and objectives. What they found is a major shift in how parents, educators, community and business leaders and public officials collaborate in shaping and directing changes in local public schools. Though they come in many shapes and sizes, public engagement activities are all geared toward bringing more people to the table, improving teaching and learning, and equipping communities to make tough decisions about public education.

"The most significant difference being made by public engagement is the dialogue and subsequent trust it has engendered. The disconnect between the public and its schools has been alarming; public engagement is beginning to repair that breach," said Jeffrey Kimpton, Director, Public Engagement at the Institute and director of the research effort.

Public engagement activities range from parent-driven efforts like Parents Union for Public Schools in Philadelphia, which maintains a comprehensive library of fiscal information, test scores and attendance rates for each of the schools in its district, to a community dialogue project in Orford, New Hampshire. There, community leaders developed education roundtables to discuss how to improve the fiscal viability of its high school, which could not be supported by the town's limited tax base.

The Annenberg Institute report documents the impact public engagement is already having on public education. A number of initiatives have helped change the way schools are governed, implemented standards programs, and fought and won battles to increase school resources.

"Public engagement may be a `quiet revolution'," said Marcia Sharp of Millennium, "but it is making some loud statements about the goodwill and trust that can be established between the community and its schools. This phenomenon is contradicting the growing trend of those choosing to flee public education."

"One of the most striking lessons captured in this report is that tens of thousands of people are taking part in engagement activities without connection to each other," said Ramón Cortines, interim director of the Institute. "Public engagement clearly has an inherent potential if so many are doing it in so many places with so many similarities, despite knowing so little about their colleagues' activities."

Institute leaders also called on the national education establishment and business and civic organizations to provide their time, resources and leadership skills to this growing movement. To build on the report, the Institute will embark on a series of activities in 1998, ranging from conferences and additional research to networks of sites and a web information resource center (

"Public education is crucial to the sustained vitality of American democracy, and we know a supportive and involved public is crucial to the survival of public schools," said E. Gordon Gee, president of Brown and chairman of the Institute's Board of Overseers. "Public engagement is the key to this linkage, and our research shows that the American public is leading the way."

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University is one of the nation's leading advocates for the serious redesign of American schooling. The Institute was founded in 1993 as the National Institute for School Reform with initial funding of $5 million from private donors. A $50 million gift from the Annenberg Challenge expanded the Institute's mission and scope. To honor Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg, the Brown University corporation renamed the Institute, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.