Date January 27, 2017
Media Contact

Brown’s Annenberg Institute to remodel approach to confronting educational inequality

As a search for the 25-year-old institute’s next director launches, a road map of new priorities will position it as a leader for education-focused social science research.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform has reached an important moment as it approaches its 25th anniversary in 2018. As the University prepares to launch a search for the institute’s next director, Annenberg will refocus its mission and add strength to its capacity to serve the community, the region and the nation as a leading hub for social science scholarship related to education.

A new model for Annenberg will be adopted from a set of recommendations developed by a committee of University leaders, Annenberg staff and Brown faculty, which reviewed the institute’s mission, strengths and opportunities for the future. Outlined in a plan titled “The Annenberg Institute: A Road Map,” the new model will build on more than two decades of accomplishments in addressing the causes and consequences of educational inequality in America.

“The causes, consequences and mitigation of educational inequality should serve as the central organizing principle for the Annenberg Institute,” the committee’s report states. In its future work, the institute “should not only support research that describes and analyzes specific aspects of educational inequality, but should also connect this knowledge with broader thinking about how to develop research-based solutions to achieve greater equity in educational opportunity and outcomes.”

University President Christina Paxson shared details of the plan Friday, Jan. 27. In affirming that Brown will move forward with the committee’s recommendations, Paxson said the new model increases the institute’s impact with a greater emphasis on interdisciplinary research, teaching and service.

“This new approach builds upon the institute’s excellent record of success engaging with community partners and education practitioners,” Paxson said. “It seeks to connect knowledge gained through these stakeholders to inform faculty-based research and expand Brown’s contributions by translating this high-impact scholarship into policy and practice to achieve greater equity in educational opportunities.”

Annenberg’s evolved focus will cultivate stronger connections among Annenberg staff and Brown faculty, departments and programs to ultimately improve the quality and impact of public education in Providence, in Rhode Island and across the nation, Paxson said.

The new model for Annenberg outlines a series of steps to advance the evolution of the institute’s work: organizing research and teaching activities around a small number of themes in support of the renewed mission; establishing a set of Annenberg positions and programs for faculty, postdoctoral fellows and students; and enhancing the institute’s role in undergraduate and graduate education at Brown. The model recognizes Annenberg’s experience in community engagement. It seeks to continue the exploration and application of community-based research strategies when developing research-informed approaches to achieving improved outcomes in education.

Brown’s search for a new director for Annenberg will identify the leader who will guide the institute through these efforts. With the 2015 retirement of Warren Simmons, who led the Annenberg Institute for 17 years, a transition in leadership offered an ideal time to consider the institute’s mission, structure and approach to strengthening education, said University Provost Richard Locke. The refocus of the institute’s mission aligns with Brown’s broader strategic priorities established in the Building on Distinction strategic plan.

“At a time when we face great challenges in our country, we are committed to taking full advantage of Brown’s distinct approach to research and education,” said Locke, who led the committee that developed the new model for Annenberg. “At the center of this approach is the University's wealth of scholarly resources and a resolute focus on multidisciplinary research that addresses pressing societal issues. The Annenberg Institute has a long and distinguished record focusing on equity in education, and by strengthening connections with faculty across the campus, we will build on this success and create research-based solutions to improve educational opportunities and outcomes.”

The new director, who will join the Brown faculty as a tenured professor, will engage collaboratively with faculty from across the University to conduct research on education inequality that informs policy and practice and engages community stakeholders.

A history of equity-centered school reform

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform has a distinguished history as a national policy research and reform organization that works toward high-quality public education for all children. Established in 1993 through a gift to Brown that was part of Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg’s “Challenge to the Nation” public schools initiative, the institute’s original mission was to “support sustained, focused efforts to enhance the quality of learning by children and youth across the country.” Led by Brown education professor Ted Sizer, the institute guided the work of the Coalition of Essential Schools, which promoted teacher and school development that provided students with personalized, equitable and intellectually challenging education opportunities.

In 1998, Warren Simmons became the institute’s second leader. Simmons, along with Mike Grady (then Annenberg’s deputy director) shifted the institute’s focus to build the capacity of school systems and communities to achieve equity and effectiveness to scale. Grady says the common thread in all of Annenberg’s work, since its earliest days, is a relentless attention to equity.

“We have always led with equity,” Grady said. “The Annenberg Institute has a strong history of nationally recognized, high-quality, high-impact work that seeks to create more and better learning opportunities for all students. Equity has been our guiding light, connecting our research, technical assistance, community engagement work and our support to districts. Throughout, we have sought to answer the question: How can we change systems and communities in ways that increase the chances that students who are least well served will be successful?”

The Annenberg Road Map calls on the institute to persist in making educational equality and community-informed research an organizing principle of its work — goals that align with the University’s strategic priorities, including its campus-wide commitment to creating a more fully diverse and inclusive community.

Grady said that the Annenberg Institute’s robust history as an equity-focused policy and research institute with strong community partnerships will strengthen and inform the work ahead.