The Annenberg files

Barack Obama has long nurtured an interest in education, reports Sam Dillon in Wednesday's New York Times. Much of it grew out of his work with school-reform personalities (including the infamous Bill Ayers) and efforts in the Windy City. It started with Obama's involvement in the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which Dillon describes as a philanthropic program "that spent $150 million on Chicago's troubled schools and barely made a dent." (That was our conclusion, too, when we looked at the initiative eight years ago.) In 1995, Obama was elected chairman of the Chicago Annenberg-project board. Dillon reports that the group's executive director, Ken Rolling, thinks "the experience gave Mr. Obama an appreciation for the multiple problems facing urban schools." The senator's work in Chicago also brought him into frequent contact with that city's current schools chief, Arne Duncan, with whom Obama often talks and sometimes plays basketball. Duncan seems to us to be doing about as well as one could with Chicago's sprawling and troubled public school system, and he's learned a ton about urban education. What, one wonders, did Senator Obama learn from his Annenberg involvement? If $150 million in (exceptionally flexible) private money made no dent in Chicago, what will a few billion more (severely restricted) federal dollars do for the entire country?

"Obama Looks to Lessons From Chicago in His National Education Plan," by Sam Dillon, New York Times, September 10, 2008