Backers Say Chicago Project Not 'Radical'





The Chicago Annenberg Challenge, chaired from 1995 to 1999 by Barack Obama, is being portrayed by John McCain's campaign as an attempt to push radicalism on schools.

The project undertaken in Chicago as part of a high-profile national initiative reflected, however, mainstream thinking among education reformers. The Annenberg Foundation's $49.2 million grant in the city focused on three priorities: encouraging collaboration among teachers and better professional development; reducing the isolation between schools and between schools and their communities; and reducing school size to improve learning.

The other eight urban projects that received money from the foundation under the Annenberg Challenge initiative, launched in 1993 by the philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg, pursued similar aims.

And the creation of small schools has continued as a reform strategy nationwide, most recently with major funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The proposal that won Chicago the grant, which the Annenberg Foundation required be matched two-to-one by local donations, was written by William C. Ayers and Anne C. Hallett. Mr. Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has become a prime target for Sen. Obama's foes, who point to Mr. Ayers' membership in the radical Weather Underground in the 1960s and 1970s and assert that the Democratic presidential nominee has been keeping company with an unrepentant domestic terrorist.

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