Credit: Consortium on Chicago School Research

Then – 1994

Take $49.2 million from a major East Coast philanthropist, add almost $100 million in local public and private matching funds, and you get the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Grounded in the system decentralization of the early 1990s, the Challenge emphasized local school efforts, with individual schools working in small networks with external partners to increase teacher professional development, decrease staff isolation and create smaller learning environments. However, that approach conflicted in many ways with the 1995 reform legislation that ushered in centralized school accountability under Mayor Richard M. Daley. The result: student outcomes for Annenberg schools at the end of five-year grant period were essentially the same as for students at non-Annenberg schools.


The legacy of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge is the Chicago Public Education Fund, which has focused its efforts on fewer, systemic changes while working with the CPS administration. (As a side note, the Annenberg Challenge was briefly in the spotlight during President Obama’s first presidential campaign, as both he and controversial educator Bill Ayers served on the Chicago Steering Committee.)

Clarification made March 9, 2015 on reference to school networks.


CPS wants to give principals at successful schools more autonomy. Will they be able to replicate the kind of work that Annenberg Challenge schools did, and will they coalesce into support networks, like the Network for College Success, which works with high schools?

See Annenberg looks for lessons as program winds down, Catalyst July 2005, and the Consortium on Chicago School Research’s report: Chicago Annenberg Challenge: Successes, Failures, and Lessons for the Future (2003)


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