The Chicago Annenberg Challenge: The Messiness and Uncertainty of Systems Change

Loyala University Chicago



Case Study Sector


In 1993, three veterans of Chicago school reform saw an opportunity in the recent announcement of the Annenberg Challenge, a national $500 million funding effort to revitalize public education and promote school reform nationally. This opportunity grew into the Chicago Annenberg project, which received $49.2 million from the Annenberg Foundation for regranting to Chicago public schools and non-profit organizations for improving Chicago Public Schools. This money, while sizable, was dwarfed by the $3 billion annual Chicago school budget. Yet its scope was broad, and by the end of the project in 2001, nearly 40% of local schools, mainly primary schools, had received Annenberg funding.

This is a case study of that local effort at systems change. It focuses on two contextual aspects of that effort. First, it describes the ramifications of embedding grant making within the dynamics of a movement. Second, it looks at how a “dynamic” shift in school district leadership and policies impacted the implementation of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.

This case study appears in the collection Lessons from Philanthropy: A Case Studies Approach: A Report to the Ford Foundation. The case studies are designed to increase the relevance of philanthropy teaching curriculums and better prepare future leaders that are engaged in philanthropy and nonprofit sector work. The overall goal of the present project was to develop case studies that would serve as teaching/learning tools about philanthropy by providing in-depth examination of critical issues and experiences related to foundation decision-making, governance and fund- distribution. Throughout the development of these cases, a special emphasis on philanthropic involvement in communities of color and other underserved communities was maintained in order to improve philanthropy’s work in relation to these populations.



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