Crown gift to advance Urban Education Institute’s work to improve urban schooling in Chicago and nationwide

James and Paula Crown make $10 million commitment to support UEI initiatives in

Steve Kloehn
Associate Vice President for News and Public AffairsUniversity Communications

A major gift from Chicago philanthropists and civic leaders Paula and James Crown will help advance the work of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute to improve urban schooling in Chicago and nationwide.

The Crowns have committed $10 million to support key UEI initiatives that focus on student achievement, teaching and school leadership. The goals of the gift are to conduct research that will inform local and national education practice and policy; help urban teachers in Chicago Public Schools achieve exemplary performance; design and distribute school improvement tools and training across the United States; help create a model of pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade college preparatory urban schooling; and support arts and education collaborations for public school students.

“Jim and Paula Crown have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to improving education at all levels,” said University President Robert J. Zimmer. “We are deeply grateful for this gift, which will yield immediate benefits for students in Chicago and help establish a model for how an institution of higher education can bring its intellectual resources to bear to address one of society’s most critical challenges.” 

James Crown, a University trustee and past Chairman of the Board of Trustees, is president of Henry Crown and Company. The Crown family has been a strong supporter of the University for more than three generations, and the Crowns have supported multiple initiatives on campus. 

James Crown cited the Urban Education Institute’s unique capacity to operate at the intersection of practice and research as the primary motivation for this gift. “We are deeply impressed by both the ambitions and the accomplishments of UEI,” said Crown. “There is no other institution in the country that joins practice and research and this depth of expertise under a single roof. Over the last two years, every senior at the UChicago Charter School’s Woodlawn Campus has been admitted to college—it is clear UEI is proving that, with the right support, it is not only possible but probable that students from the South Side of Chicago will graduate from college.” 

One of the critical innovations supported by the Crown gift will be the development of College Success Reports for every high school in the city of Chicago. These reports will provide educators and parents with fine-grained, actionable evidence about the trajectory of students through high school and into college. 

“The College Success Reports will be crucial to monitoring the progress of students in high school,” said Timothy Knowles, the John Dewey Director of UEI. “The reports will ensure that students are taking the right courses, staying on track, and entering, persisting and graduating from post-secondary school. Most people recognize that America’s singular focus on annual standardized test scores is insufficient. The College Success Reports will focus Chicago and the nation on metrics we know matter most.”

Creating tools and knowledge to drive improvement at scale is not new for the Urban Education Institute. In 2007, a handful of schools used UEI school improvement tools—today, UEI’s tools and training are in more than 5,000 schools across the nation. UEI’s Consortium on Chicago School Research “on-track” indicator—a metric that reliably predicts which ninth-grade students will graduate from high school—was adopted by Chicago Public Schools to identify and carefully monitor students in need of targeted support. Since adopting the indicator, the percentage of CPS students on track to graduate from high school has risen from 55 to 75 percent.

Knowles noted the amplified impact of UEI’s work that will be made possible by the Crowns’ broad, powerful support in realizing UEI’s mission. “Paula and Jim are investing in our school beginning in pre-kindergarten, in creating cohorts of exemplary teachers for Chicago, and in work that will create knowledge and tools to improve schooling and transform thousands of lives, here in Chicago and nationwide,” Knowles said. “We are incredibly excited for their partnership in such critical work.” 

A portion of this gift will devote resources for the Arts and Education Partnership. The school-based work will include the creation of an innovative arts and education program that will include UEI, artist and entrepreneur Theaster Gates, and leading Chicago arts institutions.

The Crowns are major philanthropists and civic leaders in Chicago and nationwide. In addition to his role as president of Henry Crown and Company, James Crown serves as lead director of General Dynamics Corporation and is a director of JPMorgan Chase. Among his numerous civic leadership positions, he serves as a trustee of the University of Chicago and the University of Chicago Medicine, the Aspen Institute, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Paula Crown is a professional artist and a principal at Henry Crown and Company. She serves as a trustee of Duke University, the Museum of Modern Art and the Latin School of Chicago, and is a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

The Crowns’ philanthropic partnership with UEI is designed to advance UEI’s mission: create knowledge to produce reliable, sustainable and replicable excellence in urban education. Towards that end, it will support three priorities:

  • The creation of the University of Chicago Charter School pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade “superhighway” to college—a new model for organizing urban schools for success and providing proof of what is possible for children from across the South Side of Chicago.

  • The training and support of exemplary urban teachers for Chicago Public Schools, with a particular focus on creating a pipeline of effective mathematics and science teachers.

  • The design and distribution of empirically tested, scalable tools and training focused on improving literacy, college readiness and school organization for 2.75 million students across the country.