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Education Innovations Shine In National Awards Program

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Three state-supported education initiatives emerged victorious last week at this year's Innovations in American Government awards program.

A panel of judges selected a total of 10 award winners, including the Kentucky Department of Education, the Georgia Office of School Readiness, and the College of Education at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Georgia, from a pool of 25 exemplary federal, state, and local government programs in areas ranging from crime prevention to health care.

Each winning program will receive a $100,000 grant enabling it to share information about its creative approach to government problem-solving. The New York City-based Ford Foundation sponsors the awards.

Of the 25 program finalists, four were directly related to education. Three of the four education program finalists went home winners from the awards ceremony in Washington. Another youth-related program, the Gallery 37 arts-training effort, run through the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, also won an award.

The presence of multiple education programs among the winners was "a little by design," said Bill Parent, the executive director of the awards program, which is administered by Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass., in partnership with the Washington-based Council for Excellence in Government.

Though the winners were ultimately chosen by a selection committee of public-policy experts and former public officials, Mr. Parent said that organizers of the awards program sent more applications to educators this year than they had in the past, and wound up with a larger pool of education applicants.

Program organizers marketed the contest more aggressively to educators this year after noticing that innovation in education is "hard to define," he said. "There's an idea that everything has been done before."

Honored Programs

The Kentucky education department won for that state's wide-ranging, 7-year-old education reform initiative, which partners high academic standards and student assessment with accountability in the form of financial incentives and sanctions for schools.

"We've thought for years that it's an outstanding program, and that if we won the prize money we could help spread the word across the country about this program," said Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the department. "It's rare to see programs last this long and be this effective."

Georgia won two grants for two different initiatives. One award went to the state's "Pathways to Teaching" program, which helps minority-group paraprofessionals become teachers. The state's other award went to its statewide, voluntary prekindergarten program, which makes free, full-day educational child care available to any 4-year-old in the state.

The judging committee, which was chaired by David Gergen, the editor at large of U.S. News and World Report, was impressed with the Pathways program because it "sends a strong message about getting more teachers of color into the classroom," Mr. Parent said.

And Georgia's prekindergarten program won praise for its broad availability, along with its use of the state lottery as a funding source, he said.

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