Education

Houston Schools Win Broad Urban Education Prize

By Alyssa Morones — September 25, 2013 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

Washington

For the second time, the Houston Independent School District has been named the winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education for its success in improving student achievement and reducing academic gaps.

As the 2013 winner, the district will receive $550,000 in college scholarships from the Broad Foundation for college-bound high school seniors in the district.

Philanthropist Eli Broad and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came together at the Library of Congress in Washington this morning to commend Houston’s leaders and those of other large urban school district that have made strides in recent years in boosting student achievement and reducing achievement gaps between low-income students and students of color and their more advantaged peers.

The nation’s 75 largest urban school districts automatically qualify for consideration each year for the prestigious prize from the Los Angeles-based foundation. The four finalists were selected by a 17-member review board composed of education researchers, policy researchers, practitioners and executives from leading universities, and education associations, think tanks, and nonprofits. An eight-member selection jury chose Houston based on student performance data and district policies and practices analyzed by education practitioner on site visits.

The three other finalists for this year’s prize were Cumberland County Schools in North Carolina, the San Diego Unified School District, and Corona-Norco Unified School District in Riverside County, Calif., which, along with Houston, was also a finalist in 2012. Each of the runners-up will receive $150,000 in scholarships for their graduating seniors.

The nation’s seventh largest school district, Houston serves approximately 210,000 students, 80 percent of whom qualify for federally subsidized free and reduced price lunch. The district is 62 percent Hispanic, 26 percent African American, 3 percent Asian, and 8 percent white.

Houston was recognized for its students’ academic achievement gains, its ability to increase the district graduation rate faster than any other urban district in the running for the prize, and its progress in narrowing the achievement gaps for low-income and Hispanic students and improving students’ college-readiness, among other achievements.

Despite the district’s high poverty rate, Houston’s students exceeded expectations in almost all areas following the 2012 adoption of more rigorous state testing. Its graduation rate rose from 64.3 percent in 2007 to 78.8 percent in 2012, according to data provided by the district, and it narrowed the achievement gaps between the district’s Hispanic students and Texas’ white students by more than 50 percent on state tests in high school math and science.

Houston also has the highest SAT participation rate of any urban school district in the competition—two-thirds higher than the Texas average—and showed the highest increase in Advanced Placement exam participation for all students.

In an interview with Education Week prior to the announcement, Houston Superintendent Terry Grier credited the district’s success in part to its focus on making quality teaching available to every student in every classroom and its commitment to site-based decision-making, which Grier said allows principals and teachers greater flexibility in managing their schools and addressing students’ needs.

In an effort to get more highly effective teachers in front of more students, the district implemented a merit pay plan “to recognize the most outstanding teachers.”

Grier said, “We know what and how you teach is very important. We believe that the quality of teachers we have in our classrooms is key.”

As a choice district, families can select which school their student attends as long as that school has space.

“School improvement is not easy, but it is possible,” said Grier. “We made the decision that a child’s zip code will not have a negative impact on his or her access to a quality education.”

Houston was awarded the first ever Broad Prize in 2002 under the direction of superintendent Rod Paige, who later became President George W. Bush’s secretary of education. Evaluators at the time commended the district’s clear academic goals, professional development programs and its principals’ and teachers’ close monitoring of students.

The district’s merits and merit of the prize itself were later questioned, however, when news surfaced that Houston’s actual dropout rates were far worse than Texas’ required calculation method suggested.

Eleven years later, questions surrounding the validity of the Broad Prize continue. Andy Smarick of the Fordham Institute, a conservative nonprofit education policy think tank, this week noted that, despite the gains made by Houston and the Broad finalists in raising achievement, students’ overall performance in all those districts remained lower than many would hope.

That point was also echoed today by Eli Broad, the founder of the philanthropy.

“I think even the four districts would agree that their work isn’t done, but they’re moving in the right direction, and that’s what counts,” he said.

Photo: Houston Independent School District Apollo School Support Officer Ken Davis, left, and Assistant Superintendent Lance Menster, right, react during a watch party to the announcement that HISD is the winner of the 2013 Broad Prize for Urban Education, September 25, 2013. (Dave Einsel/Houston Independent School District)

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Tiny Wrists in Cuffs: How Police Use Force Against Children
An investigation finds children as young as 6 and a disproportionate amount of Black children have been handled forcibly by police officers.
15 min read
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Nam Y. Huh/AP
Education Gunman in 2018 Parkland School Massacre Pleads Guilty
A jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
3 min read
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education Briefly Stated: October 20, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP