Old Blue Ribbon Awards Inspire New Program

By Alan Richard — October 22, 2003 3 min read

The spirit of the popular awards formerly known as National Blue Ribbon Schools will live on.

A new contest called the 21st Century Schools of Distinction was announced last week by a trio of partners, and the criteria for the awards resemble those of the U.S. Department of Education’s old Blue Ribbon Schools program before its overhaul last year.

The 21st Century Schools awards are sponsored by the Intel Corp., the Folsom, Calif.-based computer-microprocessor manufacturer; Scholastic Administrator, a magazine published by Scholastic Inc., of New York City; and the nonprofit Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Foundation, in Columbia, S.C., which will manage the judging and rules for the contest.

Schools must apply online by Dec. 31 to compete in 10 categories and can win up to $25,000. The top school in each group will be recognized, as will a school that shows significant improvement.

A panel organized by the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Foundation will narrow the field, then will arrange school visits to determine the finalists. The Blue Ribbon group will consult with its corporate partners to determine the winners.

Elementary, middle, and high schools can apply, and the contest is open to all kinds of schools: public, private, religious, Department of Defense schools, and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools.

Additional information on the 21st Century Schools of Distinction is available at

Bart Teal, a national panelist under the old federal Blue Ribbon program, said the 21st Century Schools awards would recognize schools that are dedicated to general excellence or vast improvement.

His nonprofit Blue Ribbon Schools foundation in South Carolina has guided schools in several states through the self-analysis that the old Blue Ribbon application required, and currently the group works to improve public schools in economically depressed communities in its home state and Mississippi.

“What we are trying to find are schools out there that have really done something big-time to change things for the better,” said Mr. Teal, the founder and executive director of the foundation.

New Shade of Blue

The organizers see the awards as taking the place of the old federal program, which was changed into the No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon Schools awards last year by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. Mr. Paige has said the new awards align more closely with the federal No Child Left Behind law, and reward schools with extremely high, or vastly improved, test scores.

But the federal awards ran into controversy recently when the federal Education Department told state officials that winning schools must meet “adequate yearly progress” standards on test scores as defined by states under the federal law. The decision disqualified some schools, even if they had met the original criteria. (“E.D. Names Winners in New ‘Blue Ribbon’ Program,” Sept. 24, 2003.)

While the No Child Left Behind- Blue Ribbon Schools awards are based on test scores, the 21st Century awards application asks schools to submit written details about why they should win. Test scores and other information about the applicants will be reviewed as well, Mr. Teal said.

He added that the new awards would not compete with the No Child Left Behind awards. Rather, he said, the 21st Century awards were inspired by the former Blue Ribbon program.

“Once the Department of Education changed the Blue Ribbon school award, we really thought there was a hole left there,” said Bernadette Grey, the editor in chief of Scholastic Administrator. Terry Smithson, the Intel Corp. education marketing manager for North and South America, said his company helped create the awards as a way to help prepare more students for college and future careers in technology.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment on the new awards program.

More information is available at

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