School & District Management

Houston Awarded New Urban Education Prize

By Rhea R. Borja — October 09, 2002 3 min read
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The Houston Independent School District drew praise last week for its improved performance as it was named the winner of the first Broad Prize for Urban Education.

Philanthropist Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe.

Philanthropist Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe, announce the winner of the first Broad Prize for Urban Education. The Houston Independent School District will receive $500,000 for taking the top spot.
—Photo by Allison Shelley/Education Week

The prize, which gives the winning district $500,000 for student scholarships for college, is being touted as urban public education’s most prestigious award.

“Houston leads the nation in greatest overall improvement,” said Eli Broad, the founder of the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation, which was created in 1999 to improve urban education. “Ensuring achievement in America’s urban public schools is the most important civil rights issue of the new century.”

Mr. Broad said the prize, to be awarded annually, is designed to accomplish three goals: “Regain America’s confidence in public schools, create an incentive to dramatically increase student achievement, and reward public school districts that are using innovative, results-oriented approaches to better educate students.”

The foundation also recognized four other high- performing districts as finalists for the award: the Atlanta and Boston public school systems and the Garden Grove and Long Beach districts in Southern California. Each of those districts will receive $125,000 for college scholarships.

“These school districts are models for the nation,” said Mr. Broad, who is the chairman and chief executive officer of Sun America Inc., a financial-services company in Los Angeles.

He was joined at a news conference at the Capitol by Secretary of Education Rod Paige—who previously served as Houston’s superintendent—and a bipartisan group of senators and representatives, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. Sen. Clinton spoke of the “deep, abiding respect for schools” shown by Mr. Broad and his wife, Edythe, and of the need for congressional lawmakers to work together to improve public education.

“This [prize] raises our sights to say: Is this the best we can be?” she said. “I hope we can cross our hands to bridge the divide and redouble our efforts.”

Among its other education grants, the Broad Foundation provides funding to Education Week for coverage of leadership issues.

Why Houston Won

A national jury of business, education, government, and nonprofit-sector leaders chose the 211,000-student Houston district as the winner based on data such as test scores and student- attendance rates, as well as information on its management, accountability systems, and academic objectives.

The evaluators singled out Houston for its improved reading and mathematics scores, its fast rate of academic improvement compared with that of similar districts, and its reduction in the achievement gaps between Hispanic and African-American students and their white classmates.

The jury also praised the district’s clear academic goals, its professional-development programs, and its close monitoring and mentoring of students by principals and teachers.

Houston’s improvement began in the 1990s, said Laurie Bricker, the president of the school board. After the district lost an important bond election in 1996, the board and the administration—then led by Mr. Paige—regrouped and crafted a plan to enlist public support and refocus on student academic achievement. Voters subsequently approved a $678 million bond referendum in 1998.

Marion Wright Edelman, a member of the prize jury and the president and founder of the Washington-based Children’s Defense Fund, said that while the Broad Prize sheds light on public schools, more help is needed.

“I don’t believe for a second that this great nation of ours doesn’t have the know-how to get every child reading by the 2nd grade,” she said, “and to [help] every student graduate from high school.”

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