School & District Management

Miami-Dade Schools Win $550,000 Broad Prize

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — October 30, 2012 3 min read
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The Miami-Dade County school district, a five-time finalist, has won the Broad Prize for Urban Education for its strides in improving academic performance and graduation rates, especially for Hispanic and black students; its use of data-driven instruction; and improved fiscal-accountability and strategic-planning processes.

At an event last week at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the 350,000-student Miami-Dade district had won the prize.

The Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation provides $550,000 in scholarships to a school district determined to be the nation’s most-improved urban school system, and $150,000 apiece to the three finalists. Philanthropist Eli Broad said the prize was aimed at creating environments where “good teachers can do great things.”

The prize has been awarded every year since 2002, and Miami-Dade was also a finalist in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2011. Miami-Dade is the nation’s fourth-largest school district. Seventy-four percent of its students are eligible for federal free and reduced-price lunches, 90 percent are black or Hispanic, and 21 percent are English-language learners.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, center, and United Teachers of Dade President Karen Aronowitz, right, react to the news that the Miami-Dade County school system has won the 2012 Broad Prize for Urban Education.

In a conversation with Education Week before the announcement, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that the district’s consistent presence as a finalist demonstrates that its successes are not just a “flash in the pan.”

“I believe we’re providing a scalable, practical solution as America becomes more like Miami. We’ve cracked the code of student achievement in Miami, and that can become America’s solution,” Mr. Carvalho said. He has been superintendent since 2008, when he succeeded Rudy Crew.

Selection Process

Each year, four finalists are selected from a pool of 75 urban school districts by a panel of education experts, who search for “the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while narrowing income and ethnic achievement gaps.” An educational consulting firm conducts site visits and gathers information about each district, and then an 11-member jury selects the winner. Districts cannot apply for or be nominated for the award. There is no set formula to calculate the winner.

This year’s runners-up were the 177,000-student Palm Beach County district, also in Florida; the 203,000-student Houston district, which won the first Broad Prize in 2002; and the 54,000-student Corono-Norco district in California. Palm Beach County and Corono-Norco are both first-time finalists. Last year’s winner was the 141,000-student Charlotte-Mecklenburg district in North Carolina.

Data and Improvement

The panelists cited Miami-Dade’s high and increasing percentages of Hispanic and black students who achieved advanced scores on the state’s standardized tests, increased participation and performance on the sat for students overall, and a graduation rate for black and Hispanic students that has been consistently growing, especially from 2006-09.

The graduation rate for Hispanic students jumped from 54 percent in 2006 to 68 percent in 2009, and the rate for black students moved from 43 percent to 57 percent. The panelists found that Miami-Dade students outperformed other Florida students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds in reading, mathematics, and science at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Mr. Carvalho said the most notable improvements were in some of the district’s lowest-performing schools. He said the growth was due partly to the district’s Data Assessment, Technical Assistance, Coordination of Management, or data/com, process. During the process, school officials analyze a school’s challenges and debate solutions, Mr. Carvalho said.

The district’s financial situation has also improved. “We actually embraced the economic recession as an opportunity to leverage and accomplish change,” Mr. Carvalho said. The district found new government and foundation funding sources, and all spending was directed at improving student achievement, Mr. Carvalho said.

The Broad panelists also commended the district for a culture in which district leaders learned from both public- and private-sector leaders.

Each of the finalists touted improved graduation rates and academic performance, and some practices similar to Miami-Dade’s. Houston’s superintendent, Terry Grier, also singled out private-sector-influenced management strategies, and officials from all three finalist districts pointed to data-driven instruction as a driver behind their own improvements.

A version of this article appeared in the October 31, 2012 edition of Education Week as Miami-Dade Wins $550,000 Broad Prize for Urban Education

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