School & District Management

View on Broad Prize’s Value Mixed Among Education ‘Insiders’

By Lesli A. Maxwell — October 16, 2013 2 min read
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Education “insiders” are hardly of the same mind when it comes to their opinions on the Broad Prize, the $1 million sweepstakes that honors urban school systems that have demonstrated academic improvement.

In a new survey released today by Whiteboard Advisors, a Washington-based consulting group, 42 percent of those asked about the Broad Prize agreed that the annual award is an “important recognition of progress by urban school systems despite their overall low levels of performance.” Fifteen percent said the award is an “inappropriate celebration” of urban districts given their overall low academic achievement, while another 42 percent fell somewhere in between those two responses.

Those results come less than a month since the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation announced that the Houston school system was the 2013 winner of its urban education award. Houston is the first school system in the prize’s 11-year history to become a two-time winner. It was the inaugural winner in 2002.

Houston’s selection triggered a sharp critique of the Broad Prize from Andy Smarick, a former deputy commissioner of education in New Jersey and a partner at Bellwether Education Partners. Smarick’s piece then prompted a hearty defense of Houston’s selection from Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.

Both Smarick and Casserly are certainly education insiders and may have had a chance to weigh in, once again, on the value of the Broad Prize in the Whiteboard Advisors survey.

The insiders who participate in Whiteboard’s regular surveys are mostly current and former Capitol Hill staff, current and former U.S. Department of Education staff, and heads of education associations and think tanks. Below is a sampling of their reactions to the survey’s question about the Broad Prize:

• “We need SOME incentives to pull achievement up. Broad is pretty much alone at that, and thank God it’s there.”

• “It makes absolutely no difference. Put the money to better use—direct services to students in greatest need.”

• “Largely irrelevant outside of finalists’ district offices.”

• “The Broad Prize has lost its luster. Insiders know that the prize recognizes progress—not overall achievement—but Houston winning twice raises credibility questions.”

• “It’s sort of like conferring a tin prize at the Olympics because nobody has won gold, silver or bronze. Not a BAD thing to confer but let’s not gush about it either.”

• “The traditional urban school system isn’t going anywhere fast, so we shouldn’t fail to recognize improvements just because we disagree with the overall governance model.”

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