College & Workforce Readiness

Broad Launches New Prize for Urban Charters

By Christina A. Samuels — November 08, 2011 4 min read
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After 10 years of shining the spotlight on high-performing urban school districts through a $1 million award program, the Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation plans to do the same for urban charter schools.

Next summer, the organization plans to present the first Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools, which aims to reward charter school networks that can demonstrate high academic outcomes for their students with a focus on closing achievement gaps.

About 1.8 million children, accounting for 4 percent of public school students, are educated in charter schools. Such schools get public funds but typically are granted more flexibility in how they operate.

The new prize will provide the winning charter-management organization $250,000 that can be used for college-readiness activities. In comparison, the winning public school district for the Broad Prize for Urban Education receives $550,000 to be used for student scholarships, and the three other finalists each receive $150,000 in scholarship money.

Individual charter schools are not eligible for the award, and, as with the district prize, charter-management organizations, or CMOs, cannot nominate themselves. The foundation is focusing on systems of schools that have a long enough record for judges to be able to evaluate them.

For the first year, eligible CMOs must have had five or more schools in operation as of the 2007-08 school year; 1,500 students or more enrolled each year since 2007-08; at least 40 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches since 2008-09; 40 percent or more students from minority groups since 2008-09; and 75 percent of their schools located in urban areas.

Eligible Pool

Right now, 20 charter-management organizations meet those criteria, including the KIPP Foundation, which operates schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia; YES Prep Public Schools, with 10 schools in Houston; and Green Dot Public Schools, which has 19 middle and high schools in Los Angeles and New York City.

Representatives from charter school groups cheered the news. “This will reward those organizations that have really taken on the toughest challenges in public education,” said Douglas Weston, the director of development and communications for Green Dot Public Schools. “Ultimately, this will bring more attention to high-performing charter schools, and that’s a good thing,” said Steve Mancini, a spokesman for the KIPP Foundation, which supports the local Knowledge is Power Program schools.

The Broad Prize given to school districts has a two-step process:

Seventy-five qualifying districts are narrowed down to four finalists, and a selection panel then makes the final decision based on quantitative as well as qualitative data collected on each finalist.

In contrast, the winner of the charter prize will be selected on the basis of student-achievement data only. Researchers for the Broad Foundation will aggregate school-level data to generate organizationwide results. Among the factors to be considered are test results in reading, mathematics, and science; reduction in achievement gaps between racial and ethnic groups and between low-income and more-affluent groups; and performance on college-entrance exams.

Some of the same panelists who have worked with the urban school district prize will be lending their expertise to the new charter school award, including Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a blogger for edweek.org, and Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

Also on the panel is Christopher B. Swanson, the vice president for research and development of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week.

As with the urban-district prize, the charter school award is intended to showcase best practices among charter schools, so that other charter schools and regular public schools can learn from their successes.

However, some of the judges of the urban prize have noted that certain districts come up often as repeat finalists. This year’s urban district winner, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district in North Carolina, was nominated twice before. (“Broad Prize: Do the Successes Spread?” Oct. 19, 2011.)

The charter school prize will be given to organizations in a similarly limited pool. The foundation noted that, of the 4,299 charter schools operating during the 2007-08 school year, 5 percent were run by the 20 CMOs that will be eligible for the 2012 prize. The foundation expects that number to increase as the award program gets older.

Spotlighting What Works

After a CMO is selected as the winner, a Broad research team will visit the schools to develop a report on that organization’s best practices. The winning CMO can use the prize money for “college-readiness efforts for low-income students, such as scholarships, speaker series, or campus visits,” the foundation said in a press release.

Ursula Wright, the interim president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, based in Washington, said last week that no comparable prize for charter-management organizations currently exists. The prize “is a great way to endorse what is really working in the charter sector,” she said.

The announcement of the first winner will be made in June at the alliance’s conference in Minneapolis. The conference will also be honoring the anniversary of City Academy, the nation’s first charter school, which was formed 20 years ago in St. Paul, Minn.

A version of this article appeared in the November 09, 2011 edition of Education Week as Broad Launches Award for Urban Charter Networks

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