Houston Awarded New Urban Education Prize

The Houston Independent School District received high praise last week for its notable improvement in performance, resulting in it being named the winner of the prestigious inaugural Broad Prize for Urban Education.

Philanthropist Eli Broad, along with his wife Edythe, made the announcement of the winner, with the Houston Independent School District taking the top spot and receiving a generous award of $500,000. The prize is regarded as the most esteemed recognition in urban public education and will provide scholarships for college students.

Eli Broad, founder of the Broad Foundation, established in 1999 to enhance urban education, commented on Houston’s accomplishment, stating that it leads the nation in overall improvement. He also emphasized the importance of ensuring achievement in America’s urban public schools as a vital civil rights issue in the new century.

The Broad Prize will be awarded annually and has three primary objectives: to restore America’s confidence in public schools, to create an incentive for significant increases in student achievement, and to reward public school districts that employ innovative and results-oriented approaches to education.

In addition to Houston’s achievement, four other high-performing districts were recognized as finalists for the award. These included the Atlanta and Boston public school systems, as well as the Garden Grove and Long Beach districts in Southern California. Each finalist district will receive $125,000 for college scholarships. Mr. Broad commended these districts as models for the nation.

Joined by Secretary of Education Rod Paige, a former superintendent of Houston’s school district, and a bipartisan group of senators and representatives, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, a press conference was held at the Capitol to celebrate the occasion. Senator Clinton emphasized the need for collaboration among lawmakers to improve public education and lauded Mr. and Mrs. Broad for their unwavering support for schools.

The Broad Foundation plays a significant role in supporting education through various grants, including financial assistance to Education Week for coverage of leadership issues.

A national jury comprising leaders from business, education, government, and the nonprofit sector selected Houston as the winner based on various factors, such as test scores, student attendance rates, management, accountability systems, and academic objectives. Houston stood out for its remarkable progress in reading and mathematics scores, its rapid rate of academic improvement compared to similar districts, and its success in narrowing the achievement gaps between Hispanic and African-American students and their white peers. Additionally, the jury commended the district for its clear academic goals, professional development programs, and the close monitoring and mentorship provided by principals and teachers.

Houston’s journey of improvement began in the 1990s, following a significant bond election loss in 1996. The school board, led by Mr. Paige at the time, regrouped and devised a plan to regain public support and refocus on student academic achievement. This effort resulted in the approval of a $678 million bond referendum in 1998.

While the Broad Prize sheds light on public schools, Marion Wright Edelman, a member of the prize jury and president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, expressed the need for additional support. She believes that the nation has the capability to ensure all children are reading by the 2nd grade and graduate from high school successfully.


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