Broad suspends prize for urban school districts

Urban school districts aren't improving fast enough to pick a winner of Broad prize.

The locally based Broad Foundation has suspended a widely recognized prize for top-performing urban school systems.

A major problem, according to the foundation, is that urban school systems are not improving quickly enough. For 13 years, the $1-million prize has provided college scholarships to students in the winning school system.

The foundation will continue to award a more recently established annual prize to a charter school organization. Charters are publicly funded and run independently of local school districts; they are exempt from some district policies.

A release from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation cited “sluggish academic results from the largest urban school districts in the country” for the suspension of the program.

The foundation also said it had to take into account the changing education landscape, in which traditional school districts are evolving, and, in some cases being challenged and supplanted by charter organizations.

The release alluded to “alternative systems” such as New Orleans’s Recovery School District, which was established after Hurricane Katrina and resulted in a region dominated by charter operators.

“The rise of a new definition of public school systems, coupled with more rigorous standards and higher expectations for our public schools, convinced us that now is the right time to take a break and evaluate The Broad Prize to ensure it fulfills its original mission: to catalyze dramatic improvement in America’s public schools,” said foundation President Bruce Reed.

The foundation has promoted the awarding of the prize as an annual event worthy of national attention. On hand for the September announcement of last year’s winners, for example, were U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Philanthropist Eli Broad is involved in many education-related initiatives, including a training academy for senior school-district administrators. He’s also been politically active, typically making large donations in support of candidates aligned with his vision of school reform, who often run against candidates supported by the teachers union. Broad also has donated substantial sums to support the growth of charter schools, most of which are non-union.

Those activities have not escaped the attention of union leaders.

“The further he and his foundation stay away from public education, the better,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, who added that he was particularly upset that Broad had donated money to defeat Proposition 30, a temporary tax increase that prevented steep budget cuts in state school systems. “Eli Broad’s track record on public education has been shameful.”

Previous local winners of the Broad Prize were Long Beach Unified in 2003 and Garden Grove Unified in 2004.

Last year’s winners were Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia, which was honored for sustained high performance, and Orange County Public Schools in Florida, which won praise for rapid improvement.

Data considered in awarding the prize has included standardized test scores, graduation rates, and progress in reducing the gap in achievement that usually separates white and Asian students from low-income black and Latino students.

Twitter: @howardblume

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