It was a treat to attend the 2008 Broad Prize for Urban Education awards ceremony on October 14. This prize, given annually by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, is the nation’s largest K12 public education award and is given to five large urban districts that show the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while at the same time reducing income and ethnic achievement gaps.
The winner and four finalists hail from the South, close to major ports of entry into Florida, Texas and California. The Brownsville Independent School District in Texas was the winner, with $1 million in college scholarships that will enable 50-65 qualified students to attend college. Hector Gonzales, district superintendent since 2006 and a soft-spoken native of the Rio Grande Valley, picked up his award to the sounds of large cheers, with his board of education and aides by his side. The district serves one of the poorest urban populations in the nation. Ninety-four percent of its students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, 43 percent are English Language Learners, and more than 2,000 students cross the border from Mexico each year to begin their education in the district. According to the Broad Prize methodology, the district achieved proficiency rates higher than its statewide counterparts at all grade levels in math, and in reading at the elementary level. At the superintendents’ panel before the awards ceremony Gonzales stated, “We’ve changed our belief system. Our teachers know all students can learn, and we accept no excuses.” The four finalists include Aldine (Texas) Independent School District, Broward County (Fla.) Public Schools, Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools, and Long Beach (Calif.) Unified School District.
Failure to Meet AYP
Ironically, on this same day the Texas Education Agency announced that Brownsville had failed to meet minimum student achievement targets for two years under NCLB. “The spirit of NCLB is good, the intent is great, and we just need to look at how it labels schools and how we fund it,” Gonzales said.
But it’s unfortunate that the federal government’s measurement sees the glass as half empty and the Broad Foundation see’s it as half full. Testing needs to be tailored to the individual needs of students, ELLs need to be recognized for the progress they make, and schools cannot be penalized for the tough challenges they face due to a changing population. While the NCLB law is well intentioned, we congratulate Brownsville for making significant improvement against the odds, despite deficits on the federal balance sheet.
Judy Faust Hartnett, Editor
Note our 4-page section on the TCEA Convention & Exposition on page 60. This state conference, taking place on February 2-6 in Austin, is growing in national importance so much that DA has increased our association with it and we’re recommending that you attend, as it offers a great learning opportunity for administrators who understand the importance of technology in education.