Funding, Grants & Awards

2 Districts Take Home Broad Prize for Urban Education, $500,000 Each

orange county broad prize students
Students work at computers at Orange County Public Schools, a Broad Prize for Urban Education winner.

In an historic first, two districts have won the annual Broad Prize for Urban Education and will split $1 million in prize money, to be divvied up as college scholarships for graduating high school seniors.

The districts—Gwinnett County Public Schools near Atlanta, Georgia and Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Florida—competed against many of the largest urban districts in the country, winning thanks to their commitment to low-income students and their overall performance gains. The districts took radically different approaches, but both were worthy of the prize, officials said.

"We wrestled with performance versus improvement," said former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, one of nine jurors who helped elect the winners, in a statement. "We were impressed with Gwinnett County's steady, sustainable gains and with Orange County's urgency and commitment to improve student achievement quickly. In the end, we decided that both finalists deserved to win the 2014 Broad Prize."

Orange County is a first-time finalist. Gwinnett won the 2010 Broad Prize and was a finalist in 2009. (This was the first year Gwinnett was eligible for the award again).

Both school districts saw improvements in academic performance. Gwinnet presented a litany of impressive statistics, boasting the highest SAT participation rate among eligible districts and a high percentage of black and Hispanic students reaching high achievement levels, among other glowing figures.

But whereas Gwinnett has long had a history of high academic achievement, Orange County has made significant improvements since 2011, seeing a marginal increase in AP participation and pass rates among minority students and a larger number of  low-income middle school students who performed at the highest achievement level on state tests. Orange County also narrowed income and ethnic achievement gaps, as measured by state tests.

The selection jury took all this data into account, as well as additional data analyzed by the research institute RTI International. They scrutinized district policy, and reviewed data collected via site visits and interviews with administrators and other stakeholders performed by education practitioners.

The fact that two districts won this year is not indicative of a wealth of stronger-than-usual entries, however: Gwinnett and Orange County were the only two districts shortlisted to the final selection committee. Typically, four or five districts advance to final voting. According to The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which offers the prize, that decision reflected a general "disappointment with the overall progress of urban school systems across America."

Gwinnett and Orange county will now distribute $500,000 each to graduating seniors to help them defray college costs. Eligible students will receive $20,000 total over the course of four years.

"We may have a long way to go in this country to improve urban public education, but the school systems in Gwinnett and Orange counties give us good reason to celebrate what we've accomplished so far," said Bruce Reed, president of The Broad Foundation in a statement. "Gwinnett County shows how a district can improve and sustain student performance over many years, while Orange County demonstrates that a sense of urgency and focus can improve student achievement in a hurry. These two winners have kept their eye on the prize, which is to help all students reach their potential."

About the Author

Stephen Noonoo is an education technology journalist based in Los Angeles. He is on Twitter @stephenoonoo.

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