Funding & Awards

Social Networking Technology Helps Propel Aldine ISD to $1 Million Broad Prize

This week Aldine Independent School District in Texas was named the recipient of the 2009 Broad Prize for Urban Education, a distinction that carries with it $1 million in college scholarships for students.

A panel of judges for the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which administers the annual prize, selected Aldine from among the 100 largest urban districts in the United States. (There is no nomination or application process.) Representatives said the district distinguished itself by outperforming districts with similar economic conditions in reading and math; demonstrating high proficiency in reading and math among economic and ethnic/racial subgroups; closing achievement gaps; proving that academic proficiency does not have to be predicted by family income level; and adopting district-wide policies that set "clear, rigorous expectations for teachers and principals" and provide "easy access to instructional resources and student performance information."

Aldine is the 66th-largest school district in the country, with more than 60,000 students and 4,000 teachers in 72 schools. More than 84 percent of students in the district qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and 31 percent of students are English language learners. Yet, according to the foundation, "Aldine ranked highest in terms of student performance that exceeded statistically predicted student performance based on family income levels."

In addition, SAT and AP participation among black and Hispanic students rose between 2005 and 2008; and, at all grade levels, the reading achievement gap for black and Hispanic students narrowed, as did the math achievement gap for elementary and middle school students.

"Aldine shows us that it's possible for a district facing tough circumstances to get excellent results," said Arne Duncan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, in a prepared statement released yesterday. Duncan announced the winner in a conference held yesterday in Washington, DC. "We need to highlight the success of Aldine and districts like it so that others can follow their examples and lift up all students."

Prize awards will be distributed in the form of scholarships for students entering two- or four-year colleges and universities based on academic performance and economic need. Scholarships for students entering four-year institutions are for up to $5,000 per year paid for four years. Two-year scholarships are up to $2,500 per year paid for two years.

"Aldine deserves to celebrate today," said Eli Broad, founder of the Broad Foundation. "Aldine has demonstrated that when an entire community and district work together with a singular focus on educating every child, they can succeed, even against the odds of poverty. Their success holds valuable lessons for other urban districts trying to do the same."

Social Teaching Tool Supports Curricular and Instructional Systems
According to the information released by the Broad Foundation, technology played a significant role in Aldine's success, in particular its use of Triand, an online social networking tool that focuses on curriculum design, instructional delivery, and assessment.

Using this tool, according to the foundation, teachers "access model lessons that have been vetted by the district's curriculum and instruction division. Teachers are required to submit lesson plans to their principals on a weekly basis--electronically through Triand--using a standard lesson plan format that: holds them accountable for preparing quality lessons, requires lessons be aligned to curriculum, and ensures that content that needs to be re-taught is delivered in a manner that is likely to reach students, because the best supplemental materials are being used."

Teachers work in teams, going over test questions that are frequently missed and evaluating how their instruction could be changed to help students demonstrate knowledge of the subject better. Evaluations are based on reports generated through Triand, which are based in turn on assessment data collected throughout the school year in core subjects like math, science, reading and language arts, and social studies. Some tests are given every six weeks; some are given twice per year.

In addition, school leaders are required to use the tool to review teachers' lesson plans on a weekly basis. They also review assessment data to identify students with special needs and then use the information to develop "targeted staff development in schools where problems were detected. Individual professional development plans are shaped by Triand data as well as by classroom walk-through data compiled by principals and other school leaders."

It's worth noting that a basic subscription to Triand is free and includes 50 MB of storage. Subscriptions that include more storage run from $9 per month for 100 MB to $99 per month per school for unlimited space.

Other Factors Behind the Scenes
According to the foundation, there were several other "behind the scenes" factors that helped drive students toward academic success. These included:

  • The district's approach to planning and strategies used to achieve academic and other objectives;
  • Budget autonomy for principals, with budget management based around Microsoft Excel technologies;
  • Evaluations of the effectiveness of the use of funds by instructional leaders at the school level;
  • "Aggressive" recruitment of high-quality teachers, including partnerships with 32 teacher preparation institutions, which account for about a quarter of the district's hires;
  • Innovative teacher induction programs; and
  • High teacher retention (in the last five years).

A more thorough explanation of the district's practices can be found here.

Additional Award Recipients
Four finalists were also named for the prize. Each was awarded $250,000 to go toward scholarships. This year the finalists included:

Profiles of these four districts can be found here.

Panelists for this year's final selection committee included three former secretaries of the U.S. Department of Education, Margaret Spellings, Richard W. Riley, and Roderick Paige; Donna Shalala, former U.S. secretary of health and human services and current president of the University of Miami; Henry Cisneros, former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development; James B. Hunt Jr., former governor of North Carolina; Shirley Ann Jackson, former chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and current president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; and Andrew L. Stern, international president of Service Employees International Union.

Panelists selected the winner based on data on student performance that was publicly available and based on analyses of that data and on-site interviews conducted by a third party, education consultancy SchoolWorks.

Further information about the Broad Prize, including methodology, can be found here.