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2010 Broad Prize Finalists Named

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Southern school districts are prominent among the five finalists vying for the top prize in urban education.

This year's finalists for the Broad Prize for Urban Education, announced this morning, are the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school district; the Gwinnett County, Ga., school district near Atlanta; the Montgomery County, Md., public schools outside Washington; the Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas; and the Ysleta Independent School District, also in El Paso.

Both Gwinnett County and Socorro were finalists for the prize last year, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg was a finalist in 2004.

The award, started in 2002 by the Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, gives $1 million in scholarships to the winning school district for high school seniors who graduate in 2011. The other four districts each receive $250,000 in scholarships.

The districts, which all serve significant percentages of low-income and minority students, all made notable gains in reducing the achievement gaps between white students and their black and Hispanic peers, the foundation said.

In addition, the 18-person review board was impressed by the gains the school districts made in the area of college readiness, as measured by the increased participation of minority students in the SAT and ACT college-entrance exams, as well as the Advanced Placement exams, for which high school students can earn college credit.

"At a time when public schools are in crisis, these five urban school districts are an example for other struggling districts because they have demonstrated that students can achieve and improvement is possible even in challenging times," Eli Broad, the founder of the Broad Foundation, said in a statement. "It is our hope that other districts around the country will learn from the practices these five districts are employing that are leading to sustainable academic gains."

Over the next two months, review teams will visit the finalist districts and interview school administrators and others to compile reports on the districts to be used in determining the final winner.

Last year's winner was the Aldine, Texas, school district, which was a four-time finalist. My colleague Lesli Maxwell wrote about Aldine's approach to instruction both here and for our print edition. In the print story, you can learn a bit more about the process the Broad review teams use to evaluate the districts.

And in this commentary we published in February, Heather Zavadsky, who was the Broad Prize project manager from 2003 to 2007,shares what she believes are lessons other districts could apply now using economic-stimulus funds to produce long-term success.

"The key is having a well-coordinated system that knows how to develop clear goals, assess needs, support educators, evaluate programs, and review and respond to data in a consistent manner," she writes.

The winner of the 2010 Broad Prize will be announced Oct. 19 in New York City.

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