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YES Prep Wins New Broad Foundation Prize for Charters

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The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which for a decade has given prizes to urban school districts for academic prowess, has announced a new award to recognize high-achieving charter school operators serving disadvantaged students—and the first winner is YES Prep, a Houston-based organization.

The charter school group has claimed the inaugural Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools, the results of which were announced by the foundation on Thursday. YES Prep will receive a $250,000 award to support its efforts to promote students' preparation for college.

The goal of the new prize is to highlight effective, innovative charter organizations working in urban areas that can serve as models for other charters, as well as traditional publc schools. In that respect, foundation officials say the charter schools prize will serve as a "sister award" to the Broad Prize for Urban Education, which goes to systems of traditional public schools.

YES Prep is known for its strong emphasis on providing students with a demanding, college-prep curriculum, delivered at at relatively small schools. It offers students an array of academic and behavioral supports, has a longer school day and school year, and arranges structured activities to involve parents in school.

The list of charter school management organizations eligible for the award this year, according to Broad, included Achievement First, Aspire Public Schools, the Baltimore Curriculum Project, Edvantages, Green Dot Public Schools, ICEF Public Schools, the KIPP Foundation, Uplift Education, Winfree Academy Charter Schools, Inc., among others. A review board judged the charter management organzations' student achievement data and selected the winner, aggregating data for all schools affiliated with each eligible network, Broad officials said.

Charter school management organizations were eligible for the award if they met certain criteria. They had to have five or more charter schools in operation, as of 2007-2008. At least 40 percent of their students had to be eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and the same percentage had to belong to minority groups, over the past few years. In addition, and at least 75 percent of their schools had to be in urban areas, among other criteria.

Those standards were designed to ensure that the charter organizations considered were comparable, sufficiently large, similar demographically, and old enough to have yielded enough data to judge them, Broad officials said. They also say that as the prizes roll out in the future, winners from the previous three years will be ineligible to win new awards.

Some observers have questioned whether the urban district award, established in 2002, produces a group of contenders and winners that is too narrow, and whether that limits the program's influence, as my colleague Christina Samuels reported.

The eligible schools considered for the new Broad award represented about 5 percent of the roughly 5,200 total charter schools operating in the United States during the 2010-2011 school year, the foundation says.

YES Prep operates 10 schools in Houston, serving a population that is overwhelmingly Latino, and impoverished. In its announcement, Broad praised YES Prep for having for having closed achievement gaps that traditionally separate low-income and Hispanic students from their white peers, and for outperforming other urban schools and comparable charter management organizations. YES Prep's overall test performance, AP participation and passing rates, and SAT participation and scoring has also been impressive, Broad officials said.

"It is remarkable to see a system of schools that is not only taking students who are one or more grade levels behind in math and reading, but also making sure that every single graduate is accepted into a four-year college," said Tony Miller, deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, in a statement.

The Obama administration has been a strong backer of charter schools. Miller was scheduled to join Broad officials in announcing the award 2012 National Charter Schools Conference, in Minneapolis, which is going on now.


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