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Uncommon Schools Wins Broad Prize for Top Charter Network

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By guest blogger Kevin Connors

The charter school network Uncommon Schools received a boost to its name recognition today—as well as an infusion of cash.

The 32-school charter network based in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York was named the 2013 winner of the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. Uncommon Schools will also receive $250,000, which must be devoted to college-readiness initiatives, such as speaker series, scholarships, and campus visits.

The annual prize, now in its second year, recognizes the urban charter-management organization which "demonstrated the most outstanding overall student performance and improvement in the nation in recent years while reducing achievement gaps for low-income and students of color," according to a statement from the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation. A nine-member review board, comprised of education leaders, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners, analyzed publicly available achievement data from the 27 eligible charter networks and selected Uncommon Schools for the prize. Achievement First and KIPP Foundation were the other two finalists.

Uncommon Schools was recognized for closing the achievement gap for low-income students and African-American students at four times the rate as the average charter network eligible for the award—a significant feat considering that Uncommon predominantly serves black and Hispanic populations, over 80 percent of which are low-income. Specifically, Uncommon closed 56 percent of the achievement gaps between low-income students and their peers, compared to the eligible charters' average of 13 percent. When comparing black students to their white counterparts, Uncommon also closed 56 percent of the gaps, compared to the eligible charter average of 12 percent.

Other achievements noted by the review board included:

  • 100 percent of Uncommon seniors participated in the SAT exam for 2012, earning an average score of 1570, which is 20 points higher than the college-readiness standard set by College Board.
  • Proficiency rates for Uncommon's low-income students ranked in the top 30 percent of their respective states when compared with other students from similar backgrounds, according to Broad Prize methodology.
  • Uncommon's African-American students also ranked in the top 30 percent of their respective states for academic proficiency when compared to their peers, according to the same methodology.

Part of what makes Uncommon Schools, as well as the other finalists, successful is its comprehensive approach to providing quality education, said Margot Rogers, a member of the review board. Uncommon prides itself on its culture of support and feedback for teachers and school leaders, use of data-driven instruction, a longer school day and school year, and its emphasis on building students' academic skills, in addition to their enthusiasm for school.

The goal of the Broad Charter Prize is not only to recognize high-performing charter networks, but also to foster collaboration between public schools and charters, according to the foundation's spokeswoman, Karen Denne. In that spirit, the foundation identifies best practices, produces white papers, and helps arrange partnerships between public and charter schools. Last year's winner, YES Prep, has already formed a partnership with Houston's Aldine Independent School District to share best practices.

Denne believes these types of partnerships and knowledge-sharing are essential to ensuring that all urban children have improved educational opportunities.

The strength of the charter sector is the "collaborative spirit among charter-management organizations and public schools," she said. "They are really committed to working together on behalf of children, and there's a great appetite for sharing what works."

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