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Districts in Calif., Texas, Fla. Selected as Broad Prize Finalists

The four finalists for the 2012 Broad Prize for Urban Education are the Corona-Norco Unified School District in Riverside County, Calif., a newcomer to the competition; the Houston Independent School District, which won the award in 2002, the first year it was given; the Miami-Dade County school system, which has been nominated five times; and the Palm Beach County, Fla., district, which is being nominated for the first time.

The winning district will be announced Oct. 23 in New York City, and will be awarded $550,000 in scholarships for seniors graduating in 2013. The other finalists will each be awarded $150,000 in scholarship money.

Corona-Norco, about 45 miles southeast of Los Angeles, has about 53,000 students, and Houston has 203,000 students. Miami-Dade and Palm Beach have 347,000 students and 174,000 students, respectively. The two newcomers to the ranks of finalists are noteworthy, as is the return of Houston and Miami-Dade; last year I wrote a story noting that some district evaluators were concerned that Broad Prize finalists were coming from a limited pool of districts.

The finalists also continued a trend of Texas districts' making a showing—five different districts from that state have been finalists or winners over the prize's 11-year history. And now, four different districts from California and three from Florida have also reached that level.

The Broad Prize winner is chosen in two steps: First, a 13-member review board chooses the finalists out of 75 districts in the country that qualify based on their demographics. This year, the finalists distinguished themselves by making better academic gains among Hispanic and African-American students than other urban districts, the award's sponsor, the Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, said in a press release. For example, the review board noted that the finalist districts:

  • All made greater increases than other urban districts nationally in the number of Hispanic and African-American students taking the SAT, ACT, and/or Advanced Placement tests between 2008 and 2011, and some simultaneously produced higher scores.

  • In all finalist districts, the percentage of African-American and/or Hispanic students performing at the highest achievement levels on state reading, math, and science exams ranked among the top of districts within their states (an indicator of particular note when comparing data across states whose tests are not equally rigorous).

  • Nearly all showed increases in graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic students that bested those of other large urban districts nationwide.

For a look at the data that the review board gathers, check out the district data reports from the foundation. The data will be updated this fall with 2012 analyses.

Over the next two months, researchers will gather qualitative data on each school district and present it to a selection jury, which will choose the winner. The selection jury recently added some well-known names, including former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell.

Last year's winner was the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system in North Carolina.

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