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Cash Prizes to Which Schools?

Rewarding school districts for their successes is sorely needed in an era when good news is seldom heard.  That's why it's disappointing to learn that the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation will suspend the $1 million it gives each year to honor the best urban school districts in the nation ("Billionaire Suspends Prize Given to Schools," The New York Times, Feb. 10).

It's Broad's money, but I wonder if he is being realistic about his reasons for suspending the prize. Apparently, student achievement has  not improved enough or not fast enough in some urban districts to satisfy him.  In either case, it's easy to understand the frustration that he must feel when his largess doesn't pay off the way he wants.  

But exactly what criteria would satisfy him?  Let's not forget that urban school districts are not like suburban school districts.  Anyone expecting the former to be able to compete with the latter on a sustained basis is bound to be disappointed. Although the foundation has not yet announced anything beyond suspension, I won't be surprised if the focus of future prizes will exclusively be charter schools  ("Troubled school districts need more than prizes," Los Angeles Times, Feb. 13).

I say that because I think the foundation has given up on the ability of traditional public schools to sufficiently change.  For example, a recent report by New York City's Independent Budget Office found that students at charter schools remain at their schools at a higher rate than students at nearby traditional public schools, indicating that parents are more satisfied with the education their children receive there ("The Myth of Charter-School 'Cherry Picking,' " The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9).

The finding will probably be used to justify restricting the foundation's prize to charter schools. That's too bad because selection bias plays a big role in the success of charter schools.  But once again, it's Broad's money. 


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