Houston district beats San Diego for top education prize

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Broad PrizeSAN DIEGO — The San Diego Unified School District Wednesday was named a runner-up for the 2013 Broad Prize for Urban Education.

The district was one of four finalists for the prize, which honors districts that demonstrate improved student achievement, especially for minorities and students from low-income families.

In a news conference in Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the winner was the Houston Independent School District, which will receive $550,000 in college scholarship money for its graduating seniors, courtesy of the Broad Foundation.

As runner-ups, San Diego Unified, the Corona-Norco Unified School District in Riverside County and Cumberland County Schools in North Carolina each will receive $150,000 for a grand total of $1 million in prize money that must be doled out among graduating seniors in the four winning districts.

Today’s win marks the second time Houston has won the prestigious award since it was created in 2002 by Los Angeles-based philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad. Houston’s previous win was in 2002.

San Diego Unified was chosen as a finalist this year, in part, because it was one of six big-city districts in which black students improved their scores on advanced placement tests, according to a report by the Broad Foundation.

“It was an honor to be recognized by the Broad Foundation,” said Superintendent Cindy Marten. “I am grateful to our team of employees who work every day, in and out of the classrooms, for our children. This honor reaffirms that our community-based reform efforts and singular focus on student achievement are making a difference.”

Former Superintendent Bill Kowba, who was on the job when the district was named a finalist, said: “We are honored, humbled and grateful to the Broad Foundation for this recognition. We appreciate their feedback about our past efforts. It will help provide the district with a roadmap for future efforts.”

The organization also cited the SDUSD for outperforming similar districts around California in standardized test scores, narrowing the achievement gap for Hispanic and low-income pupils, and improvements in science by black, Hispanic and low-income high school students.

The foundation credits rigorous classes starting in elementary school, access to gifted programs, and identifying and recruiting potential high- performing students to enroll in Advanced Placement courses for the academic improvements.

Schools with improved test scores were also more likely to provide extra academic and social support to students, increase AP course offerings, offer more teacher training, instill confidence in students about their college prospects and educate parents about the benefits of AP courses, according to its report.

A 17-member review board of education leaders and civil rights advocates picked the SDUSD out of a field of 75 districts that qualified for consideration.


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