The problem with the Broad Prize

 

 


(Broad Foundation)

The fifth time was the charm for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which was just named the winner of the 2012 Broad Prize for Urban Education, after being a runner-up for four years.

The $1 million prize is the largest education award given each year to urban school districts that have supposedly made the biggest progress in student achievement and closing achievement gaps. The awards are the brainchild of  the Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation, a key financial supporter for various questionable school reforms. One of its best-known initiatives is its academy that trains people to become urban public school district superintendents (no education experience required for applicants).

Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced in New York City on Monday that the 350,000-student Miami-Dade district had beat out three other districts for the top Broad Prize. The district will receive $550,000 to be awarded to high school seniors for college scholarships. Runners-up, each of which will receive $150,000, were: Corona-Norco Unified School District in California, Houston Independent School District in Texas, and The School District of Palm Beach County in Florida.

 How is the Broad Prize winner selected? Each year a panel of judges selects four finalists from 75 urban districts (it used to be 100). Here are the data points that are reviewed — and note how many of them have to do with standardized test scores:

  • Performance and improvement results on mandated state tests in reading and math for elementary, middle and high schools
  • Performance and improvement of the district compared with expected results for similar districts in the state (based on poverty levels)
  • The reduction and magnitude of achievement gaps between ethnic groups and between low-income and non-low-income students
  • Graduation rates calculated using the latest enrollment data available from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Common Core of Data (CCD) according to three different methods: the Average Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR), the Urban Institute Graduation Rate (Cumulative Promotion Index or CPI), and the Manhattan Institute Graduation Rate (Greene’s Graduation Indicator or CGI)
  • Advanced Placement exam participation and passing rates
  • SAT and ACT exam participation rates and scores
  • District demographic data (e.g., student enrollment, income, language, special education, ethnicity)

As focused on data as the Broad Prize is, there is a question about how good some of the data the judges use really is. For example, the New York City public school district won the Broad Prize in 2007 under the leadership of Chancellor Joel Klein, who spent years trumpeting rising standardized test scores as proof of the success of his data-driven reform. But in 2010, New York’s State Education Department acknowledged that the test scores had no meaning in relation to student achievement; the tests just kept getting easier, which is why the scores kept rising. So much for the value of that test data.

It’s no real surprise that Miami-Dade won this year. The Broad Prize is usually given to a district that has been a runner-up several times. Miami-Dade — whose student population is 90 percent black or Hispanic — was cited for raising graduation rates for Hispanic and black students. From 2006 to 2009, the graduation rate for blacks rose 14 percent, to 57 percent, and 14 percent for Hispanics, to 68 percent.

The district has also taken some controversial steps. Last year it was the first district in Florida to award merit pay to teachers, an idea that seems to make sense on the surface but hasn’t worked in repeated experiments over decades. Furthermore, Miami-Dade’s  teacher evaluation system leaves a lot to be desired, if you ask teachers. All school systems in Florida are required by law to make half of a teacher’s evaluation dependent on their students’ standardized test scores, and allows the district to figure out how to do the other 50 percent. Miami-Dade has chosen to allow that local half to be based on one single observation of a teacher by an administrator. You don’t have to be an assessment expert to see the unfairness of this.

You can understand where the Broad Foundation is in the world of school reform by looking at the people who are on the Board of Directors of The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems:

Officers:

The Honorable Joel I. Klein, Chair
CEO, Educational Division and Executive Vice President, Office of the Chairman, News Corporation
Former Chancellor, New York City Department of Education

Barry Munitz, Vice Chair
Trustee Professor, California State University, Los Angeles

Dan Katzir, Secretary/Treasurer
Senior Advisor, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

 

Members:

Richard Barth
Chief Executive Officer, KIPP Foundation

Becca Bracy Knight
Executive Director, The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems

Jean-Claude Brizard
Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Public Schools

Harold Ford Jr.
Managing Director, Morgan Stanley
Former U.S. Congressman, Tennessee

Louis Gerstner, Jr.
Retired Chairman and CEO, IBM Corporation

Wendy Kopp
Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Teach For America

Paul Pastorek
Chief Administrative Officer, Chief Counsel and Corporate Secretary, EADS North America
Former Superintendent of Education, State of Louisiana

Michelle Rhee
Founder and CEO, StudentsFirst
Former Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools

Margaret Spellings
President and Chief Executive Officer, Margaret Spellings and Company
Former U.S. Secretary of Education

Andrew L. Stern
Former President, Service Employees International Union
Ronald O. Perelman Senior Fellow, Richard Paul Richman Center for Business, Law and Public Policy, Columbia University

Lawrence H. Summers
Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Harvard University
President Emeritus, Harvard University

Kenneth Zeff
Chief Operating Officer, Green Dot Public Schools

Mortimer Zuckerman
Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, U.S. News & World Report
Publisher, New York Daily News

 

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · October 23, 2012