$1 million for Texas school district that shrank achievement gap

The Broad Prize for Urban Education was awarded Wednesday to Aldine, a predominantly minority district.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Aldine Independent School District employees Sandra Abundis, left, Richard Blair, center, and Bettie Stubblefield react to winning the 2009 Broad Prize for Urban Education on Wednesday in Houston. The Houston school district will receive $1 million in college scholarships for seniors.
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The Aldine, Texas, school district has won the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education this year, and with it $1 million toward scholarships for high school seniors.

The prize is given to the urban district that has made the most strides in advancing overall student achievement and in narrowing the achievement gap for minority and low-income students. It's often looked to as an indicator of which districts are doing things right in tackling some of the most intractable education challenges.

Aldine, which serves parts of Houston and unincorporated Harris County, was up for the award for the fourth time. It's a predominantly minority district. In both reading and math, at all grade levels, Aldine last year outperformed other Texas districts that serve similar family incomes. It also narrowed the achievement gaps between minority students and the state average for white students in middle-school math.

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Between 2005 and 2008, it reduced the gap in middle-school math scores for African-American students by 14 percentage points. In general, it managed to break a common correlation between income level and achievement – even with 84 percent of the district's 63,000 students coming from low-income backgrounds.

"This is not a one-time improvement," said Eli Broad, founder of the Broad Foundation, in an interview following the announcement Wednesday. Noting Aldine's multiple appearances as a Broad (rhymes with "road") finalist, he said, "It's been steady, dedicated improvement."

Those visiting the district, he added, "were impressed not only with the data numbers but the quality of the teaching taking place in the classrooms ... and the relationship between teachers, principals, the superintendent, and the school-board members."

The other four finalists for this year's prize included two-time finalist Broward County, Fla; three-time finalist and former winner Long Beach, Calif.; Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas; and Gwinnett County Public Schools in the Atlanta area. The four districts will each receive $250,000 in scholarship money for graduating seniors.

Wanda Bamberg, superintendent of Aldine, says that a key piece of her district's success has been its focus on data. "We're constantly monitoring to see where kids are and what skills and deficits they have, so we can go back and reteach and revisit over the year," she says.

Ultimately, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation hopes that the award will not only reward high-performing districts, but also help spotlight best practices so that other districts with similar challenges can learn from them.

"Aldine shows us that it's possible for a district facing tough circumstances to get excellent results," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who announced the winner in Washington. He also highlighted some of the challenges that big-city districts are dealing with, from high dropout rates to persistent achievement gaps. "We need to highlight the success of Aldine and districts like it so that others can follow their examples and lift up all students," he said.

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