A Houston-area school district where 84 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch on Wednesday won the nation's top prize in public education, winning $1 million for making strides in student achievement.
The Aldine Independent School District, which has been a finalist for four of the last six years, was honored for showing consistent student improvement over the last 10 years. The prize money goes to scholarships for graduating seniors who show financial need and academic improvement.
The Broad Prize for Urban Education is given annually to an urban district that shows the strongest student performance, while closing achievement gaps between ethnic and racial groups.
"We're very excited. I almost didn't believe it at first, then I was just in complete amazement and overwhelmed with what that means for our kids," said Aldine Superintendent Wanda Bamberg, speaking in a conference call after the announcement. "It means a great deal for our kids to have the opportunity to go to school."
Finalists also win money
The four finalists — Broward County Public Schools in South Florida, Gwinnett County Public Schools outside Atlanta, the Long Beach Unified School District in California and the Socorro Independent School District in El Paso County, Texas — will each receive $250,000 in college scholarships.
At the Aldine district office, where school officials and employees watched a live webcast of the announcement from Washington, D.C., the news was met with cheers, applause and a few tears.
"The people who went to the district were impressed by what was happening in classrooms, community support and governance," said Eli Broad, founder of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. "It's an example that if everyone works together, they can make things happen and they have."
This is the third time a Texas district has won the award since the Broad Prize (pronounced "brohd") began in 2002. The Houston school district was the inaugural winner. The Brownsville school district, along Texas' border with Mexico, won last year.
The Aldine district, which serves an area on the northern edge of Houston, has about 60,000 students — 64 percent Hispanic and 30 percent black. About 31 percent of students are categorized as English-language learners. The student population is highly mobile, with many students changing schools several times within a year, Bamberg said.
The Broad judges said they were impressed by the district's achievement in several areas.
In 2008, Aldine outperformed other districts in Texas that serve students with similar family incomes in reading and math at all grade levels, the foundation's analysis showed.
Achievement gap progress
The district's Hispanic, black and low-income students scored higher average proficiency rates than their peers in math at all school levels. Aldine's Hispanic and low-income students also showed higher average proficiency rates in reading at all school levels.
Aldine made progress in closing income achievement gaps in reading at all school levels and in elementary and middle school math from 2005 to 2008 and narrowed the gap between the district's black students and the Texas average for white students during that timeframe.
Aldine's math achievement gaps between income groups at all school levels were among the smallest in Texas, and the district showed the smallest income achievement gap among all five finalists, according to Broad officials.
In addition, between 2005 and 2008, more black and Hispanic students participated in Advanced Placement courses and took the college prep SAT exams, according to the school district.
The Broad Prize is open to the 100 largest urban school districts nationwide. Other previous winners included the New York City Department of Education, Boston Public Schools and the Long Beach (Calif.) Unified School District.
The Aldine district will get $25,000 for a celebration party.