Broad Prize Suspended – Good or Bad?

By Brett Pawlowski

 For the past 13 years, the Broad Foundation, founded by billionaire Eli Broad, has offered a competitive prize of $1 million for urban school districts exhibiting the highest levels of performance and fastest rates of improvement.  But no longer: As of this week, the Broad Prize is no more. According to the LA Times, Eli Broad grew frustrated with the pace of change in public education (or, rather, the lack of change) and decided that $1 million was not being well spent.

According to Jeffrey Henig, professor of political science and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, the suspension of the prize could signal a “highly public step” toward the view that traditional districts “are incapable of reform.”

The irony here is that Broad was looking for reform and innovation, but the criteria for his prize were some of the most traditional metrics used in public education, including:

  • 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
  • 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)

Now I’ll be the first to admit that many of these are important. We want to see improved reading and math scores, we want to see a reduction in the achievement gap, and we want higher graduation rates. But if you’re looking for innovation and reform, this should emphatically not be your list of criteria. This is about as traditional and “old-school” as you can get.

The focus is solely on baseline academics, no thought at all to career or other life outcomes. What about civic awareness? Community engagement? Career exploration or real-world experiences?

In one way, this is bad news: There are districts working incredibly hard and putting points on the board, and they need recognition and rewards just like the rest of us. But in another, let’s hope it’s an acknowledgement that you can’t change schools if you don’t change the criteria you set for them. Here’s hoping for a new prize that recognizes the real-world measurements that are truly important to students’ life outcomes.

 

LA Times Article:  http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-broad-prize-20150209-story.html

Link to Broad Criteria: http://www.broadprize.org/about/process.html