Miami-Dade County’s public school system–which U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said is moving in the “absolute right direction,’’–won the 2012 Broad Prize for Urban Education on Tuesday during a ceremony at the Museum of Modern Art .
The win followed five nominations for The Broad prize, which recognizes gains in student achievement in large urban districts. Duncan highlighted the district’s success in outperforming all other comparable Florida districts in 2011 reading, math, and science tests at all school levels. He also commended its use of student data, which he said is driving improvement in the nation’s fourth largest school district.
The district, led by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, serves nearly 350,000 students, 90 percent of whom are black or Hispanic and 70 percent low-income. The Broad Prize winner receives $550,000 in college scholarship money for high school seniors.
While Miami-Dade has notable accomplishments—the district’s graduation rate, for instance, increased 5.6 percent in one year, to nearly 78 percent in 2011—the district has also had some struggles. In 2011, in a move contested by the United Teachers of Dade, Miami-Dade was the first district in the state to award merit pay to its teachers, a statewide requirement for all Florida districts by 2014.
The state of Florida has also mandated a complicated teacher evaluation system in which 50 percent of evaluations are based on a complex formula involving student test scores. The other 50 percent is left up to districts. In Miami-Dade, that half is currently based on one formal observation by an administrator, a method that has been criticized throughout the U.S.
In early 2012, a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research group based in Washington D.C., said that the district was not doing enough to get rid of underperforming teachers. The group suggested that the district provide more feedback to teachers, consider college and licensing test scores when hiring teachers, and give principals more authority in hiring.
Eli Broad, co-founder of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, reminded the audience at the award ceremony that the prize is about progress, not victory. (Disclaimer: the Broad Foundation is among the many supporters of The Hechinger Report.)
“We didn’t fall behind overnight and we are not going to catch up overnight either,” Broad said. “Even the districts here today…acknowledge that they have a long road ahead of them.”
Last year, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina won after reducing the achievement gap in high-school reading between African-American and white students by 11 percentage points between 2007 and 2010. The district had closed nearly a dozen schools, mostly in majority black neighborhoods and sent layoff notices to more than 700 teachers.
In the year since winning the prize, Charlotte-Mecklenburg graduation rates have increased nearly two percent to 75 percent, but test scores have remained low at some of the poorest performing schools.
The three runners-up of this year’s Broad Prize will each receive $150,000 in scholarship money. Two of these districts, the Corona-Norco Unified School district in California and The School District of Palm Beach County, Fla., were first-time finalists. The Houston Independent School District won the inaugural year of the award in 2002.