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Houston District Wins Urban Education Prize

Schools: Award brings $500,000 in scholarships. Finalists include Garden Grove and Long Beach.


WASHINGTON — The Houston Independent School District was awarded the first Broad Prize for Urban Education on Wednesday, receiving $500,000 in college scholarships for improving student achievement and bridging gaps between ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

Orange County's Garden Grove Unified School District was among four other finalists for the award, along with Long Beach Unified School District, the Atlanta Public Schools and the Boston Public Schools. The four will each receive $125,000 in college scholarships.

The Broad Foundation, a Los Angeles-based organization that promotes achievement in public schools, presented the first national award at a ceremony in Washington attended by school officials and lawmakers, including Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

The Houston district's management methods will be showcased nationwide over the next year as a model for other urban school districts, officials said.

"Just to have been nominated for this prestigious award is strong recognition of the work being done by our schools to improve the achievement of all students in the district," said Bob Harden, president of Garden Grove's board of education. Garden Grove is Orange County's second-largest public school district and serves 50,000 students.

The five finalists were chosen out of 100 large urban school districts in late September. A review board composed of business, government and education leaders looked at several factors--including test scores, attendance, dropout rates and achievement gaps between ethnic and economic groups.

The board chose Houston for the grand prize because, in addition to demonstrating the most academic improvement, it decreased the achievement gap between white students and their Latino and black counterparts, officials said.

In 1996, there was a 16.5% gap in the percentage of Latino and white elementary school students at reading proficiency for their grade level. The gap was reduced to 9.8% in 2001. The proficiency gap between white and black students also shrank, from 18.1% to 10.3% between 1996 and 2001.

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, a former superintendent of the Houston school district, said the awardees will be used as national models for public education.

" 'No child left behind' can't be accomplished without great schools like these across the nation," Paige said, referring to President Bush's proposed education reform legislation.

The Broad Foundation was established in 1999 with an endowment from businessman Eli Broad and his family.

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