Houston, Miami Schools in Final Four for $1M Broad Prize

Houston, Miami, Palm Beach, Southern California districts are the finalists for urban education award.

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The four urban school districts in the running for the Broad Prize, one of the nation's most prestigious district awards, were announced Wednesday.

This year's finalists are the Corona-Norco Unified School District in Southern California, Houston Independent School District, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and the School District of Palm Beach County, Fla. The Southern California and Palm Beach County districts are first-time finalists and are guaranteed at least part of a $1 million prize pool. Houston won the prize in 2002, the Broads inaugural year, and this is Miami's fifth year as a finalist.

[Learn About the 2011 Winner: Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District]

The award is given each year to an urban public school district whose students show performance improvement and who are able to narrow achievement gaps between minority and white students and poor and middle-class students.

Miami likely has an inside track on the prize—every school district that has won (since the inaugural year) had been nominated in the previous year. A team of educational experts will visit each district to interview administrators, talk to focus groups of teachers, and observe classrooms in order to decide a winner. The winning district will get $550,000 to award as college scholarships to graduating seniors. Runners-up will receive $150,000 each in scholarship money.

"These four school districts can be proud that they are paving the way by demonstrating that students of all backgrounds can achieve if they are given equal opportunities to learn," Eli Broad, founder of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, said in a statement.

[U.S. News Best High Schools]

According to the foundation, the nominated districts made greater-than-normal increases in the number of Hispanic and black students taking and performing well on the SAT, ACT, and Advanced Placement tests, increased minority graduation rates, and their minority students performed at excellent levels on state standardized tests.

Ann Clark, the chief academic officer of last year's winner, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg public school district in North Carolina, says the scholarships are "life changing."

"We want to put [our students] on a step and move them into college with less of a financial burden," she says. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the district "is a model for innovation in urban education," and that Charlotte "put a laser-like focus on preparing students for college and careers."