HISD Named America’s Top Urban School District

The Houston Independent School District was awarded the most coveted award in public education on Wednesday because of consistently strong student academic achievement over a four-year period. The Broad Prize for Urban Education comes with $550,000 in college scholarships for graduating seniors.

HISD is now the nation’s first two-time winner of the prestigious award, which recognizes each year the public school system that has demonstrated the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps among poor and minority students. HISD won the first Broad Prize awarded in 2002.

Accepting the award from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in Washington, D.C., Superintendent Terry Grier credited HISD’s teachers first and foremost for the district’s achievement.

“Change is tough. Improvement is hard,” Dr. Grier said from a podium inside the Library of Congress. “If we have a singular purpose with young people as our north star, anything is possible.”

Dr. Grier credited HISD’s teachers and other staff members with doing the hard work necessary to earn the award for Houston’s children.

“Our teachers in the classroom have stepped up. We have the best teacher corps and the best principals and support staff in the country,” he said. “We’re very humbled to accept this award on behalf of Team HISD. God bless you and thank you.”

HISD Board of Education President Anna Eastman said she is most excited to be bringing home Broad Prize scholarships for graduating seniors.

“The chance to give out $550,000 in scholarships signifies that what we spend our time on every day is helping to give our students better opportunities,” Eastman said.

America’s 75 largest school districts are eligible for the Broad Prize. Four finalists were identified last spring based upon the findings of a wide-ranging review of student achievement data from the 2008-2009 school year through the 2011-2012 school year in an effort to reward consistency. This year’s other finalists were the Corona-Norco Unified School District in Riverside County, Calif., Cumberland County Schools, N.C., and the San Diego Unified School District, where Dr. Grier served as superintendent before coming to Houston in 2009. HISD was then chosen as the winner after a panel of experts spent a week touring each of the four finalist districts, speaking with students, parents, teachers, principals, and other staff members.

Speaking before a packed audience inside the Library of Congress, Broad Prize namesake Eli Broad said he and his wife created the award because “we were convinced that if we put a national spotlight on what’s working, then other districts might take note and learn from their successes.”

The award was announced by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who singled out Dr. Grier for making the “tough choices” necessary to ensure that every child in HISD has a quality teacher.

“While the district puts a premium on accountability and performance, principals and teachers are given autonomy and support from the central office,” Duncan said.

Houston’s win shows that some of the most innovative and effective work to drive student achievement is happening in urban school districts, said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.

“Once again, HISD demonstrates to the nation their progress and experience in improving educational opportunities for all children,” Casserly said.

The reasons why HISD was chosen as a Broad Prize finalist include:

HISD has the highest SAT participation rate among other urban districts for all students and specifically Hispanic and African-American students. Last year, 87 percent of Houston’s students participated in the SAT, and 84 percent of Hispanic and 80 percent of African-American students took the exam. Even with a poverty rate 60 percent higher than the state average, HISD’s SAT participation rate is about two-thirds higher than the state’s average participation rate.

The increases in participation in Advanced Placement exams for all students and specifically for Hispanic students were the highest among other urban districts. Specifically, between 2009 and 2012, the average annual increase in the AP participation rate by Houston’s Hispanic students was five times greater than the average among the 75 Broad Prize-eligible districts.

HISD’s overall graduation rate improved twice as fast as other urban districts around the country. HISD’s graduation rate, as shown by the average of three nationally recognized graduate rate estimation methods, increased 12 percentage points between 2006 and 2009, compared to an average 6 percent increase for the 75 Broad Prize-eligible districts over the same period.

Houston narrowed low-income and Hispanic student achievement gaps. In recent years, HISD narrowed the achievement gap between low-income students and the state’s non-low-income students and between HISD’s Hispanic students and the state’s white students in elementary, middle and high school reading and math.

For more information about The Broad Prize, including video and photos from today’s award ceremony, please visit www.broadprize.org.