Eli Broad, the Los Angeles-based billionaire philanthropist known as the only person to found two Fortune 500 companies in different industries, has suspended a prize his foundation has given annually to an urban school district for more than a decade, saying he cannot find school districts doing enough good work to merit the award.
The $1 million Broad Prize, an well established educational award, which 12 districts have won since 2002, has rewarded large urban districts with high numbers of students of color from low-income families. The judges have looked for improvement in test scores, graduation rates and college admissions.
“Both the review board and the selection jury were disappointed with the overall progress in urban public schools,” said Karen Denne, chief communications officer at the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. “They wanted to set a higher standard and a higher bar. They wanted the prize to mean something.”
Members of the prize review board said it had become more difficult to identify school districts that were pushing test scores or graduation rates up.
“Districts have had a heck of a time in sustaining improvement,” said Christopher Cross, a former Education Department assistant secretary who has served on the Broad review board for a dozen years. Last year, the board recommended only two districts for the prize — Orange County in Florida and Gwinnett County in Georgia — said Mr. Cross, chairman of Cross & Joftus, an education consulting firm. Both shared the award in September.
With districts coping with entrenched poverty, slashed budgets, testing scandals and growing opposition to new academic standards and testing, progress has been difficult, some education experts said. “There’s no real urban system in the country that any of us would regard as better than mediocre,” said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
But critics of the Broad Foundation said suspending the prize was an acknowledgment that the foundation’s approach to reform, with its focus primarily on test scores and other metrics, might be waning. The foundation has also backed the Partnership for Educational Justice, a group that was started by the former CNN anchor Campbell Brown to file lawsuits challenging teacher tenure in various states and that has donated $47 million to education causes including charter networks last year.
“Eli Broad was wrong about what was needed to improve public education,” said Diane Ravitch, the education historian and activist, in an email. “He thought that management and charters could overcome poverty, and his cancellation of the prize is his admission that he was wrong. The problems are deeper than he imagined.”
Julian Vasquez Heilig, associate professor of educational policy at the University of Texas at Austin, said, “I think that parents and stakeholders are a lot more suspicious of these types of reforms because we’ve been at it for more than a decade and they haven’t really moved the needle.”
Ms. Denne of the foundation said the urban school district prize might be outdated in its focus on traditional systems. She said the foundation hoped to reinstitute a prize using different criteria. Three years ago it introduced a prize for charter management organizations, she said, adding that it was also interested in examining new models like the state-run districts in New Orleans, Memphis and Detroit.
Some school superintendents were disappointed about the suspension of the prize, a coveted marker of success.
“We are disappointed because we fully intended to win it three times,” said Terry Grier, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, which is one of only two districts to win the prize twice. “That’s not tongue in cheek. This is true. I think the hard work that is associated with school improvement and reform, particularly in urban settings where you’re serving such a high concentration of children from needy backgrounds, is important.”
In a 1957 Detroit, Eli Broad and friend Donald Kaufman started, Kaufman and Broad Home Corporation (now KB Home), a home building company. Broad, is a billionaire worth an estimated $7 billion. He is married with 2 adult children. For more on him, visit his Wiki page at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eli_Broad
Thank you to MOTOKO RICH and the New York Times for their contribution to this story.