Posted: Sep 25, 2013 1:22 PM
Updated: Sep 25, 2013 1:22 PM
HOUSTON (AP) Houston's public school district on Wednesday was awarded more than a half-million dollars in college scholarships for its high school seniors from a private foundation that annually recognizes student achievement gains in big-city districts.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that the Houston Independent School District won the 2013 Broad Prize for Urban Education. Houston also won in 2002 and was a finalist last year to take the top prize among the nation's 75 largest urban school districts.
"Our goal as a nation is to ensure every child has the skills and knowledge to succeed in life," Duncan said. "For years, Houston has demonstrated its commitment to doing just that."
The $550,000 award is given to the district that shows strongest student improvements while reducing achievement gaps among low-income students and students of color.
Houston's 276-school district is the nation's seventh largest. Among its 200,000 students, 63 percent are Hispanic and 25 percent are black.
Terry Grier, Houston's school superintendent, described the award as a "striking achievement of which we should all be proud."
"Moving forward, we will continue doing whatever it takes to deliver on our promise of strong schools in each and every neighborhood," he said. "Parents have a right to expect that their children will be challenged academically ... and that they will graduate equipped to compete in the marketplace."
The foundation cited Houston for its students exceeding expectations on the state's more rigorous standardized tests introduced in 2012. It also pointed to gains in math and science from 2009 to 2012 among Hispanic students in advanced levels that put them in the top 30 percent of all districts in Texas.
In addition, graduation rates have grown compared to other big-city districts and achievement gaps between low-income students and more affluent students have narrowed. Plus, 87 percent of students took the SAT in 2012, the highest among other urban districts around the country for all students and specifically for Hispanic and black students.
"Houston's unwavering focus on empowering teachers and principals, raising expectations for educators and students alike, and improving opportunities for all students is an example for other public school systems across the country and evidence that success is possible," Duncan said.
The Broad Foundation was founded by Los Angeles-based philanthropist Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe. Broad, whose wealth is estimated by Forbes magazine at $6.9 billion, made his fortune in real estate and financial planning.
This year's other finalists were: Corona-Norco Unified School District in Riverside County, Calif.; Cumberland County, N.C., Schools; and the San Diego Unified School District. They each receive $150,000 in college scholarships from the foundation.