The border city of Brownsville, where nearly all students come from low-income Hispanic families and where 4 in 10 are not native English speakers, has managed to make huge strides in closing achievement gaps, boosting SAT scores, as well as the number of students who take the college entrance exam. The school district this week received $1 million as the winner of the 2008 Broad Prize for Urban Education. The prize money is in the form of college scholarships for graduating seniors next spring.
Brownsville, located at the southern-most tip of Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border, serves one of the poorest urban populations in America—with 94 percent of its students qualifying for free and reduced-priced school lunch. Despite the challenges, Brownsville stood out among large urban school districts in the following areas:
- Outperforming other similar Texas districts. In 2007, Brownsville outperformed other Texas districts serving students with similar income levels in reading and math at all grade levels, according to The Broad Prize methodology. In addition, Brownsville’s Hispanic and low-income students outperformed their peers in similar districts in reading and math at all grade levels.
- Greater improvement by ethnic minorites and low-income groups. Between 2004 and 2007, Brownsville’s Hispanic students showed greater improvement than their peers in similar Texas districts in reading and math at all grade levels, according to The Broad Prize methodology. Brownsville’s low-income students also showed greater improvement than their peers in similar Texas districts in math at all grade levels and in elementary and high school reading. From 2004 to 2007, Brownsville surpassed the state average in raising the percentage of Hispanic and low-income students who achieved math proficiency at all grade levels and in elementary and high school reading proficiency.
- Closing achievement gaps. Brownsville is narrowing income and ethnic achievement gaps in reading and math at all grade levels. For example, between 2004 and 2007, Brownsville reduced the gap between Hispanic students and the state average for white students by 12 percentage points in middle school math and reduced the gap between low-income students and Texas’ non-low-income student average by nine percentage points in high school reading.
- Strong district-wide policies and practices. Brownsville’s strategic, district-wide approach puts student needs first, offering them a challenging curriculum and a range of enrichment opportunities. The district has effective fiscal practices, directs funds to the classroom, continuously reviews and updates its curriculum and holds all staff accountable for results.
The four finalists—Aldine Independent School District, Texas; Broward County Public Schools, Fla.; Long Beach Unified School District in California and Miami-Dade County Public Schools—each receive $250,000 in college scholarships. Long Beach won the 2003 Broad Prize, and this marked the second year that the former winner returned as a finalist. Both Aldine and Miami-Dade are three-time finalists, while this is Brownsville’s and Broward’s first year in the running.
Read the Good News Network story featuring 2007 winner: NYC School System Honored as ‘Model of Reform’