The 83,000-student Baltimore City Public Schools stands as the top urban school district in the land. The district is the 2010 winner of the CUBE Award, receiving the award at CUBE’s annual conference in Baltimore on Saturday.
Baltimore has made double-digit state test score gains, significantly improved the performance of minority students, increased public support in measurable ways, and sharply cut the number of students dropping out of school.
The district has made particular progress since 2007, when the school board hired former New York City Deputy Chancellor Andres Alonso to be the district’s CEO.
In three years, Baltimore has made record progress in closing major achievement gaps and improving the performance of various subgroups. For example:
# Special education students in grades three to eight have improved their reading scores on state tests by nearly 30 percentage points since 2007. English language learners have made even more progress in reading, improving by 39 percentage points.
# In math, those same special education students improved by nearly 28 percentage points during that three-year time span. English language learners improved by 39 percentage points — and actually outperformed their English-speaking peers in math.
# For Hispanic students, Baltimore has narrowed the achievement gap by 38 percentage points in reading and more than 40 percentage points in math since 2007.
# African-American test scores have grown by 21 percentage points in reading and 26 percentage points in math during the last three years.
“From day one as CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, I have felt very fortunate to serve this board,” said Alonso. “It is a board that is first and foremost focused on our kids, and that supports every effort to give schools the resources they need to do right by our kids. Thanks to this board’s leadership, we have been able to build the necessary infrastructure to begin to truly transform our schools, and we are now seeing the results: Our students have posted three straight years of record achievement gains, and the larger Baltimore community is rallying around our students and our schools like never before.”
Three urban districts were named as finalists for the award: Florida’s Broward County Schools, Houston Independent School District, and Virginia’s Portsmouth City Schools,
With more than 255,000 students, the Broward County Public Schools embarked in 2008 on a strategic plan to guide the nation’s sixth-largest school system.
The three-year plan outlined strategies and goals not only for expected topics, such as student performance and closing racial achievement gaps, but also on wide-ranging goals like employee excellence, student wellness, and even environmental stewardship.
Two years into the plan, the massive and diverse school district has made remarkable progress. For example:
# Broward County has regularly equaled or beaten the Florida state average reading and math test scores in both fourth and eighth grades. In particularly, students who speak English as a second language have outperformed their peers statewide.
# The district has made gradual, but significant, progress in closing the performance gaps on state achievement tests between white students and African-American, Hispanic, and low-income students.
# Enrollment in Advanced Placement courses has grown 64 percent for African-American students and 57 percent for Hispanic students in the past five years.
Houston Independent School District has been regarded as a role model for school reform dating back to the 1990s, when future U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige was superintendent. The district has made a number of sweeping recent changes, including linking teacher performance reviews to student achievement.
To show how serious board members are about reform, they hired in 2009 noted innovator — and sometimes controversial leader — Terry Grier, to be the district’s new superintendent. A centerpiece of those transformational efforts has been the board’s innovative and, again, sometimes controversial, approach to teacher evaluation and compensation.
In 2007, the board created the Accelerating Student Progress. Inspiring Results & Expectations (ASPIRE), which uses value-added data to determine educator pay bonuses. To date, the district has paid out more than $113 million in performance-based bonuses. Each year, more and more schools earned full state accreditation.
As the 2002-03 school year started, only three of the Portsmouth Public Schools’ 25 campuses were fully accredited by Virginia. These dismal figures gave evidence to the many skeptics who said Portsmouth’s schools were unsalvageable failures.
But the Portsmouth Board of Education refused to accept that verdict. Neither did David Stuckwisch, the district’s new superintendent entering the 2002-03 school year. The school board, superintendent, and Portsmouth staff set to work on improving the struggling school system.
Then, at the end of the 2008-09 school year, state education officials announced that every school in the Portsmouth Public Schools had earned accreditation. In addition, the district met its federal Adequate Yearly Progress targets, something only 60 of Virginia’s 132 school districts accomplished. Eight schools saw more than 90 percent of students pass the state English test, while seven schools had a more than 90 percent passing rate for math.