Posted on September 21, 2011

How One School District Won Prestigious Prize for Narrowing Achievement Gap

Amanda Paulson, Christian Science Monitor, September 20, 2011

[Editor’s Note: This article does not include figures on how much improvement there was.]

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina took home the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education this year, and with it $550,000 in scholarship money for high school seniors.

The prize, which has been awarded for the past 10 years, recognizes urban districts for strides in improving overall student achievement as well as narrowing the achievement gap for minority and low-income students.


“Charlotte-Mecklenburg is a model for innovation in urban education,” said US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who announced the winner at a ceremony Tuesday in Washington. “It has taken on the tough work of turning around low-performing schools, created a culture of using data to improve classroom instruction, and put a laserlike focus preparing students for college and careers.”

The CMS district serves about 135,000 students, 53 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunches. About 67 percent of its students are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian. Among the achievements that the prize panelists highlighted, Charlotte-Mecklenburg:

• Narrowed the achievement gap between its African-American students and both district and state white students at all levels in reading and math. It also narrowed the gap between Hispanic and white students at all levels in math and for middle and high school students in reading.

• Had the highest SAT participation rate for African-American seniors (62 percent) of all 75 districts who qualified for the Broad Prize.


The panelists also highlighted a number of the district’s practices, including a lauded strategic staffing initiative put in place by former superintendent Peter Gorman, who left the district in June. The initiative moves the most effective principals into chronically failing schools and allows them to bring with them top teachers, who are given financial incentives. The panelists also noted changes Mr. Gorman made to how layoffs are conducted–now based on performance as well as seniority–and how teachers are compensated, as well as the district’s openness to alternative sources for teachers and principals, including Teach for America and New Leaders for New Schools.