Posted on February 11, 2015

Billionaire Suspends Prize Given to Schools

Motoko Rich, New York Times, February 9, 2015

Eli Broad, the Los Angeles-based billionaire philanthropist, 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, 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.


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.


“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, a professor and director of the doctorate of educational leadership at California State University, Sacramento, 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.”